Page last updated at 15:12 GMT, Tuesday, 20 October 2009 16:12 UK

Jackson 'wanted the world on stage'

Kenny Ortega (left) with Jackson (centre) during rehearsals
Kenny Ortega (left) with Jackson (centre) during rehearsals

By Tim Masters
Entertainment correspondent, BBC News

Kenny Ortega - the choreographer of Michael Jackson's ill-fated shows at London's O2 arena - is chuckling at the memory of one of the singer's big stage ideas.

"One morning Michael called me and said: 'Victoria Falls!' and I said: 'That's in Africa'.

"And he said: 'That's why we have to have it!'"

What Michael wanted was the Victoria Falls in 3-D pouring over the stage - with him in front of it, singing!
Kenny Ortega, choreographer

Ortega, a long-time friend of Jackson, is director of the film This Is It which is released on 28 October.

The movie is based on more than 100 hours of footage from rehearsals for the 50 London shows Jackson had planned to perform. Jackson died in June aged 50.

"Daily, Michael and I would be creative jousting and wrestling down ideas," recalls Ortega.

"I think Michael wanted the world on stage, and he wanted the wonders of the world represented on stage.

"We had choirs and children and dancers and singers and musicians and effects and movies and the world's largest 3-D hi-definition screen.

"What Michael wanted was the Victoria Falls in 3-D pouring over the stage - with him in front of it, singing!"

Energetic sequence

Ortega on Jackson's last day in rehearsals

Ortega is speaking after a press screening of 12 minutes of unseen footage from the This Is It movie.

Jackson is seen working out dance moves to Human Nature, with his backing band in Los Angeles.

The star is also seen performing The Way You Make Me Feel with a solo girl dancer, followed by an energetic sequence with some male dancers dressed as construction workers.

At one point Jackson drops to the ground in a press-up pose and leaps back up. He appears to be in good health, and his singing voice is strong.

The building site set - with its silhouetted dancers scaling upwards - looks impressive on the big screen.

'Intimate' show

Michael Jackson
Jackson died two weeks before he was due to return to the stage in London

Ortega thinks the film will have an appeal wider than Jackson's fanbase.

"I think it goes way beyond the fans," he says. "You see a show being built with Michael as the main architect.

"I loved watching the young dancers on stage with Michael: seeing the sparkle in their eyes and the excitement in their bodies - that they were on the stage with the very man that inspired them to want to be dancers."

Ortega adds: "The show was massive, but it was also intimate. With just Michael alone on the stage, with the light, with the band, and audience. We really worked out a plan so that those dynamics were in harmony."

'Healing process'

Travis Payne, a choreographer who worked alongside Ortega on This Is It, gives an insight into Jackson's workload during the rehearsals.

"Each of our days would start with me going to his residence. We would rehearse at 2pm every day until about 3.30pm or 4.30pm - and then we would reconvene at the venue and usually go from 6pm to midnight.

"It was pretty full-on, and then sometimes during the night we'd speak about the creative parts of the show."

Payne, who has also choreographed for Madonna and Beyonce, says he hopes the movie will be part of the "healing process" for Jackson's fans.

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