Two-time Academy Award®-nominee and two-time Golden Globe® winner Gena Rowlands (The Notebook) stars as the crusty 75-year-old South Florida matron Lily Harrison, who unexpectedly develops a remarkable, life-changing friendship with her much younger, gay... dance instructor in the highly-anticipated feature film adaptation of the beloved international hit comedy, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, written by two-time Writers Guild Award winner and Emmy® nominee Richard Alfieri.
Two-time Academy Award®-nominee and two-time Golden Globe® winner Gena Rowlands (The Notebook) stars as the crusty 75-year-old South Florida matron Lily Harrison, who unexpectedly develops a remarkable, life-changing friendship with her much younger, gay dance instructor in the highly-anticipated feature film adaptation of the beloved international hit comedy, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, written by two-time Writers Guild Award winner and Emmy® nominee Richard Alfieri.
Cheyenne Jackson co-stars as Michael Minetti, the 30-year-old teacher who is assigned to Lily after she calls to request private lessons from Cunard’s Dance Studio. Cunard (Julian Sands) has the best-looking staff of any dance studio in the state. Frustrated that his Broadway career has been reduced to teaching old ladies to dance, Michael is ornery and disrespectful when he arrives at Lily’s spacious, ocean-view apartment for her first lesson. Tempers quickly flare and Lily orders him out. Michael knows he was out of line, and really needing the work, swallows his pride and asks Lily for a second chance. Surprisingly, she says yes.
At first, Lily and Michael see each as stereotypes – a conservative, judgmental older woman and an immoral, untrustworthy scam artist. But as they work their way through the dances – the Swing, Tango, Waltz, Foxtrot, Cha-Cha, and Contemporary Dance – and get to know each other, Lily and Michael discover how far from the truth their initial impressions actually were. Their trust and respect grows, and by the final lesson, Lily shares with Michael her most closely guarded secret and he shares with her his greatest gifts, his loyalty and compassion.
A poignant comedy filled with music and dance that also addresses the serious issues of intolerance and ageism, Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks is the story of two people experiencing one of life’s greatest joys, the enduring love and friendship of another human being. The film also stars Oscar®, Emmy®, Tony® and Grammy® award winner Rita Moreno (West Side Story), 2-time Academy-Award®-nominee Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook), Julian Sands (Leaving Las Vegas), Kathleen Rose Perkins (Gone Girl), Emmy® Award-winner Anthony Zerbe (American Hustle), and Simon Miller (“Gossip Girl”).
Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks was written by 2-time Writers Guild Award winner and Emmy® nominee writer Richard Alfieri and was first produced in 2001. Uta Hagen starred as Lily (in her final stage performance), with David Hyde Pierce as Michael at the Geffen... Playhouse in Los Angeles; and in New York, the late Polly Bergen and Mark Hamill performed at the Belasco Theatre. The play has been translated into 12 languages and staged in 24 countries around the world and all the major capitals including London, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, and Sao Paulo. It is an international hit and one of the most produced plays in the world.
Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks was written by 2-time Writers Guild Award winner and Emmy® nominee writer Richard Alfieri and was first produced in 2001. Uta Hagen starred as Lily (in her final stage performance), with David Hyde Pierce as Michael at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles; and in New York, the late Polly Bergen and Mark Hamill performed at the Belasco Theatre. The play has been translated into 12 languages and staged in 24 countries around the world and all the major capitals including London, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, and Sao Paulo. It is an international hit and one of the most produced plays in the world.
“There is a reason this story has communicated this resoundingly from Athens to Tel Aviv to Finland to South Africa to Japan to Spain,” said Arthur Allan Seidelman, who directed the play and the feature film. “It’s honestly human. It’s about looking past the externals and dealing with who we are at the core.”
The story was inspired by a “visit to a ballroom dance competition at the stately Don CeSar Hotel in St. Pete Beach, Florida,” said writer Richard Alfieri. “My mother was recuperating from an illness, and I took her and my stepfather, both of whom were ballroom dancers, to watch the competition to cheer them up.”
“I noticed that all the dancing couples were young men with much older women,” Alfieri continued. “Old women made up and dressed to the nines in their ballroom finery. Questions flooded my mind. Where were all the older men? How had these people from different generations become dance couples? They seemed so dissimilar, yet so close. My writer’s mind began to toy with the mysteries of their relationships.”
