Behind the curtain

Behind the curtain

By Michael Pickard
June 26, 2023


DQ meets the team behind Danish drama Dansegarderoben (Chorus Girls), which explores the lives of eight dancers who perform at Copenhagen’s Circusrevyen in the 1970s but hide personal challenges behind the glitter and smiles.

Set against the illuminous backdrop of the Circusrevyen, a theatre on the northern outskirts of Copenhagen, an eight-part Danish drama takes viewers backstage to explore the lives of eight dancers in the 1970s.

Louise Mieritz and Ditte Hansen behind the camera

But for the characters in Dansegarderoben (Chorus Girls), the veneer of glamour from performing at the revue every night hides something more sinister, as each woman faces extraordinary challenges in their personal lives.

Leading the line is Sussie (Marie Bach Hansen), who is married to Robert (Jakob Oftebro) with a young daughter. But while she seems to have the perfect life, behind closed doors she is in a controlling relationship. Looking for a way out, she lands a job dancing at the revue – but supported by the other dancers, will she find a way to stand up to her abuser?

The on-stage ensemble is completed by Mille Lehfeldt, Olivia Joof Lewerissa, Marie Reuther, Andrea Heick Gadeberg, Nanna Finding Koppel, Coco Hjardemaal and Rebecca Rønde Kiilerich, while the cast also includes Anders W Berthelsen, Esben Dalgaard, Louise Mieritz, Ditte Hansen, Annika Aakjær, Helle Dolleris and Andreas Bo.

Mieritz and Ditte Hansen also wrote and directed the series, which is produced by Apple Tree Productions for Denmark’s TV2. Long-time collaborators, it follows their eponymous series Ditte & Louise, a 2018 comedy about two middle-aged actresses, which they also wrote and starred in.

Ditte Hansen, who plays Sussie’s mother Kate, describes the real-life Chorus Girls as a “phenomenon,” who still dance on stage today, often performing behind comedians. “They are like decorations for the male story, in a way, and that part is true,” she says. “We did interview the real dancers from the 70s and interviewing a lot of them inspired the characters. We often say the characters’ storylines are fictional but the revue and the actors are real-life people. I have been a comedian in the cabaret for 10 years, so I could peek through the door and see the dancers. I just thought, ‘If these walls could talk, there would be amazing stories and secrets to reveal.’”

The production design aimed to give Chorus Girls a contemporary feel

“The conversation about shame and culture of silence is a huge theme, and shame lives in the dark,” Mieritz continues. “But if you dare to reach out and talk about it, tell others your secrets, you realise that you’re not alone and you can be helped.

“Connection is a huge theme, community is a huge theme, but mainly I would say overcoming shame is the thing we would like to shed light on, because shame cannot live in the light. Shame is a stiffening emotion and that’s what Sussie goes through. The shame of living with her physical and mental abuse is huge.”

Marie Bach Hansen (Hvide Sande) says she was “blown away” by the scripts when she first read them, noting how all eight dancers are main characters in their own right.

“I felt like I just wanted to play these scenes now,” she says. “It really resonated with me, and the importance of talking about these secrets that we all have. Each character has a secret and they meet up in this changing room. Maybe they will start to share some of them throughout the episodes.”

The ensemble cast went through dance training before shooting began

Preparing to play Sussie, the actor leaned into the research completed by Ditte Hansen and Mieritz and then worked with them to build the character we see on screen. “She’s multi-faceted, she has to act in different ways in different situations,” Marie Bach Hansen says. “She’s an actress, a creative fighter. She’s put together by many different pieces of different women. That’s what we talked about, so we built her together on top of the research and interviews.”

But when it comes to performing, could she already dance? “No, not really,” she jokes. “I’m quite a quick learner but I’m not at all a dancer.”

On screen, the dancers are taught routines by Mieritz’s Tutter, the owner of Seedorff Dans dance school who knows the challenges women face in a man’s world. But before shooting started, the eight central actors met up with a choreographer to lead them through the routines that would be performed on stage at the Circusrevyen in the series.

Like their characters, the actors met each other in the rehearsal room and forged a formidable bond that would carry them through production.

