Travis Payne, the choreographer for This Is It, is sharing his memories of working with Michael Jackson.
Travis, a Michael Jackson aficionado from the age of 5, has been working with Michael since the video for “Remember the Time.” His last project with the King of Pop was working on the choreography for This Is It.
When Michael passed, Travis continued on with the entertainer’s work by acting as an executive producer for the rehearsal documentary. There was so much footage that at first it was difficult to decide what pieces would make into the film and what kind of piece This Is It would be. Over time, the producers decided that they would just let Michael lead the project.
“We just took that set list that he had approved with the concepts that he wanted, with the messages that he had put into the show,” the choreographer explained. “That’s what we did. We allowed him to decide what the movie would be.”
This Is It, running for 111 minutes, tells the stories behind each of the songs, so audiences really get an intimate look at what the concert would have been.
“The documentary, as we set out to do it, is a legacy piece. It speaks to Michael’s great brilliance and his great passion for his work,” Travis continued. “That was our mission: To tell the story of his last great creative process, and to share experiences that up until this point had only been reserved for those creating with Michael.”
Travis puts emphasis on the word with. Although, he was the choreographer for This Is It, Travis made it clear that the singer had a lot of input on the moves. They even developed a never-before-seen routine called The Drill. The dance was militarily inspired as Michael wanted everyone to dance in lock-step unison.
Then there were the essential songs that Michael knew he had to perform fans. Travis explained that Michael called tunes like “Thriller,” “Smooth Criminal” and “Billie Jean” sacred songs, meaning they absolutely needed to be included in any show he did. But Travis’ favorite piece from This Is It would be the number for “Earth Song.”
“’Earth Song’ incorporates all of Michael’s messages of peace and love and good wilawakening and awareness—which was really his main focus for wanting to do This Is It at all,” Travis explained, adding that Michael wanted to remind his audience, and the world, of all the work that there was left to do.
Travis recalled that Michael was really focused on sending the right messages to the audience during his shows. Chief among those was that we really needed to take better care of the Earth.
Ever the environmentalist, Michael incorporated a lot of green technologies into his show. For example, the smoke from the fog machine was produced from 100% natural oils. The programs, which were to be printed on recycled paper, even listed a bunch of eco-friendly agencies that fans could get involved with. Even Michael’s motorcade in London was a fleet of hybrid vehicles.
The routine has special meaning to Travis because it was the last number that Michael ever rehearsed. He thinks that it was fitting for Michael’s swan song to be about the topic that he was so dedicated to.
– Sonya Eskridge