Originally, Alfieri considered writing the concept as screenplay. “But then I hit upon the idea of dance lessons,” he explained, “ one lesson per scene, and decided to start with a play.” “Richard sent me the play while I was doing a film in Australia,” said Seidelman. “I loved it. So I got it to Uta Hagen, the premiere theatre actress of the time. I spent all day shooting and then half the night on the phone with Uta…she was in semi-official retirement, but she came out of semiretirement to do the play.”
Pierce and Seidelman went together to New York to meet Uta. The play ran for six months at the Geffen. “The Broadway producers were committed to the play and they wanted to open Florida before New York,” said Seidelman. “So we did the Coconut Grove in Florida with Rue McClanahan and Mark Hamill, and then New York with Polly Bergen and Mark Hamill. Seidelman invited his good friend, veteran film producer Jerry Offsay, to the Los Angeles opening of Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks. It was love at first sight.
For the producers, if was a question of finding a way to do the film with the right people. “We didn’t want to do it with just anybody,” said Offsay. Arthur Seidelman showed Jerry the latest adaptation of Alfieri’s screenplay, which had been rewritten for film, broadened out, and... included a larger cast. “Arthur and I met again at the Beverly Glen deli,” recalls Offsay, referring to a popular industry restaurant off Mulholland Drive in Beverly Hills. He liked what he read and reached out to his
For the producers, if was a question of finding a way to do the film with the right people. “We didn’t want to do it with just anybody,” said Offsay. Arthur Seidelman showed Jerry the latest adaptation of Alfieri’s screenplay, which had been rewritten for film, broadened out, and included a larger cast. “Arthur and I met again at the Beverly Glen deli,” recalls Offsay, referring to a popular industry restaurant off Mulholland Drive in Beverly Hills. He liked what he read and reached out to his
longtime colleague and associate, Marc Platt. By spring 2004, the two producers were partners on the film.
Alfieri always wanted Seidelman to direct the screen adaptation. “Arthur and I were both students of the late, great Sanford Meisner,” said Alfieri, “who taught us truth in art, being real under imaginary circumstances. Those are the lessons I remember and apply to my writing to this day. And I know Arthur does with his directing. We have similar artistic sensibilities, which make us natural collaborators.”
“Arthur Seidelman was responsible for the successful premiere in Los Angeles, the Broadway, and West End productions,” Alfieri continued. “He understands the material as well as I do, and I consider it as much his as it is mine.” “It’s entertainment that also addresses the serious issues of intolerance, particularly religion-based bigotry, ageism, particularly the issues facing older women, and women’s rights, specifically reproductive rights and freedom from domestic tyranny,” said Alfieri. “Audiences want to be entertained and amused, but they also want to think and feel.”
In 2010, while working on another project in Hungary, Arthur Seidelman, producer Tom Brodek, and associate producer Simon Miller, had met György Bruno and a team of innovative Hungarian filmmakers who were interested in creating high-quality films. András Somkuti, CEO of György Gattyán’s newly-formed entertainment division, read the script and fell in love with it. By spring of 2012, Somkuti had given the green-light, and they were in pre-production with Docler Entertainment.
Gena Rowlands was Arthur’s first choice for the film adaptation, and Gena and her agents were equally excited about her doing the movie. In October 2012, Arthur and Jerry began casting for Michael. “We spent 10 days reading 200 actors,” recalls Offsay. Ultimately they decided to hire Cheyenne Jackson based on seeing him on Broadway. “I got a call less than a week before the production began,” said Cheyenne Jackson, “asking if I wanted to star opposite Gena Rowlands and if I could be on a plane to Budapest. After jumping up and down like a crazy man for 45 seconds on the corner of 54th and 9th in NYC, I said yes.”
“Gena and Cheyenne had fantastic chemistry, from the first day they were together,” said Offsay, recalling their first meeting.
A co-American/Hungarian production, the Hungarians are Executive Producer Bruno Péter György and Producers György Gattyán and András Somkuti. The Americans include Producer Thomas Brodek, Executive Producers Marc Platt and Jerry Offsay and Associate...
