Who can blame Melinda Sullivan, enjoying the good life of living in L.A., for wanting “Another Day of Sun,” borrowing a line from the title track of the opening scene to the Oscar winning film “La La Land.”
A ray of sunshine herself, Sullivan is simply having the time of her life, after appearing on the silver screen of the six-time Academy Award winning film, at the top of her profession, and looking forward to a May wedding.
Sullivan, a resident of South Pasadena for two years, is a talented tap dancer and choreographer who earned a part in the highly successful film of Hollywood dreamers. A dreamer herself, she was cast among the high-energy performers in the now famous high-energy, jaw-dropping, incredibly staged musical opening number on a jammed L.A. freeway.
Many still wonder how “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle pulled off the feat, closing down the 110/105 interchange to create the mesmerizing, eye-popping sequence.
“It was good – pretty surreal,” admits Sullivan, noting that she joined a skeleton crew, brought in early on of the film’s production to help the choreographers before being cast in the movie.
To date, she’s watched the film twice, calling it “great,” adding that she likes the story that unfolds between the two main stars – Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone – because I can relate to the characters as a working artist. It’s a movie that my grandparents have seen and my students have seen. It’s so great to be able to share this with them all.”
She even had an opportunity to work with the film’s stars, giving Gosling and Stone tap dancing lessons for the movie. Sullivan is on faculty at the Colburn School in Los Angeles, as well as New York City Dance Alliance. She also teaches teen/adult tap dancing lessons at Pointe by Pointe in South Pasadena. In addition, Sullivan performs nationally and internationally as a soloist and teacher at tap festivals year round. Along with tap, she enjoys musical theater and commercial jazz.
A much sought tap dancer, her film credits also include segments on “Glee,” “As the World Turns,,” “90210,” “How to Rock,” “The Goldbergs,” “Dancing with the Stars,” “G.I. Joe: Retaliation.”
Her interest in dancing began at a young age, as she started going to dance studios in Thousand Oaks where she grew after turning 4 years of age. “My older sister took dance, so I wanted to also,” Sullivan said, explaining she trained in all dance styles (ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop) while growing up.
At age 11, she began heading to Los Angeles to train, crafting her talent at the Jazz Tap Ensemble as part of their youth company called the “Caravan Project.” When Sullivan was in high school, she moved her way up to Jason Samuel Smith’s (master tap dancer) dance company. “I started auditioning for professional productions during my senior year,” she said, selected for the 25th anniversary tour of “Cats” as one of her highlights at a young age before earning a role in the U.S. tour of the musical version of “High School Musical.”
To be successful takes “lots and lots of practice,” insists Sullivan. “You need to understand music and your body and how the two interact with each other. I watch footage of tap masters. You have to be passionate about your art form and about perfecting your craft.”
She appreciates tap dancing for its rich history and for being a true American art form. “Tap’s development is similar to that of Jazz music,” she explained. “It’s a melting of many cultures that involves improvisation. Like Jazz music, tap is a rare American art form. A tap dancer can find his/her own voice. I can be a musician as well as a dancer. With tap, I have a voice to express myself. I am able to be an athletic and strong. Tap dancing has provided a great way for me to find my voice and express myself.”
She recently released the album “Portrait of Rhythm,” an interdisciplinary collaboration between gifted pianist and composer Nikos Syropoulos. “Nikos and I started collaborating in 2013,” said Sullivan. “We met through mutual friends. He has a chamber strings ensemble. In 2012, I received the ACE Award for choreography and had the opportunity to create my own show and perform it in New York. Nikos and I created a full length showed called “Gone” in 2013. After that, he started writing music with tap in mind and he wrote ‘Portrait of Rhythm’ (nikospiano.com). We’ve done this show three times in Los Angeles, the largest being at Zipper Hall at the Colburn School.”
While Nikos performed on the piano, Sullivan tap danced to the sounds, garnering a highly favorable applause from the large crowd. “It was great!” she said of the experience. “It’s a beautiful performance space. It was special having my students able to attend my performance live.”
In a way, Sullivan has tap danced her way into the fabric of the South Pasadena community she likes to call home. “I love it!” she said about living in town. “I love the local businesses, and I love teaching here. I lived in New York for five years and I’ve lived on the west side of LA. I was ready for a different experience, and I love it here. I never want to leave!”