EXCLUSIVE TV Goodness Q&A: SYTYCD’s Emmy-Nominated Choreographer Sonya Tayeh [INTERVIEW]
I’ve been a Sonya Tayeh fan since she appeared on So You Think You Can Dance in season four. I’ve watched the show since the beginning and enjoyed it this entire time, but I feel like she brought a new energy to it that helped me fall in love with it all over again. Known for her visceral and memorable style of dance, Sonya has been nominated for 3 of her routines. We got the chance to talk exclusively with Sonya about how she got started in the business, her inspiration behind her Emmy-nominated pieces and what she’s enjoyed about this season of So You Think You Can Dance.
TV GOODNESS: Congratulations on your Emmy nomination.Â
Sonya Tayeh: “Thank you. Thank you very, very much. It’s very exciting.”
TV GOODNESS: Before we talk about the 3 routines, I want to hear more about this dance number you’re putting together for the Emmys. What can you tell me?
Sonya: “Well all I can tell you is that we’re doing it. [Laughs.] We’re meeting a few times a week to talk about concepts and ideas together. We’re all very excited to collaborate. It’s gonna be really awesome and fun and that’s all I know right now honestly. They’re giving us free rein, so we’ll see what happens. I’m excited to work with such amazing choreographers. It’s gonna be so fun. And it’s the first time, so that’s exciting. The first time that the nominations are gonna be on the primetime Emmy awards so it’s pretty exciting.”
TV GOODNESS: As far as the performance goes, will you be dancing or are you casting dancers?
Sonya: “Dancers. Casting dancers.”
TV GOODNESS: Are we ever going to see you dance? A lot of people want to see that.
Sonya: “I don’t know. We’ll have to see. There’ll be some surprises for sure.”
TV GOODNESS: Tell me a little bit about what it’s been like to be on So You Think You Can Dance.Â
Sonya: “It’s completely life-changing. It was a dream of mine to be on the show, so when I got the call for it I was so excited and honored to do it. I mean the minute you’re on the show everything shifts ’cause the world sees your work, you know? To be acknowledged and to have the world acknowledge your work and have the non-dancers enjoy your work and say they’re inspired and provoking, it’s just an honor for me. We’re like one big happy family there and I just love that show. It’s really changed everything. It’s shifted my career in so many beautiful ways. It’s pretty awesome.”
TV GOODNESS: Let’s talk about each of the nominated routines. Let’s start with “Possibly Maybe.” Can you tell me about how you picked the song, the story you want to tell and maybe more about the process?
Sonya: “We couldn’t approve Bjork‘s music for a while and when I kept trying to get that song she asked me to write a treatment about what the song meant to me, what the lyrics meant. I created this big old treatment of photos and broke the lyrics down to explain to her how I felt about the song and what the intention behind that piece was going to be. And she said yes. She is my hero. She is my all-time favorite artist. Something comes over me when I choreograph to her stuff. Having Allison [Holker] and Cole [Horibe], these amazing dancers, was just a dream. They worked so hard and they’re so talented. They have such depth in their craft that relating to this deep intention was really intense. It was about this desperate woman who lacks in self-worth and is feeling worthless in all aspects and begging for this love that I don’t even know if she knew that she needed. She just felt like she did. This really cold, disconnected man who is entertained by power, by feeling power, by feeling powerful by someone’s weakness. So it’s very deep and dark and it was a dream. It’s one that sticks to me, in all forms: the dancers, the music, the intention. I’ve been those two characters before in my life and I’ve loved working with Allison and Cole and I loved creating to Bjork’s music, so it was just a dream.”
TV GOODNESS: How about for “Sail.”
Sonya: “Sail were these two crazy ladies, these little powerhouses [Audrey Case and Tiffany Maher]. They’re just so strong in their facility and so athletic and they’re so willing to be open. The piece is really about being strong and athletic and excelling in their craft and excelling in their facility and showing their strength and showing them off. If was very show off-y, if you will. It was a trio at first and one of the girls got injured, so having them learn that so fast was insane to me. They really had to start over and they learned it so fast. They were so open. They didn’t distract. It was just amazing. I love those little girls. I call them the firecrackers, they’re just two firecrackers.”
