Director and choreographer, Jamal Sims, has had a storied career. The native Californian has worked with some of the brightest stars in the entertainment industry, including the now-deceased King of Pop, Michael Jackson. With still much more in store, Sims has reached a pinnacle — at least for now — along his journey, having been selected to contribute to the choreography of Cirque Du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour.” The Jackson estate-sanctioned production recently launched in Canada, a timely start date in view of its iconic star’s untimely demise currently being evaluated in a court of law.
Sims spoke with rolling out about his career, the show and his feelings about the trial.
Give us the rundown on your credits to date.
I recently choreographed for 2011 Footloose.
My additional credits as artistic director and choreographer include film, television, music videos, tours and live shows. I’ve worked with Britney Spears (Circus tour), Madonna (Sticky and Sweet tour), the Spice Girls and Céline Dion, among others. I’ve also worked on 17 films to date. In film and television, I’ve collaborated on productions that include Step Up, Step Up 2 the Streets and Step Up 3D, “Dancing with the Stars” (Miley Cyrus), “Dancing with the Stars” – Macy’s Stars of Dance, Hannah Montana, Get Smart, Hairspray, Footloose (2011 release) and the 82nd and 83rd annual Academy Awards. I’ve also directed and choreographed one episode of the Web series LXD and contributed to music videos for Austin Brown, John Travolta, Enrique Iglesias, Jennifer Lopez and many more. I’m working on a Cirque du Soleil show for the first time.
How long have you been dancing or when did you first acknowledge your talent?
I have been dancing all my life, and professionally since I was 17. My first working job as a dancer was Michael Jackson’s “Remember The Time.”
How did your desire to become a choreographer come to pass?
I realized that dancers’ career are short-lived, so I wanted to move into a similar field that had longevity.
What is the path to get from fledgling or aspiring dancer to professional choreographer with lofty credits such as yours?
My advice would be to find a great mentor who is a choreographer and ask to assist them in anyway possible. On the job experience as a dancer to a choreographer is probably the best advice I could give any aspiring choreographer.
Would you say the world of a dancer differs greatly from other entertainment professions? If so, how?
I think it is very similar actually. We are a small community where we all know each other, and it is extremely competitive. So there is still a lot of determination and hard work on top of just pure talent.
The director Jamie King whom I had worked with on other artist world tours such as Spice Girls, Madonna and Britney Spears brought me on board.
Describe the show for Michael Jackson fans.
It is a perfect mix of music, dance, and acrobatics that lends itself to a story told through the magic we have all known to love from a musical genius such as the great, and one and only Michael Jackson.
What is your specific contribution to the show?
I choreographed three of his songs on the tour. Those were “Dance Machine,” “Jam,” and “Black Or White.”
Did you feel any pressure based on his legendary stature?
I wouldn’t say pressure, but I was extremely anxious and excited to get started! So I would say more anticipation than pressure, because he was and still is my Idol.
The production is currently in Canada, when will it arrive in the U.S., where and how long?
It starts in Ottawa, Canada, on Oct. 7, and start in the U.S. on Nov. 9 in Seattle, Washington, and then several other cites in the U.S.
What were your personal feelings about Michael Jackson, since you’ve come full circle from “Remember the Time” to the Cirque show?
I’m glad I lived in a time that I was able to experience a person who was as genius as he was, both as a musical legend, and a humanitarian.
What went through your mind when he passed away?
I was actually in the streets of New York filming a movie I was choreographing and heard the whispers going through the streets “Did you hear Michael Jackson just passed away?” My heart began to race until I could confirm that in fact he had just passed away. At that moment, I felt sad because I thought that everyone had turned their back on him, and in his last moments everyone realized just how magical he truly was. I realized that I would never get to experience his magic personally again.
Given your connection, is the trial of special interest to you?
No. There were so many things that may have led to his death and I don’t think it is one man’s burden, especially a doctor, to carry.