Telegraph: How did the Royal Ballet train the new Tarzan?


Telegraph | For The Legend of Tarzan, out in UK cinemas from 6 July, director David Yates wanted his leading man Alexander Skarsgård to be the most authentic and instinctive Tarzan ever seen. Whom did he task with making it happen? Step forward, Royal Ballet choreographer Wayne McGregor

Getting English ballet’s most respected choreographer to train the lord of the apes may not seem an obvious move. But director Yates knew exactly what he was doing. “David had a very clear vision of the Tarzan he wanted,” McGregor says. “He didn’t want a brutish, built-up character. David wanted someone more elastic, panther-like and graceful. So that’s where I came in.”

Alongside his work as Resident Choreographer with the Royal Ballet, McGregor is what’s known in Hollywood as a movement director. “I was tasked with creating this instinctive, almost balletic side to Tarzan,” he says. “Your body is an archive of all your experiences. So if Tarzan was raised in a jungle, his actions and the way he moved would be very different to that of a westernised man.

If Tarzan was raised in a jungle, his actions and the way he moved would be very different to that of a westernised manWayne McGregor

“It wasn’t just getting Alex Skarsgård to move like an ape, it was also making him more alert in that environment. How would you land on a branch? How would you duck and dive down? What does it feel like to move around 360 degrees, very quickly? What’s your eye focus and attention? Alex wanted a feeling that his actions came from the gut. He wanted to feel as if he were really in that environment and be believable there, as both a physical and emotional character.”

McGregor undertook extensive research on animal movement and behaviour. “We did a lot of work on apes and the way they move and their social structure and sense of status. We explored what happens when an ape dies and looked at the physical and gestural language of apes.”

Used to working alongside some of the most incredible dancers in the world, McGregor was amazed at the work ethic of the 6ft 6in actor who admitted to not being able to touch his toes. “Alex would start work at 6.30am and by then he had already done a gym session. He was eating 6,000 calories a day, then doing a full day of shooting late into the evening and even pumped iron when he wasn’t filming.

“We would start with yoga or Pilates to get that liquidity into his movements as his body wasn’t used to that. We then worked on developing relationships with what he would face in the jungle. These were the more playful challenges. What would you do if you were faced with a lion? What would that feel like? What would you do if you heard an elephant or were socialising with the gorillas that raised you? I am an expert in movement and I try to find the physical signatures in people and animals.

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