Behind the Rockettes, a tough choreographer

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NEW YORK (AP) - On a recent afternoon at Radio City Music Hall, a group of Rockettes were being examined with critical eyes.

The 36 dancers practiced one of their signature synchronized numbers, their long limbs seemingly in perfect symmetry. They moved like swans, chins up, arms graceful.

Dance captain Karen Keeler drilled them until the last few moments before another group took the stage. “A one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, one, up two, a three and a four,” she sang out.

Linda Haberman, director and choreographer of the annual “Radio City Christmas Spectacular,” watched from the seats and asked Keeler’s opinion of this group of women. It wasn’t overly positive.

“They were just kind of taking it easy. Do you want me to continue?”

“We have, I think, six seconds,” replied Haberman. “So if you can say it in six seconds, you can do it.”

Keeler looked at her charges. “Do it all better,” she told them.

Haberman laughed. “Details,” she said.

NEW EYES EVERY YEAR

This year is the 85th anniversary of the “Christmas Spectacular” and Haberman is determined to put on a birthday party appropriate for this grand old lady. When one thinks of Christmas in New York, who doesn’t immediately imagine a line of crystal-bedecked women high-kicking it?

Haberman, who has been choreographing the show at Rockefeller Center since 2006, has managed to pull the 90-minute show into the Wii era, adding digital projections on LED screens, a 3-D section that requires special glasses and even sequence inspired by a computer game.

“I try to look at it with new eyes every year,” she says. “It’s really important to honor our past. There are things that are part of the Rockettes’ rich history that I would never let go of. But I think it’s important to keep the Rockettes as entertainment relevant to our changing times.”

It was Haberman who added a new favorite routine _ the Rockettes dancing on a double-decker tour bus. But there are some things she won’t mess with: the “Nutcracker” minisuite, the woozy fall of the wooden soldiers, the “Living Nativity” and “The 12 Days of Christmas” sequences. Haberman keeps those classics but is always tinkering.

“I never leave anything alone because I can always make it better,” she says. “I don’t just leave something. Even if it’s been in the show for five years.”

This year, in a nod to the anniversary, the show will have a costume retrospective featuring Rockettes wearing some costumes they’ve worn through the decades. “It was kind of a fun way to tie it in and also give little bits of history of where we come from,” she says.

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