Returning to Cats a milestone for Cabbagetown dancer, choreographer

Dennis Hanagan –

Gino Berti of Cabbagetown danced in CATS at Massey Hall 25 years ago—and now he’s choreographer of that same musical showing at the Panasonic Theatre.

Berti turned out in fit form on a sunny June afternoon on the patio of the Merryberry café on Parliament St. to talk about his work. Even sitting in a chair he exudes energy—a trait that’s helped drive him through 30 plus years of dance work.

He talked about the four “congested” months he went through earlier this year, doing a giant dance show in London, Ontario called Dance Legends. Right after that he started with CATS. In the middle of that he worked with the Miss Universe Canada Pageant as well as with the musical Big Band Legends.

It’s a schedule that might tire many people, but not Berti. “It was fun,” he says. “I love what I’m doing.” He recalled another rigorous time performing in Anne of Green Gables at the Charlottetown Festival. “I danced my butt off.”

There was a years-long stretch in his life when he never had to go north of Yorkville to work. Those were days taken up with musicals like Miss Saigon, Wizard of Oz, and Beauty and the Beast. “I did 15 years of mega musicals and I never left the borders of Bloor St.”

Choreographing the current CATS, Berti had restrictions to work with. The stage is smaller, the numbers of cats is down to 18 from 22, and some bars of music are missing. The Massey show he danced in ran three hours with intermission. The current show with intermission is two hours.

“I was taught the original choreography by Gillian Lynne and that’s what I brought to the table. It’s a little more personalized. But the steps are the ones I did 25 years ago.”

Selecting dancers, Berti looks for long slim builds. CATS involves lots of stretching. “It’s feline. It lengthens your body because it’s all linear and dances made out of lines. There are a lot of ballet lines and jazz lines in this production.”

Getting the moves just right is a labour of perfection. He puts images into dancers heads, such as how cats look when they breathe or lie down. “I demonstrate it. I show it. I tell them what they think.”

When CATS first showed in Canada it transformed musicals in this country, says Berti. “When CATS first came out 28 years ago it changed Canada. It was the fist mega musical. It changed my life when I was a dancer. It was a dream show and we (the cast) were a family.”

Dancers can’t sit back from their physical workouts as they wait for their next contracts. “I was very good at constantly training and going to class to take ballet, jazz, modern, because you never know what you’re going to be doing in shows.”

“Between my contracts I would go to New York or L.A. and take class. I’d have my backpack and I would take about two or three classes a day, then I’d go see a Broadway show.”

Berti’s been a Cabbagetowner for the past 15 years. “I like the convenience. I like being Downtown, the character. I love the homes. It’s very diverse.”