Seven Questions for One Night for One Drop’s Hassan El Hajjami

The artistic director on how he got involved, his youthful doppelgänger and the world’s water crisis

Photo by Jim K. Decker

Photo by Jim K. Decker

You originated the character of the Walrus and performed in The Beatles LOVE for many years. Then you were the artistic and creative director for Light nightclub when it was partnered with Cirque du Soleil. When did  you find out you were going  to direct One Night for One Drop?

I left [Light], and I went to [One Drop’s] after-party last year. I didn’t have a wristband, so I pretended to be one of the working artists. I saw Jerry Nadal [senior vice president, Resident Shows Division, Cirque du Soleil], and told him about an idea that I was working on. A week later, I made a presentation for a show about my life when I was a young boy visiting my grandmother in Morocco. I was shocked that she didn’t have water at home. Jerry told me that we had to meet Russ Petroni, producer of One Night for One Drop. I heard they had 20 different artistic directors they were considering. I [went back to] France because my contract was finished at Light, but they called me in July and said, “Congratulations, we like the concept and story.”

What stood out to you on those visits to Morocco?

My grandmother walked every day to a well. One day I said, “I will go with you.” I was shocked. As a kid, I didn’t understand: How come you don’t have water at home? To take a shower, she had to get water and put it in the oven to heat it up. When I first saw One Drop 2014, in the Michael Jackson Theatre, as I was watching the show, I said, “I would like to put my story onstage.”

Will all of the scenes relate to your personal story?

It’s about a little boy falling into a waterhole. And the little boy is going to visit this world and he will have this talisman for the characters onstage. You’re going to see some of my story inside it, and he may or may not return to his family.

Why did you decide to include non-Cirque du Soleil performers into the show this year?

Fifty percent of our performers [work with] Cirque du Soleil. Then we have performers from other shows [such as] Jubilee!, [singer] Leona Lewis and my dear friend Miles “Baby Boogaloo” Brown [who stars in ABC’s Black-ish]. I met him six years ago on America’s Got Talent when he was 4. We did that show, and we kept in touch. We train together, we travel together, we compete together and we did a music video together. I was teaching him some [moves], how to dance, how to react. When I did [the concept for One Drop], I wanted to have a little boy playing me. I called his father. I was scared because he had become very popular and he was on a hit show and I didn’t think he was able to do it. His mother was crying. She was surprised, “The artistic director has called us to ask our son to play the lead role!” It was intense for them.

This is the first time One Drop is not happening at a Cirque du Soleil theater. What challenges does The Smith Center present?

We are accustomed to working on Cirque du Soleil stages. It’s like we have to do a Cirque show in a blackbox. It’s a big challenge because we have only two days to put it together [once we move into the theater]. We [rehearse] on the Zarkana stage. We have to rehearse the show in sections. It is a work in progress. [It requires] a lot of time, [there is] pressure and stress—from the props and choreography. It is very complicated.

What is one thing you are hoping audience members will take away from the show?

I hope I change [their] lives. [We are sharing a dire situation that millions of people] don’t have access to water and don’t have water to drink. This is my opportunity to make a change. That’s why I put all my heart and energy into this concept.

What are you going to do after One Drop?

Go back to France, relax and wait for the next opportunity to create a show and dance. I cannot live without dancing. It would be like cutting off my arm. I’m an artistic director, a conceptual director, but I am also an artist. Even when I was a director, I was onstage dancing. A lot of choreographers don’t do that because they are scared, but I’m not scared. I just let go and don’t take it seriously. I love to put a smile on your face and do whatever it takes to make you happy. My life is like that.

One Night for One Drop

March 18, 7 p.m., $100-$325, The Smith Center, OneNight.OneDrop.org.

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