Lion King dance captain Kendra Moore on becoming a lioness, learning to sing, and returning to Alberta.
By Sally MacKinnon
At the age of five, Kendra Moore found her passion—one that has defined her life for more than three decades. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet came to her hometown of Edmonton, and when ballerina Evelyn Hart took the stage, Moore had a moment of pure clarity.
“I remember it exactly,” she says. “I just thought, ‘I want to do that.’”
This summer, Moore will come full circle. She is returning to Alberta not as a prima ballerina, but a dance captain in Broadway Across Canada’s presentation of Disney’s The Lion King. The musical is based on the 1994 hit movie, about a lion cub named Simba and his journey from exile to king of the jungle.
Moore teaches choreography—which has been set since the show’s inception in 1997—to members of the ensemble, the dancers performing behind main characters. She also takes over when a dancer is sick, injured or on vacation. That means at every performance she is backstage, ready to jump in as a gazelle, lioness or piece of the Serengeti.
Moore doesn’t find her duties stressful, even when she has to take over at a moment’s notice; her transformations give her the same serenity she discovered at five-years-old.
“There is something about it, expressing yourself through movement,” she says. “I’m thinking about nothing else. It’s more than just being in the moment.”
Her journey from ingénue to veteran started at the Edmonton School of Ballet, which she left at 18 to join Ballet Austin. But instead of pursuing a career as a classical ballerina, Moore decided to join Les Ballet Jazz de Montréal (BJM), a troupe that pioneered “jazz dance.” Their method can loosely be defined as a combination of ballet and modern dance, performed to rhythmic, percussive music such as jazz.
BJM didn’t just expose her to a new kind of choreography. She got to travel the world and get paid for it. And while the tours were long, the troupe was small; Moore remembers their pow-wows before each show.
After BJM, Moore joined Hubbard Street Dance in Chicago, a group that emphasizes athletic, energetic routines. She also established a home in the city and planned to retire there when she reached 30. However, once she finally reached her self-imposed deadline, she “felt fine” and decided to continue dancing.
In 2003, serendipity brought her to The Lion King. When female auditions for The Lion King: Cheetah Tour came to Chicago, Moore was out of town, so she tagged along with a male friend.
“I went on a whim. He said, ‘just come with me,’ so I went to the men’s audition, and that was probably the best thing I could have done—as a woman I definitely stood out. The next week, we got a call back for both of us.”
The Lion King was Moore’s first musical. She had to train her voice to sing with the rest of the ensemble, a skill that wasn’t necessary in her previous stage career. She also had to take a crash course in the culture and dialects of South Africa—the inspiration for The Lion King—and find a place within a company of more than 140 people.
Moore danced as an ensemble member with The Lion King: Cheetah Tour from 2003 to 2008, and when it ended she was hired as a dance captain for the current touring production. So far they have travelled throughout the United States, and plan to spend two months in Canada—July in Edmonton, and August in Calgary.
“I never thought we would make it up to Canada. I’m really looking forward to that,” she says. “I knew I was going to leave home young. And I’ve been able to travel all over the world. But I am looking forward to being back in Edmonton and seeing what’s changed.”
The story of The Lion King is one that is close to Moore’s heart, and not just for the vibrant costumes, uplifting score or chance to expand her repertoire. Even after five years, she still finds the appearance of the cheetah during “Circle of Life” to be a haunting experience.
“It touches so many people,” she says. “You find something in it. It’s not just a Disney movie on stage. To me, the show is a journey about finding yourself. It’s that journey you go through in life, being true to yourself—your true, authentic self.”
In The Lion King, Simba’s authentic self was pre-determined: he was born to be king of the jungle. Moore had to wait five years for her true self to emerge; 32 years later, it endures.
See Disney’s The Lion King when it comes to Calgary Aug 4 – 30. For tickets, call Ticketmaster, 403-777-0000.