Offstage Talent: Taye Diggs

Photo: Stefanie Keenan/Patrick McMullan

The suave baritone heartthrob Taye Diggs is known from TV (ABC’s Daybreak), film (How Stella Got Her Groove Back), and Broadway (A Soldier’s Play, the original Rent cast). His latest venture not only keeps him behind the scenes but also revs up his calm demeanor. On January 9, the Complexions Contemporary Ballet Company presents the New York premiere of Loose Change, a solo he choreographed on virtuoso Desmond Richardson. Diggs spoke with Rebecca Milzoff.

Did you always dance?
My mother would put on the Jackson Five, Earth, Wind & Fire, the Brothers Johnson, and we’d dance and make the record skip. And then, in tenth grade, she influenced me to go to Rochester School of the Arts, and I just took everything. [But] I don’t consider myself a dancer dancer—I never had the traditional body.

How so?
I had horrible feet, no turnout, no flexibility. I was always the singer-actor who could move well. At that time, modern dance was what you did if you couldn’t do ballet; especially, being a black dude, I would often get “Do you do Alvin Ailey–type stuff?” My mother, who also loved dance, would take classes with the Garth Fagan dancers, so I’d also take those.

I bet not many guys took classes with Mom. So how’d you get from there to this piece?
In high school, one of my best friends was Andrew Palermo, who’s the artistic director of All throughout my career, he would teach and choreograph, and I’d always envy that. So every once in a while he’d say, “Why don’t you come teach?”

How much of the work is yours and how much is his?
It’s back and forth; I’ll choreograph a solo, and then I’ll do a piece, or he’ll do a solo, and we’ll collaborate on both … we kind of do what we want. Since he has more of a dancer’s body, his work tends to be more technically based. Because of my acting background, I see the body as a form of—it sounds corny—expression. A lot of times, when working with dancers who do have technique, I have to try to get them to just drop it. A lot of dancers can’t just walk.

Will you be seeing much dance while you’re here? What interests you?
When I can. I have an awful memory—Ailey always, Garth Fagan always. There’s this dude we saw … I feel like he’s Israeli. Omar? I always forget his name. Ohar or Omar? Shoot. He’s been my favorite for quite some time. Omari, Ohari? I’m gonna text Andrew … how do you spell Israel? Shit, he didn’t text back. Ohar … let me try one more person …

Ohad Naharin?
Yes! Oh, my God, you just made my day. His shit, I’m really feeling it. He’s a perfect example of someone—you can’t even tell they have technique. A more earthy, emotional version of Matthew Bourne. Say his name again? I don’t want to forget.

Loose Change
The Joyce Theater, January 9 through 14.

Offstage Talent: Taye Diggs