Kenny Ortega - 2004 BiographyKENNY ORTEGA BIOGRAPHY 2004
Over the course of his 30-year career, Emmy winning director/choreographer Kenny Ortega has developed an astute understanding of what it takes to create and sustain entertaining, dramatic moments that continually exceed an audience’s expectations at live events and on the screen.
Early in his film choreography career, Ortega had the honor of working alongside Gene Kelly as a choreographer on the movie "Xanadu" and then again on Francis Ford Coppola’s “One From the Heart.” He attributes much of his understanding of choreography for the camera to Kelly, who became his mentor, and who "taught me the art of designing choreography with the relationship between the camera and the dancer in mind."
Ortega went on to choreograph the blockbuster motion picture "Dirty Dancing" and eventually won two Emmy awards (Outstanding Direction and Outstanding Choreography) for his work on the Salt Lake Winter Olympic Games with legendary executive producer/director Don Mischer, which the Washington Post called “A stunningly beautiful pageant” and The New York Times called “An emotional ceremony.that delicately touched on American Patriotism and the international hope for unity..”
His choreography credits include dozens of films, including "Ferris Bueller's Day Off,” “Pretty in Pink” and “St. Elmo’s Fire,” nearly 20 world tours for artists such as Barbra Streisand, The Pointer Sisters, Cher, Michael Jackson, Gloria Estefan, Kiss, The Tubes and Diana Ross, and numerous television specials like the Academy Awards®, the Atlanta Summer Olympics, the Super Bowl XXX Half Time Show and the American Music Awards with executive producer/director Jeff Margolis. His award-winning choreography on Madonna's “Material Girl” music video established him as a pioneer of the genre.
Following in the footsteps of his mentor, Ortega went on to direct the musical motion picture, "Newsies," based on the historical newsboys' strike of 1899, and "Hocus Pocus," a comedy about Salem witches starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy, both for Walt Disney Pictures. Ortega is also an accomplished director of dramatic episodic television programs including “The Gilmore Girls,” which he continues to direct under the auspices of show runner Amy Sherman-Palladino, as well as "Ally McBeal," "Chicago Hope" and the situation comedy series “Grounded for Life,” for which he was nominated for another Emmy Award.
Currently, Ortega is overseeing the creation of a production for the Chairman of Wynn Resorts Limited, Steve Wynn, the mastermind behind Bellagio, Mirage, Treasure Island, and other Las Vegas resorts. He is also staging "Declare Yourself," a nonpartisan campaign founded by motion picture and television producer and philanthropist Norman Lear to energize young voters to participate in the electoral process. His KO Company has also recently entered into a creative partnership with East of Doheny for both for theater and film projects.
But he admits his "first love" has always been the theatre. Ortega began his career at age 13, performing in plays and musicals, including the show, "Oliver," with Georgia Brown. A Redwood City, California native, he is known in the Bay Area as a member and staging director/choregrapher for the Tubes, the 1980s rock 'n' roll band who were among the first to blend theater, performing arts and dance into rock ’n’ roll concerts. It was after a Tubes performance in Los Angeles that Cher approached Ortega and asked him to choreograph her television special. He soon became the choreographer of choice for the entertainment industry's biggest musical artists.
But scale isn’t all that matters to Ortega. "A great book and great characters --that's what I care about," he says, "not just the size of the production."