Cats is only now reaching the UAE. How does the production reaching new places make you feel?
Very proud and curious, since this production has travelled the world and been received with love, it will be interesting to see how these new territories take to it.
For those who don’t know what Cats is, please describe it.
Cats is the only show in the world that is totally danced through and the dancers are trained to look like cats – in other words animals, not humans. Therefore, so far it has appealed to everyone – I can only hope that love will follow it into the Middle East.
You created this beloved show over 30 years ago – how have your feelings towards Cats changed over time, if at all?
My feelings remain as they were at the beginning; to keep it as something unusual and containing brilliant dancing and singing. The lyrics by T S Eliot are marvellous and gave wonderful ideas on which to build the show, and of course Andrew [Lloyd Webber]’s music is wonderful and we have all loved it for all this time.
You clearly had an early love of performance that you were able to explore. For young people who feel they would like to perform, what are the most important qualities?
The knowledge that you will never get anywhere if you sit on your mobile phone. You have to get enormous physical strengths, you have to train your voice to be strong and to be able to work when you are puffing and out of breath, you have to learn about focus so that you can really project your personalities across large spaces; this is quite hard to achieve and takes a lot of practice. That is why I worry about young people’s fascination with their mobile phones. Nobody needs a strong focus to tap away on a telephone.
What support should be in place to enable a country to have a vibrant cultural scene?
If a government had to do just one thing, it would be to develop academies where people can sing and act and dance all under one roof, so that the three arts can naturally meet, because if people want to enter the business they will have to accomplish these arts at a high level.
You have inspired many, and I see people calling you a hero.
I am very thrilled that so many people tell me that my work has made a difference to their lives, and if that is true I am excessively proud and happy.
You were a dancer, then became a choreographer. For a non-dancer, this seems like a natural progression, but is that true?
No, it is not a natural progression, I certainly did not plan to do it. It came totally by surprise when a choreographer in charge of a show I was appearing in walked out and the cast and producer turned to me and said, ‘You do it’. I thought it was very strange they said that, however I made the attempt and to my surprise it worked.
Nonetheless you continued performing as a dancer, and have fulfilled other roles as well — how did you find yourself doing all these roles? What is your favourite hat to wear?
One of my favourite hats to wear is to direct television. I love controlling cameras and working with the cameramen, and as I am still a performer at heart, I find it has kept me near the performing instinct because the creation of film on TV is very rewarding and you have to draw on those instincts, just as you have to have an amazing instinct to be a good dancer.
Have you ever been faced with something that you felt you may not be able to do?
I teach all the young people I work with and the older ones, too, that you must never say no to anything, so in answer to your question; I wouldn’t allow myself to feel that, I would just leap in and get on with it and so far that seems to have worked.
What would you like to do or achieve in the performing arts that you have not already done? I love my job and have done since I started appearing in the ballet aged 14 years old. Apart from staging a circus, I have actually done all of it and enjoyed every minute, so I have had the luck to do most genres in the performing arts.
You appear to be very active and have created an exercise routine for older people, too. What are your tips when it comes to staying active later in life?
I believe that in later life you must keep up your exercise regime. Of course, it will become much more difficult than when you started, but you must keep the muscles working in an advanced way, otherwise old age is going to catch up with you very quickly.
What do you do, yourself, on a daily basis to achieve this?
I do a 40-minute stretch every day of my life and that’s one of the reasons I can still move in spite of the endless injuries I’ve had. I recommend this for everybody.
Cats runs at Dubai Opera from January 16-28, with tickets from Dh275.