Inside Barbie's Dreamhouse with choreographer Lisa Welham


Friday 11th August 2023, 2:29pm Inside Barbie’s Dreamhouse with choreographer Lisa Welham


We spoke to NSCD alumna Lisa Welham about what it was like being Associate Choreographer for the Barbie Movie, and her career to date.

The Barbie Movie looks like it was a lot of fun to make! Can you tell us about your involvement and how this opportunity came about?

It was so much fun! It was my friend and talented choreographer Jennifer White that asked me to be her associate on the film. Jenny and I have been great friends for nearly fifteen years and our friendship has now developed into a great working relationship too. Jenny asked me to be her assistant on Last Night in Soho which she choreographed in 2020 directed by Edgar Wright, and this was my first experience on the other side of the camera. We worked together well on this and then Jenny asked me to work with her on Barbie.

Barbie dancing

What was the experience like being on set and can you tell us more about what it was like to work alongside Greta Gerwig?

Working with Greta Gerwig was an absolute dream from start to finish. Greta was so clear on her vision and so supportive and grateful to everyone involved. She made the whole process so enjoyable and brought everyone closer together as a team. It was very important to her that the atmosphere on set was positive and fun whilst still getting the work done.

Greta had a very clear idea of how she wanted the dance to look and feel but she was also very trusting and open to new ideas and moves. Greta loves dance and is a disco enthusiast, so she joined us on set as often as she could. She felt disco is very Barbie at heart, because it's so hopeful about people. Disco is a fun genre that in Greta’s words "assumes you want to dance!" That's not the assumption that every musical genre makes.

Everyone involved in the film shared lots of laughs and spent time getting to know one another, including at the all-pink Barbie premiere on Leicester Square.

There is definitely a lot of pink around and the sets are amazing! What do you think the choreography brought to the world of the film?

Yes we all practically lived in pink for four months! It was genuinely like living in a real-life Barbie Doll’s House! I think living in Barbie World definitely sparked inspiration for everyone involved and especially the actors.

We spent the majority of the time rehearsing in our dance studio which was brilliant and it was a huge bonding experience for the whole cast.

Both Margot and Ryan have danced on screen before - Margot in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Ryan in La La Land and you could definitely tell they had experience. They picked up the routines so quickly and then added their own character to it. Margot was a natural and commented how much she enjoyed the dance rehearsals and Ryan brought Ken to life, channelling his KENergy into the choreography!

Barbie team

You, Maria Hippolyte, Maiya Leeke and some of the Kens in the film (Ira Mandela Siobhan, Stan West, Josh Wild & Josh Hawkins) all studied here at Northern School of Contemporary Dance! What are some of your memories of NSCD?

It was great to cross paths with some NSCD graduates. I have known Ira for over 20 years now and we have worked together on various projects in the past. It’s always great having a talent like Ira in the studio with us and he was part of the core Barbie team. It was lovely to work with Stan, Josh W and Josh H for the first time too. All fantastic dancers!

I have such fond memories of NSCD. The model of the training there set me up for life. The teachers are so committed to what they do and this solidified the mindset that is needed in the dance world. Without NSCD, and without the opportunities that it offered to perform in London and on tour, I wouldn't be where I am today. Attending NSCD was the best thing I ever did as a young dancer and performer.

Could you tell us a bit about some of the highlights and/or challenges of your career since graduating from NSCD?

Before transitioning into choreography, I worked as a performer in theatre for twenty years. There’s something very special about the theatre space, which I still very much enjoy. Film is extremely different in many ways but I love variety and thrive in different environments, working with different people.

As well as Barbie, one of my career highlights so far has been working alongside the extremely talented choreographer and friend Ellen Kane on the Matilda the Musical movie, which opened the BFI London Film Festival. I was lucky enough to be Ellen’s Associate on Matilda and we worked so hard on it throughout the pandemic. Watching the film on the big screen was emotional and I felt extremely proud of everyone involved, especially the 200 children who worked tirelessly for months. Managing this amount of people on set proved a challenge at times. But they were all true pros and sublime talent!

How did you make the transition from dancing with professional touring companies to more commercial work?

There was a point in my career where I realised that I had labelled myself as a dancer/performer and I tended to shy away from choreography. However, working with Henri Oguike Dance Company equipped me with so many creative tools. We were experimenting with different types of movement and tasks to devise movement that you would not normally produce, which put our own creative abilities and ideas for movement to the test. This isn’t too dissimilar from the process of creating your own choreography.

After working with Henri and many other contemporary choreographers after that, my confidence started to increase. I recognised that it was only my own lack of confidence holding me back.

One of the main reasons I think that I was able to transition from professional touring companies to more commercial work is that I always approach each process with an open mind with no limitations. The more open-minded you are, the more possibilities there are and the more doors you keep open.

Wide angle Jennifer and Lisa with camera

What are the similarities and/or differences between creating work for the big screen in cinema compared with creating work to be performed on a live stage in theatre?

The most obvious difference between dancing for film and dancing on stage is the camera. Dance on film enables you to use the camera in many ways to emphasise certain moments by either zooming in, cutting to a different shot, moving around the actors/dancers and using multiple cameras for different angles. I feel like there is a bit more freedom, as the camera is also part of the choreography. In film, there has to be constant communication between the director, choreographer and all other departments to make sure that everyone’s vision stays aligned.

Creating choreography for the theatre space involves producing a piece of choreography that holds your interest and tells a story from start to finish as there can be no clever cuts or help from a camera. I believe it’s more challenging in that respect, but the end result is extremely special.

In both contexts, everyone is doing so many different jobs around you, and it’s important to remind yourself what your focus is, what changes you may have to adapt to, and what is expected of you.

Camera view of the dance sequence involving all Kens from the Barbie Movie

What were your first experiences of dance and what advice would you give to someone at the start of their journey as an artist?

I was brought up with Latin American, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Disco dance before moving in to Contemporary dance and I have always made a conscious effort to keep immersing myself in different dance styles. Versatility in my repertoire and building trust and support between my colleagues have both been key players in taking steps forward in my career so far. So to someone at the start of their journey as an artist, I would say:

  1. Always stay open to learning and try to be as versatile as possible
  2. Try to enjoy the moment/process and be open to new opportunities
  3. Work hard and approach opportunities with professionalism to build a strong network

What advice would you give to someone thinking about creating choreography specifically for TV and film?

My advice would be to play. Some of the best moments are sometimes those that you didn’t know existed until you play around. Always be ready to let go. Holding on to ideas or moments that are not working can hold you back. Let it go and move on to the next idea.

What’s next for you? Are there any other exciting projects lined up?

There are a couple of exciting projects in the pipeline that I’m not allowed to say just yet but keep your eyes peeled!

I’m currently choreographing my first music video for a rapper. The dance is Latin-inspired and we’ll be travelling to Europe to film that soon.

I’m also working with director Arlene Phillips and choreographer James Cousins to bring back ‘House of Flamenka’ show, which will be performed at The Peacock Theatre as part of the Sadler’s Wells Autumn season.