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The announcement that Lionsgate plans to remake the 1987 hit film Dirty Dancing sparked concerns that a remake could never hold a candle to the original, which starred Jennifer Grey and the late Patrick Swayze.
However, one glimmer of hope is that the choreographer of the original, Kenny Ortega, will be directing the remake. Ortega has a long list of musical and dance experience under his best, including choreographing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, directing the High School Musical franchise and the documentary Michael Jackson’s This Is It.
Here are five things to know about the Dirty Dancing remake director:
1. Ortega has always believed in musicals, and made his feature film directorial debut with the 1992 film Newsies. “I keep hearing that the musical is dead, but I guess I don’t accept that,” he told the Reading Eagle in 1992. “Just because they’re few and far between doesn’t mean you give up on them.” At the time, Ortega was best known for his choreography of the original Dirty Dancing and Madonna’s “Material Girl” video.
2. Ortega helmed all of the High School Musical films. As choreographer and director of the Zac Efron-starring musicals, Ortega got to live vicariously through his characters. Ortega himself was deeply involved in theater in high school. He started a company called the Redwood City Civic Light Opera at the age of 17. “It was an organization of all kids and we put on musicals. We had a huge orchestra and it was really fun. High school was where it all began for me,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. Ortega, who was also an avid runner in high school, had to choose between sports and theater, and decided to pursue the arts.
3. The choreographer, originally from Palo Alto, Calif., worked on Michael Jackson’s This Is It tour, until it was cancelled when Jackson died in 2009. Ortega went on the direct the documentary Michael Jackson’s This Is It. “The movie in my head was the movie that would help fans to understand what Michael Jackson was trying to accomplish with This Is It,” Ortega told The Hollywood Reporter. “And it was really difficult. Piecing together [footage], praying that we would find something. Because the cameras weren’t always on. We had 120 hours [of footage] but not all of that was of Michael rehearsing.
4. Ortega, who is of Spanish decent, credits his grandmother for inspiring his dance choreography. “She would do flamenco in the kitchen while cooking migas on a Sunday morning, and I remember the sound of her heels kicking against the linoleum in the kitchen,” he told the Daily News. “That passion and excitement for life has had an impact on everything I’ve done.” When Ortega visited Spain on a promotional visit for HSM3, he was in awe of the warm reception he received there. “The fans were shouting my name at the red carpet.”
5. Ortega was originally slated to direct the upcoming Footloose remake, which was to star High School Musical actor, Zac Efron. Efron dropped out of the project, among rumors that he didn’t want to be typecast as “the musicals guy.” The director left Paramount’s remake over disagreements in the film’s tone. “The differences just became so big between the studio and I. Just the approach to making the film. You don’t want to get in there and find out in the middle of an experience that you’re not on the same page as the studio,” Ortega told The Hollywood Reporter in 2009.
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