A co-American/Hungarian production, the Hungarians are Executive Producer Bruno Péter György and Producers György Gattyán and András Somkuti. The Americans include Producer Thomas Brodek, Executive Producers Marc Platt and Jerry Offsay and Associate Producer Simon Miller.
Physical production took place at the Astra Film Studio, where all interiors were shot, and principal photography lasted 28 days, with 2 weeks of rehearsal and dance lessons. Exteriors were shot in St. Petersburg, Clearwater and the Gulf beaches of Florida, where the story takes place.
This is the third film Arthur Seidelman has made in Hungary, which has become a new home base for his productions. “There is a vast amount of talent in the city,” he said. “The dance extras were all from Budapest. We made them look like Florida tourists – which meant a lot of spray tan!”
“I’d never been to Hungary,” said Gena Rowlands. “We were in a beautiful, old-fashioned hotel in Budapest with a big ballroom. Did you know it used to be Buda on one side of the Danube and Pest on the other? We were there for about three months. The Hungarian people are really nice. A lot of American films are being made there.”
The film was shot by Academy Award®-winning cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind). “He’s one of the geniuses of camera-work,” said Arthur. One of the Hungarian producers brought him into the project, ‘would you be ok with Vilmos as DP?’ he asked me. I said – ‘are you kidding? Are you kidding? I am more than okay.’”
Arthur Seidelman and Richard Alfieri discussed the changes they made staging Six Dances in Six Weeks for film. “The play only has two characters,” Seidelman said,” and so we had to make the people we had only been talking about – we had to bring them to life as real characters in the film.”
“The overbearing neighbor played by Rita Moreno, the head of the dance studio played by Julian Sands,” Alfieri said, going through the characters, “the receptionist at the dance studio played by Kathleen Rose Perkins, and Michael’s new flame played by Simon Miller. All of these were characters on the other end of a phone conversation in the play.”
“And I added another pupil for Cheyenne, a horny fox, played by Jacki Weaver,” said Alfieri, smiling.
“The big dance outing,” said Alfieri, “which takes place between the two acts of the play, becomes a big production sequence on screen. A funeral referred to in dialogue on stage is a scene in the film. It was all pretty intuitive. As with any adaptation, the goal is to save the best bits from the source material and open up the rest cinematically.”
“Film scenes are shorter,” Alfieri continued. “Films have more movement. You know the old saw, ‘Movies have to move!’ But films move with good dialogue, too. Movement isn’t just physical, it’s emotional.”
“I was on the set a great deal – like a ghost haunting its castle,” said writer Richard Alfieri. “It’s a fascinating process, watching the evolution of the play or film from something that’s the personal property of the writer to something that everyone on the set identifies with and feels is his/her artistic property, too. And it’s gratifying to watch the actors grow from tentativeness at the table read on the first day of rehearsal to total confidence and a complete understanding of and identification with the characters under the guidance of the director.”
Alfieri describes the set as “a very happy place. No star attitude, just pleasantness, dedication, and great work. Gena and Cheyenne both brought perception and conviction to their characters and to the film, and both were a joy to work with.”
Jerry was pleased to make the distribution deal with Ruth Vitale at The Film Collective. “Ruth had great enthusiasm and really got the story,” he said.
Kay Cole choreographed the original productions of Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks at the Geffen Playhouse and the Broadway production at the Belasco Theatre. She also choreographed the Los Angeles production at the Falcon Theatre...
Kay Cole choreographed the original productions of Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks at the Geffen Playhouse and the Broadway production at the Belasco Theatre. She also choreographed the Los Angeles production at the Falcon Theatre.
“Arthur Seidelman and Richard Alfieri fought for me for the film,” said Kay, “and I am eternally grateful. This is a beautifully written story with dancing as an underscore to their friendship. My job was to collaborate with the director's vision, all the while keeping the writer's story alive – and at the same time discovering the dancing skills of the two actors.”
“My way of working as a choreographer is to always maintain the characters intention,” she continued. “With each cast, I design new choreography that suits their skills and interpretation, keeping the director and writer's vision intact. Every show is different, but musicals generally have to have certain required dance skills.”
