Arlene Phillips: 'The Strictly row doesn't really die down'

The choreographer talks about The Wizard of Oz, being bossy – and the row that just won't go away…
Arlene Phillips: 'I'm bossy but fair.' Photograph: Sarah Lee for the
Arlene Phillips: 'I'm bossy but fair.' Photograph: Sarah Lee for the
Sat 19 Mar 2011 20.05 EDT

Phillips, 67, shot to fame in the 70s, creating provocative routines for the dance troupe Hot Gossip. She was a judge on Strictly Come Dancing for six series until she was replaced by Alesha Dixon in 2009. Her choreography features in Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Wizard of Oz at the London Palladium.

What are the highlights of this production of The Wizard of Oz?

Rob Jones's set design is extraordinary. It really does take you on a journey, from Kansas, through Oz, and back again. And when I say things fly, I don't just mean witches! It's really quite special, a visual treat. The other highlight for me is Michael Crawford, who plays the Wizard. He's so hard-working. And you know we've got Danielle Hope as Dorothy, chosen by the public [through BBC1's Over the Rainbow talent show], and she's such a breath of fresh air. She's lovely to work with.

What's your favourite dance number?

A dance to a new song written by Andrew, as Dorothy is about to arrive in the castle. It celebrates the moment they believe the Wicked Witch is about to get the red shoes and uses the skill of the dancers most of all – it's a very contemporary piece.

How is choreographing a musical different from, say, a music video?

I think when you're doing a musical, you have to be attuned to the director's vision. You're working with a variety of people, singers and dancers, so you have to create movement and dance that is for all abilities. You have to further the story through the dance. There's not a lot of time to do dance for dance's sake, as you would for a music video. In a musical, I believe that choreographers are under a great deal of pressure. There's not always the freedom to do what you want to do, because if it ends up being too long the dance breaks are the first thing that will go, because you can't make the story shorter.

What does the company think of you?

I think they think I'm bossy but fair. I'm sure some of them can't stand me but I just get on with it!

Do people still come up to you and talk about Strictly?

I don't think a day of my life goes by when I don't get a tweet, a Facebook message, a stop in the street, a newspaper article… it doesn't really die down.

Does that surprise you?

Yes. Totally. And I sometimes wonder, will I ever be bigger than that moment? At times it seems that I'm so surrounded by it that that's all I am to people.