I got the chance to chat to the Michael Jackson HIStory Show’s leading man, Dantanio. Here’s what he had to say…
What’s your first memory of Michael Jackson? Was it a song, a music video, an outfit?
My big brother. This story just doesn’t get old for me. My big brother actually introduced me to Michael Jackson’s music and I remember, it was a Saturday morning and I woke up to the song “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and after watching him dance so vigorously to the song, I just got captivated by it; by Michael Jackson and the music.
So did you always have such a similar sound to him when you sing or is it something you had to work on developing?
Well, that takes a lot of practise, and just to add on to what I said earlier, I was 9 years old when I first got introduced to Michael Jackson’s music and it helps to start young. So since the age of 9, I was really into his music and I practised his style and I listened to his diction – the way he would pronounce a word when he sings it – so from that age until now I’ve been constantly practising and advancing. When you emulate or you try to impersonate such a great legend, it’s challenging because you’ve got to go all the way.
Obviously the look is very important, it’s so iconic. How long does it take you to get ready for each show?
It takes a maximum of two and a half hours, and that’s with makeup and dress. It takes a minimum of two hours.
Do you do all the hair and makeup yourself or do you have a team?
Well the team has contributed a lot to the advancement of the image but everything that I do is self-taught and we’ve had an amazing makeup artist come in at the very beginning to focus on the subtle details but now it’s all on me because when we tour, I have to do it on my own.
You can tell a lot of research has gone into this show – the outfits, for example, are exact replicas. So how much time did you spend researching and learning all the little details that go into the show?
As I said earlier, it helps to start young. I mean, I was 9 years old and by the time I was 15, I was so into Michael Jackson. And you can’t overlook anything because he was a perfectionist in that way too. Whether it’s a jacket, whether it’s a buckle or whether it’s maybe just enhancing another outfit, anything we do is line with what Michael Jackson would have or could have done.
The show is ridiculously high energy – you’re running and dancing, you’re singing, you’re doing it all. How do you keep yourself show fit?
I sleep a lot – when we’re not vigorously touring. There’s times when, like when we did Australia, we would do a show in one city and we would finish up that show and I would get into the van and we would go to the next city. There’s times when my sleep pattern is different but I live with a healthy diet. I drink a lot of water and I stick to a high fibre diet because, as you saw, we burn so much energy. So I think a good diet, drink a lot of water and I really rest my body as much as I can.
The band and the dancers are such a big part of the show and it so nice how you brought them all forward and introduced them. Do you have a say in picking your band and dancers or is it a team effort?
The Showtime family is just that, it’s a family. I’m so grateful to be part of such a team. I call them the A-Team because everybody is involved and I love that because it takes so much pressure off of me. We have a great musical director who’s responsible for the band, who makes sure the songs are perfect. We have a great technical crew who are really on point with sound & lights. We have a great backstage tour manager and media team. It’s really a full package. And what that does is it allows me to really focus on improving my performance. So everybody contributes an essential part to the completion of the show.
I noticed some of the dancers and singers were South African. Do you often use new talent from the new cities you go to?
It all depends on where we’re touring at the time. Sometimes we’d go to a country and it might be more feasible to have singers or musicians from that country. And also to advance relations between ourselves and other countries. But we always try to keep the original package of the Showtime MJ HIStory Show. We try to keep the same package as far as possible.
You do stay extremely true to his style and the way he did everything on stage but do you ever try to put your own “Dantanio spin” on things?
It’s very difficult because the thing is, the fans know and if you do anything out of the ordinary that’s not Michael Jackson, people will say “yes, he could do that but he didn’t do it exactly like Michael”. That’s the aim. This is a world stage. We travel all around the world and we’re still travelling so when we go out to the bigger cities in America, Canada and those places where fans just know every nuance, it’s a very sensitive thing to try and bring yourself. That’s why I make it so essential that I lose Dantanio. When the audience scream “I love you Michael”, that really makes me feel fulfilled because we’ve met the mark.
Out of all the iconic songs you get to perform, what’s your favourite to perform at the moment?
There’s so many. Every song, for me, is really an enjoyment because they really have their uniqueness and their expression is different but “Billie Jean” is always a standout. I love the suspense – the audience waits and they’re like “what’s going to happen?” And they know it’s coming but I love that, I love the beginning. It really fulfils me. “Billie Jean” is a beautiful song.
Outside of Michael Jackson, do you have any other musical and dance inspirations?