“I dance like a writer,” confessed Alfieri. “I took dance and movement classes years ago when I was acting, but, believe me, I was no Nijinsky.” With no experience as a ballroom dancer, Alfieri had to research all the dance steps for each lesson. “I chose dances that were entertaining and commented on the scene,” Alfieri said. “Of course, the dance lessons in the play are a metaphor for the life lessons the characters teach each other when they’re not dancing. Our director, Arthur Seidelman, and choreographer, Kay Cole, took my written dance instructions and turned them into fluid and entertaining encounters between the two lead characters, Michael and Lily.”
“The dancing serves as the metaphor to finding a partner in life,” added Seidelman.
“We rehearsed quite a bit,” said Kay Cole, talking about working with Gena Rowlands. “Gena’s natural grace and elegance were an asset to her dancing. I think her favorite dance was the foxtrot.”
“I can dance a little bit, but I’m not a dancer,“ said Rowlands.
Despite his Broadway pedigree, Cheyenne Jackson does not consider himself to be a professional dancer. “I would call myself a professional faker, “said Cheyenne. “I have never taken ballet or jazz, just some tap for Thoroughly Modern Millie. Thank God for Kay Cole, who was incredibly patient and made me look like a professional dancer.”
“He is a talented, natural dancer and charming,” said Kay, speaking of Cheyenne, “and I am thrilled to say he is my friend.”
“Gena had the pleasure of working with Cheyenne, who was just the most supportive partner for her,” said Seidelman. “They’re wonderful together…so open, so vulnerable.”
In the play, there are only two characters. “In the film,” said Kay, “All the ballroom scenes are expanded and the characters only spoken of in the play are seen. So I had a wonderful time working with and creating choreography for, as many as 45 dancers.”
“With a play the stage is a certain size, “Kay continued. “Usually the landscape is larger for movies, because there is no limit to one's imagination and possibilities in a film.”
Director Seidelman laughed. “Kay has become an expert at teaching seniors who don’t know how to dance how to dance. She taught them all.”
The music for the individual dances was chosen by Richard Alfieri, while the score was written by Hungarian composer Attila Pacsay. “What a lucky break for me,” said Seidelman, ”all the music was recorded in Budapest except for the dance music.”
“These dances never go out of style, “said Cheyenne. “And thanks to shows like “You Think You Can Dance” is keeping these alive and well.”
“At one point in the movie,” said Kay, “Michael says, ‘what you communicate when you dance is the soul.’ I agree with this sentiment. Dancing is an expression of the heart and should be celebrated in all the beautiful and different ways each person expresses his spirit.”
“Gena is a consummate actress,” said Arthur Seidelman, “and I have been privileged to work with her. She is one of the finest actors in all mediums.” “Gena Rowlands is “the ladiest damn lady I’ve every seen,” said Richard... paraphrase a line from “The Ballad of Cable Hogue.”
“Gena is a consummate actress,” said Arthur Seidelman, “and I have been privileged to work with her. She is one of the finest actors in all mediums.”
“Gena Rowlands is “the ladiest damn lady I’ve every seen,” said Richard Alfieri, “to paraphrase a line from “The Ballad of Cable Hogue.”
“I believe she is one of the greatest living actresses of our time,” said Cheyenne Jackson, about his co-star, Gena Rowlands. “I was extremely intimidated at the start, but I realized early on that if this was going to work, you would have to feel the chemistry between the two of us and I would have to let go of my worship of her and just listen and learn from her. And you bet your ass I did just that. Watching her react and listen and be in the moment was terribly exciting and just a joy.”
“Gena and I were doing a driving scene on a very hot day in Florida – so hot we had ice packs under our costumes to keep us cool, “Cheyenne confides, “and at one point the ’78 Firebird I was driving bottomed out and we got stuck. There we were in 90 degree heat in a car with no air conditioning, and Gena turns to me with a mischievous smile and says…’Glamorous, eh?” She’s heaven.”
“Gena does a mean boogie-woogie,” Cheyenne adds.
Cheyenne Jackson was very clear about why he wanted to make Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks. “One,” he said, “Gena Rowlands. Two, the thematic elements of aging, pre-judging, loss, connection, mortality, and true love. Three,” he concluded, “Gena Rowlands.”
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