TV GOODNESS: How about for “Turning Page.”
Sonya: “Turning Page was this idea of, I kept thinking about when you love something and you just celebrate it, about the power of possibility of love lasting forever. Whatever forever is. Just this sense of feeling content and happy and in love and not worrying. It’s a celebration of happiness and a celebration of love. Tiffany and George [Lawrence II] just did it so eloquently. It was just so light and seamless to me. It was just like a celebration between the two and you could tell when they had their solos, they were really expressing that and it was nice. It was a nice release for me.”
TV GOODNESS: When you pick the music and put the choreography to it, at what point do you know which dancers you’ll be getting for the piece?
Sonya: “The night before we start.”
TV GOODNESS: Wow. Do you ever have to modify anything when you’re in rehearsals with them to play up their strengths?
Sonya: “Yes. I always call it adjusting. I don’t like to say modify for some reason, I feel like it’s a matter of shifting it. It’s adjusting to their strengths. I like to play off of what their strengths are and who they are as human beings and who they are as dancers and then from there we build the piece. I prepare the piece before I get there, but I also leave a bunch of holes so they could feel like I’m putting them in it and we’re creating this together and they feel a part of it. I like to do that. There’s definitely some adjusting. There’s lots of dancers that have never had that type of style before or it doesn’t suit their body, or one way looks better and we build off of it. But I always have a base to start.”
TV GOODNESS: What have been your favorite pieces to choreograph or see performed?
Sonya: “I don’t have a favorite. Is that bad?”
TV GOODNESS: No. That’s ok.
Sonya: “I really don’t. I love everything. I’m really proud of my body of work. They’re all really amazing experiences, even when they’re hard, such a learning experience for me.”
TV GOODNESS: Who have been your favorite dancers or who has really surprised you throughout the season you’ve been on the show?
Sonya: “That’s a tough one. Who surprised me? That’s a tough one. It’s so tough ’cause they’re all amazing. I hate this part.”
TV GOODNESS: I won’t make you play favorites, just ruminate on that one. I should’ve asked you this earlier. How did you get started in the business? What made you want to do this?
Sonya: “I knew I wanted to be a choreographer at a young age. I just knew, I fell in love with it. I got a late start when I was in my teen years, but I just knew that I wanted to be a choreographer. I went to school, I got my degree in dance, my bachelor’s in dance. I went to the University of Detroit and then I went to San Francisco and worked with some companies there. I moved to LA when I was 30. By the time I moved there I knew what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to choreograph commercially and delve into the culture of dance and work to be versatile and be consistent at working. When I got there I had my own show. I rounded up a bunch of my favorite dancers had my own show called ‘The Root of Me’ and an agency I wanted to sign me happened to be there and they signed me. [I] told them what I wanted to do, told them I loved So You Think You Can Dance and then I got it a month later. It was just explosive. Everything shifted from there.”
TV GOODNESS: Did you know early on that you wanted to focus on Jazz and Contemporary or did that come later?
Sonya: “It’s a mixture. In the show it’s a genre, but I feel like I’m a mixture of sorts. I took a lot of time exploring the way I wanted to move. It’s kind of a hodgepodge of my approach to things. In terms of being dynamic, I love the Contemporary side of being open and the Jazz side of dynamics. I love athletic movement, full-bodied movement.”
TV GOODNESS: What do you have coming up and what would your dream project be?
Sonya: “I have a rock musical in the works called, ‘The Last Goodbye.’ It’s directed by Alex Timbers and the music is by Jeff Buckley. It’s Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette. It will be at the Old Globe in San Diego. That’s been a dream for me. That’s the one I’ve been holding onto for three years now.Â I’m also working on a play called, ‘Kung Fu’ and Cole is the lead. It’s about Bruce Lee’s life. I just moved to New York. My dream is to indulge in theater more.”