Oh yeah, there’s so many. I love Sammy Davis (Jr) who Michael Jackson also studied, as well as James Brown. I love Bob Fosse and there’s so many other greats. Michael Jackson had a principle he lived by. He said “if you want to be great, study the greats and become greater” so in order for me to reach that place that is Michael Jackson, I try to archive what he archived, what he studied and it helps. It really helps.
You’ve been on tour with this show all over the world and you must have seen some fantastic places. Out of all the places you’ve been, what has been the highlight so far?
So far, I remember we went to Singapore and that was really a standout performance for me because at our Meet & Greet after the show, so many people had beautiful things to say but one of the things that stood out by one of the fans was the lady who said she’d been to seven of Michael Jackson’s shows – she’s seen Michael live – and that evening of watching our show, she had to remind herself that this is not Michael Jackson. So that was really the highest compliment.
Do you find the Meet & Greets important to do with the fans after the show?
Of course, of course. You have to because the mission we have with the MJ HIStory Show is to bring the fans closer to the Michael Jackson experience and to give them the Michael Jackson experience. You’ve got to remember, a lot of people have never been to a Michael Jackson concert and we’re really trying to fulfil that vision, that dream come true for them.
Now you’re back home, is it different performing the show for a home crowd?
It is, somewhat, because being at home has a different level of expectation because it’s almost like performing in front of your family. We’ve toured Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and that was different because you’re a foreigner going to a different country but when you’re at home, you’re almost like a known person. But doing a show of this calibre at this level for my home country is really priceless and the reception has been amazing. I mean, we just finished Cape Town and that was off the wall, it was really crazy doing Cape Town. People are so loving and responsive and really enjoyed the show.
You were born in Kimberley and now you’re touring the world doing Michael Jackson so it’s clear you’ve made a huge success in your career. What do you have to say to young South African artists wanting to make it in the entertainment industry?
Never give up. I know a lot of people say that and when you’re in a place of achievement, when you have achieved, whether it’s a vision or an idea, when you’re living that dream, you’ve got to remember where it came from. And I always say stay with the vision. I had this vision as a child, 9 years old growing up to the age of 15, 16 and when I was in an amateur competition at the age of 16, I got ejected because they said I was too professional and I was merely trying to get my way in the industry. But never give up. Really stay with your vision and don’t let anything or anyone deter you. You can make it. It’s all on you. And remember, if you’re going to make it, keep your good character and keep good principles.
The songs featured in the show are all the well-known big hits he had during his career, but what is one of your favourite lesser known and performed Michael Jackson songs?
We actually sound checked it today. It’s called “The Girl Is Mine”. It was a duet between Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney from The Beatles and that was actually the first song they recorded off the Thriller album, between Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney and Quincy Jones.
One thing I’m quite eager to hear your opinion on – it’s quite a contentious issue these days – is the use of someone’s likeness after they’ve passed away. What is your opinion on hologram concerts and things like that?
I think it’s very important to sustain the legacy of a great legend and technology is on our side. Technology has so many advantages, and sometimes disadvantages. If used correctly, it can really portray the right message, and a positive message. I just think the human element sometimes gets lost in that; it’s not tangible enough, you can’t reach out and touch the person or the image but still, the message, as long as it’s loving and it’s coming from a positive place, I think it’s a good thing.
There have been very few artists in history who have had an impact like Michael Jackson and there probably won’t be another one for a while but is there anyone on the music scene at the moment who has caught your eye as someone to watch?
I think somebody that is working very hard in the industry, in the beginning for me was Justin Timberlake. He’s really amazing with his songwriting and his dancing. But right now, I’m looking out and I see Bruno Mars is doing very well. He’s really a great songwriter and performer, and he collaborates with some great people too so he’s got a really great future ahead of him.
So after this, where to from here?
From here, we’re heading out to Canada and hopefully we’ll be visiting Germany sometime later this year and then towards the end of this year, we’ll be heading back to Australia for a few dates as well.
Do you see yourself doing Michael Jackson for the next few years or do you want to try do some of your own things in between as well?
Yeah, of course. I’m busy with my own stuff so when I’m off tour not doing Michael Jackson, I do some stuff as Dantanio. I’m a singer and a songwriter as well and I’m working on a single now.
Perhaps an album in the future?
Just a single for now. Albums sometimes take forever to finish so I’ll just work on a single but I’m still loving the Michael Jackson experience, I’m loving the touring and I’d love to do this as long as I can.
Be sure to check out the Michael Jackson HIStory show from 3 – 19 February at the Theatre of Marcellus at Emperors Palace!
Author: Samantha Cerasoli