Choreographer Travis Wall Gives Adam Rippon His Wings in Stars on Ice

Travis Wall with Adam Rippon
Christine Linnell

We've seen several epic friendships emerge from Adam Rippon's post-Olympics career—from Gus Kenworthy to Reese Witherspoon—but for skating fans and Dancing with the Stars viewers, his friendship with out dancer/choreographer Travis Wall is definitely one to watch.

"I connected with Travis during the Olympics, and it's been a dream of mine to work with him," Rippon told PRIDE. Back in March, he collaborated with Wall on a routine for Stars on Ice, the live, figure skating show currently on tour in cities across the country. "I think he's so creative and so brilliant. Getting to spend a few days with him, he's just such a light and so awesome. It was a dream come true."

And for Wall, the feeling is 100% mutual.

"He is so funny, he's so quick, he's so witty. He’s exactly like he is on television," he said. "Everything that came out of his mouth, I would literally fall to the floor laughing. We were just shooting the shit, it was two peas in a pod immediately. It was so much fun."

Being advocates for the LGBTQ community has been a common goal for the two of them this year. Wall recently collaborated with Broadway star Shoshana Bean on an emotional performance to her cover of "This Is Me," the breakout hit and queer anthem from the soundtrack of The Greatest Showman.

Wall said he was doing his best to inspire and encourage people through the performance. "I try to hold that responsibility so dear to my heart and support as much as I can," he said. "There are so many things going on in the world right now. You turn on the news and it's always about gun violence or all these things that are happening in the presidency, and I just wanted to put something out there that someone could say 'God, that really touched me.'"

So it's no surprise that when Rippon took the Winter Olympics by storm earlier this year with his confidence and out-and-proud personality (including an electric performance set to gay club anthem "Let Me Think About It" by Ida Corr), Wall was one of his loudest supporters. "I was at home screaming, 'This is amazing!' I could not believe it, that this opportunity has happened and we're able to watch him do this at the Olympics."

(Photo: Marni Gallagher)

For Stars on Ice, Wall repurposed Bean's cover of "This Is Me" and designed one of Rippon's solo performances around it. "I was trying to create this anthem with how many people that he’s inspired by just being 100% absolutely himself at all times," he said. "No-one's ever seen someone who's so comfortable in his skin on television before."

The emotional themes of the song played particularly well to Rippon's strengths as a performer. "I wanted to make him fly like a bird. He's the most beautiful dancer on ice, and it's just so crazy how he flies, the way his arms move, and truly just how pure he is."

Wall also enjoyed incorporating the jumps and spins of Rippon's figure skating into his choreography, something he’d always wanted to try. "I was so excited to play with that. For me he is the best at that, because his back is so flexible and he can cambré all the way back and make these crazy shapes."

Things hit a snag, however, when Rippon showed up for his first round of Stars on Ice rehearsals.

"About four other people were already dancing to The Greatest Showman soundtrack," Wall said. "He was trying to get the song approved and they were like 'Uh, do you have anything else?'"

It was Rippon (a choreographer in his own right) who decided to switch out the music with Adele's "Remedy," a song that matches all the elements of Wall's routine while striking the same themes of love and healing.

"It’s so funny how it laid out perfectly," Wall said. "Usually I’m not for one of these things. If I choreograph to a certain song, it has to be to that song."

Rippon added that he wasn't sure the song would work until he played it over a video of his routine. "It was sort of serendipity, where I was really in an Adele kick," he said. "It was a perfect fit, it worked so well. I texted Travis and told him, 'There was sort of an issue but it kind of worked itself out.' He was like, 'Whatever works. The show must go on!'"

But Rippon's skills on the ice are no guarantee for his upcoming turn on the all-athletes season of Dancing with the Stars, premiering on ABC on April 30. He is paired with DWTS veteran Jenna Johnson, who has worked with Wall on the FOX series So You Think You Can Dance.

"When you take the skates off, sometimes it's kind of scary, and I know because I've worked with a couple of them," Wall said. "Dancing with a partner, you have to play both sides. As energetic as you can be, you have to have a strong frame to be able to partner. And Jenna is a firecracker, she literally will be able to eat him alive."

After a few weeks of rehearsals, Rippon didn't seem worried. "I love Jenna so much, and I need somebody that could potentially eat me alive, because I can eat my partners alive as well! We're a perfect match and she's honestly been such a dream to work with. When I was telling Travis I was thinking about doing the show, he was like 'Oh my god, you’re going to want to dance with Jenna.' I'm so glad that it ended up happening."

"When I heard those two got each other I was like 'All right, it's on,'" Wall said. "I called him and was like 'I'm coming in for the finale, I'm choreographing that routine, we're making this happen.' They're already having so much fun together."

But while he fully expects them to earn the highest scores each week, it all comes down to the voting and whether they can convince the audience to support them.

"I have to be very honest. With Dancing with the Stars, the audience is between 34 and 58 years old. Middle-aged women in America. That's who calls in votes, that's their target audience, and I don't necessarily know if Adam's the guy they're going to be voting for."

On the other hand, Rippon could be a breath of fresh air for the show, bringing in a new, younger audience and appealing to viewers who have never voted for someone like him before. 

"I have had so many people comment and tell me that they're going to watch and vote, which has been awesome," Rippon said. "I think that for me to get the votes, I just need to go in and try to do my best, but more than anything, have a good time. I think Jenna is so funny and we get along so well, that I hope our personalities come across in all of our dances and we can get people excited about the show."

As for winning over Middle America? "Of course! Why not! It's the perfect time. I don't think people would expect somebody like me to win over a lot of people at the Olympics, so Dancing with the Stars is just the next challenge."

 

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As great a match as Rippon and Johnson are, though, it raises a question echoed by a few disappointed LGBTQ fans: will Dancing with the Stars ever give us a same-sex dancing pair?

"I would only go on to be a pro on Dancing with the Stars if I was in the first male-on-male couple to compete the entire season," Wall said. (He has appeared as a guest dancer and choreographer on the show, but never as a professional.) "I like dancing with men! In my dance company I dance with men all the time, and a lot of the shows that I do, I present a lot of gay storylines." Though he was quick to point out, "just because two men are dancing together, it doesn't have to be gay."

He said he's half-jokingly discussed the possibility to the show's producers, but hasn't lobbied hard for it—at least not yet.

"I should have really thought about it, because then I should have pitched it for me and Adam!" he laughed. "I'll just wait, and me and Gus [Kenworthy] can go on next year."

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