TV GOODNESS: That’s a good place for it. I’m gonna go back to your favorite dancer question, but maybe just tell me one or two dancers who surprised you for whatever reason.
Sonya: “I think this year Malece [Miller] really surprised me. It’s been a tough road and she really progressed and was open to learning. We got really emotional about life, which I found shifted her approach to dancing which was really great.”
TV GOODNESS: I like that answer. Is there anything else that been different or interesting about the show this season?
Sonya: “They’re very versatile. They all carry a different type of strength. They’re younger too.”
TV GOODNESS: And it seems like they’re getting better and better every year.
Sonya: “Oh yeah. And they really all have this really great driveâ€¦oh, wait. You know who really surprised me?”
TV GOODNESS: Who?
TV GOODNESS: Yes, he’s been so good.
Sonya: “That’s the one. Fik-Shun. For sure.”
TV GOODNESS: He’s been surprising in such a great way.
Sonya: “Yeah. He’s crazy good.”
TV GOODNESS: Any final thoughts?
Sonya: “I just feel super honored and grateful to be nominated. It’s a dream to be on the show and this is just a fun bonus. To work with great choreographers and to perform, I’m just excited to be there.”
TV GOODNESS: I wish you the best of luck. I’m eagerly anticipating the Emmy dance performance and I’m rooting for you.
Sonya: “Thanks so much.”
Edited for space and content.
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.
George R. Olson, Tim Rozon, and Sarah Levy Talk the SurrealEstate S2 Finale
[Spoilers for the SurrealEstate Season 2 finale.] How’s everyone doing after the finale? As we close out the second season of SurrealEstate, some of our merry band of misfits are scattering to the winds–Zooey to law school, Phil to the Vatican, and Augie back to his think tank with Rochelle,…
Previewing SurrealEstate Season 2 Finale + Revisiting the Season with George R. Olson
[Warning; General spoilers ahead.] Strap in, SurrealEstate fam, because we’ve arrived at the Season 2 finale, and it’s a doozy. As we saw in the closing moments of last week’s episode, Susan is back. But because we have one more episode left, it’s not as simple as all that, as…
Tyler Hynes Talks Through His Eight-Film Hallmark Holiday Library
Things you realize when you have to re-record your shows on a new DVR – just how many Hallmark movies your people have done. Fan favorite – and one of ours – Tyler Hynes has done eight Christmas movies for Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries since 2018. Alongside…
Spencer Creaghan Talks About Creating SurrealEstate’s Signature Sound
SurrealEstate is winding down its second season, with two episodes left, and just as in Season 1, Spencer Creaghan’s music continues to be a character unto itself. And every week, he shares tidbits with the fans via his s social media channels, something he started to help give them an…
Andrew Walker Talks Christmas Island and the Magical Hallmark Community
[Warning: Spoilers for Christmas Island.] Now that the Screen Actors Guild strike has been resolved, we’re able to resume regularly scheduled programming and interview our favorites and yours. Up first, earlier today, I spoke with Andrew Walker about Christmas Island, which premiered last weekend and encores tonight and through the…
George Olson and Danishka Esterhazy Talk SurrealEstate “I Put a Spell on You”
[Warning: Spoilers for the episode.] Tonight’s fun new SurrealEstate found Luke caught up in an especially bewitching woman, Kay, played by Tara Yelland, Susan trapped in her house, and Zooey learning the ropes. In the next part of my conversation with showrunner George R. Olson and producing director Danishka Esterhazy,…
Danishka Esterhazy Talks SurrealEstate: “The Butler Didn’t”
[Warning: General spoilers for the episode]. Tonight’s new SurrealEstate, “The Butler Didn’t,” follows the team as they investigate the years-earlier mysterious death of a woman whose ghost now reenacts her hanging by dropping over the banister from the second floor to terrify anyone on the landing or at the bottom…
Scott McCord and Elizabeth Saunders Talk the From Season 2 finale
[Warning: Spoilers for the season finale.] How’s everyone doing after that finale? While we wait and wonder and hope for a third season announcement, soon, here’s what Scott McCord and Elizabeth Saunders had to say about their parts of the finale, and where they hope they get to go next….