Marie Reuther won a Golden Nymph Award for her role

“We started out in the real revue, it’s a tent and very iconic, but we started in February and it was so cold because it’s a tent,” says Marie Bach Hansen. “We had to do all the bikini scenes and all the dancing scenes in one week, which was very good because we remembered the choreography. Louise and Ditte created a great safe space to be in but still you felt like they [the real dancers] must have felt and we could use that. It was a good job we knew each other and could support each other.

“There’s a scene where we have to turn around, bow down and show our butts [to the audience] – that’s a real story that becomes a headline, just eight bottoms without faces. We were doing that and it’s kind of wild to go through that. We felt how these women must have felt standing like that. Then through the spring we filmed all the scenes between the characters but we had this experience of having the first dance week, where we were a little nervous about how we were going to do this. I actually really liked that.”

Ditte Hansen and Mieritz have been writing partners for 15 years, and Ditte & Louise – the story of two struggling actresses in their 40s – was born out of the common refrain ‘write what you know.’

Then, when Ditte Hansen suggested the revue dancers as the topic for a potential drama series, they decided to step into directing for the first time.

“It was the natural next step for us,” Mieritz says. “We also work with the same DP Manuel Claro who did Ditte & Louise. It was amazing to go into a more layered show. We talked a lot about the contrasts in this show, the chorus girls, for instance, the revue and the cabaret.”

Louise Mieritz appears as dance school owner Tutter

The chaotic nature of the revue is reflected in their choice to use a handheld camera at the venue, while scenes at Sussie’s house were filmed with a Steadicam to capture the suffocating atmosphere of her homelife with Robert. They also didn’t want to “make fun” of the 70s, and present the era in a naturalistic way.

“We talked about finding the balance and not making it a museum or a parody but also making it very contemporary while we were still picking colours of the 70s, yellow and browns,” producer Dorthe Riis Lauridsen says. “We talked a lot about that.”

They also talked a lot about money and how the series might be financed, with ITV Studios coming on board as the international distributor.

“It was difficult,” Lauridsen admits. “We had a character-driven show with big female parts, and then it’s not a crime show. Nobody gets killed and I promise you no one will die. It was difficult, and today, the way the show has been received by our audience and the broadcaster TV2 has been quite overwhelming and very positive, so now the show has another afterlife, but it was quite difficult.”

“We wrote what we wanted to write and then slowly we had to have some boundaries from the producers, of course,” Mieritz says of the writing process. “But sometimes we actually find boundaries quite creative. We had the eight women, weaving them into each other and preparing each of their little stories to come to a point where, in episode six, everything crashes. That was what we wanted and with great collaboration from Dorthe and Apple Tree, that’s what they wanted us to write. We really went for it. It’s the biggest show we’ve ever done.”

Ditte Hansen as Sussie’s mother Kate

The show is now only likely to get bigger, after Reuther was named best actress at the Monte-Carlo Television Festival’s Golden Nymph Awards, where Chorus Girls was in competition earlier this month. Reuther plays Joy, the revue’s youngest dancer who doesn’t realise that dancing could be a way of life for her. She is also soon to marry Arne, which raises questions about starting a family.

Discussing various themes of mental and physical abuse, Chorus Girls is also full of the vibrancy and humour that comes with setting a series within a “humour factory,” as Ditte Hansen describes the revue. “We have to believe these people are the funniest in the country. And then it’s very dramatic too,” she says.

But those dramatic moments are made all the more poignant in the knowledge that they are based on true stories of dancers from the 70s, 80s and 90s, who revealed to Hansen and Mieritz their own experience of domestic violence and being objectified.

“The things they told us, we just sat there and thought, ‘The drama of women dancing in bikinis and smiling, then going home and getting beaten up, that’s so grotesque and so dramatic we need to bring this in.’ They brought this to the story,” Ditte Hansen says.

“We both have always been concerned with the female experience and the female perspective. By putting our stories in the 70s, we also thought that sometimes when things are at a distance, you can see it more clearly. We can all see this is wrong and then we can talk about, well, is this still happening? Oh, yes it is. So it is critical to look at our past.”

tagged in: , , , , , , , ,