Scott McCord and Elizabeth Saunders Talk From Season 2 + A Season Finale Preview
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.] It all comes down this, #FROMily. As Sunday’s episode wraps up Season 2, we begin with the aftermath of the terrifying onset of seemingly simultaneous attacks on Julie, Marielle, and Randall, which accelerate the “We gotta get out of this place” of it all. Sara comes…
Alison Sweeney Talks About What’s Next for Hannah and Mike After Carrot Cake Murder: A Hannah Swensen Mystery
[Warning: Spoilers for Carrot Cake Murder.] Everybody OK after that Hannah Swensen Mystery twist? Thankfully, our favorite crime-solving couple is still on speaking term, even if they’re on a break (hopefully not that kind of break). Most importantly, we already know this isn’t the last film in the series. No…
What They Said: Three Revealing Conversations from Survivor’s Remorse “Closure”
WARNING: Spoilers for Survivor’s Remorse “Closure” The latest episode of Starz’s Survivor’s Remorse featured conversations that showed characters really digging deep into their thoughts, emotions and motivations.
Two Takes: The Catch “The Knock-Off”
Who can you trust? If this episode of The Catch was any indication, the answer is just about nobody. Betrayal was running rampant as Felicity (Shivani Ghai) arose from the dead to seduce-con Margot, Gretchen (Maria Thayer, Gotham, The Mindy Project) played gold-hearted Alice 2.0 before swindling Ethan, Tessa jumped…
What They Said: Top 3 Quotable Moments from Preacher “El Valero”
Both Quincannon and Jesse refuse to give up on what they each think is rightfully theirs. While Jesse is struggling to face the consequences of his actions, Quincannon has laid his past demons to rest and is hellbent on moving forward and putting Annville on the map again. Despite a…
What They Said: Favorite Quotes from Supergirl “Worlds Finest”
Oh, Supergirl. That ending was cold. But I can’t hate on you because the latest episode has quickly become one of my favorites.
What They Said: Top 4 Quotable Moments from Black Sails “XXIII”
The dialogue in “XXIII” is phenomenal. It’s always a fun ride when Black Sails carries its viewers along without giving them the chance to catch their breath. When an episode moves at this unforgiving pace, there is no chance for a breather nor is there a respite from the information…
What Lucifer Said: Favorite quotes from Supernatural “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
Supernatural episodes are almost always funny but thanks to the dialogue and a certain man speaking said dialogue, I laughed a lot during “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” You know, when I wasn’t busy fearing for Sam’s life or wondering what in the world was going on with Dean and…
What They Said: The Flash, “Legends Of Today” and Arrow, “Legends Of Yesterday”
Two nights of Arrow +Â The Flash = what more could we ask for?! I don’t know what it is about blending these shows, but I canâ€™t help but feel that every time they come together, they somehow become greater than the sum of their parts. And thatâ€™s saying a lot…
What they Said: Top 4 Quotable Moments from Graceland “Little Bo Bleep”
Shoot outs. Fake outs. And long-awaited revelations. “Little Bo Bleep” was a jam-packed episode that wrapped up some loose ends and totally frayed others. Â It finally gave us one Sarkissian in jail and pulled back the curtain on Briggs’ master plan, but it also set up Jakes for a world…
What They Said: Favorite Quotes from Poldark “Part 4”
â€œWhat have I told you, I don’t require my wife to crochet and sip tea, but I do require her to remember she’s not a beast of burden.â€ No, Iâ€™m not talking about The Rolling Stones! I have to admit though, just for a second, the lyrics popped into my…
3 Moments of Goodness from Brooklyn Nine-Nine “Johnny and Dora”
The most satisfying part of this season’s finale has to the Jake and Amy kiss. Well, they kiss three times but the last one is the best one — and it means something. The Charles and Rosa dynamic was also great. I love how she’s convinced he doesn’t know anything…