Chelsea Logan: You’re here in DC for your production, Brothers of the Knight. Thousands of kids auditioned for this. What was the one thing you looked for?

Vivian Nixon: Storytelling. There are so many gifted people in this world; they can do all the dance styles and retain the information. The biggest challenge I had was being in the room and seeing these talented people who lacked the ability to tell a story through their dancing. Who are you in the story? Where’s the joy? Where’s the passion?

Debbie Allen: I’m looking for that sparkle, that spirit of the dance that just pervades their whole being and speaks about them before they even start doing a thing. You know, you can tell. I mean, I’ve had a lot of experience auditioning people, and I can do it rather quickly even though sometimes I let them linger and give them time, but I kind of know after I see them do a couple of steps. I know.

CL: You mentioned that you look for the spirit of the dance. Is that something that can be taught?

DA: That’s something they have or they don’t have. It’s not something that can be developed. Vivian has it; she has had it since she was little.

CL: You refer to Vivian as “the next great one.” What greatness do you see in her?

DA: Vivian just has this thing about her. She’s so elegant. Her arms, her legs—they are so graceful. At the same time, she is very powerful. She’s dynamic, she can bring tears to your eyes, or she can make you laugh out loud. She’s got it.

CL: What does it mean to you when you hear your mom refer to you as “the next great one,” Vivian?

VN: That means pressure! [Laughs.] She sees things in people, and she sees things in me, and it means a lot ’cause my mom’s no BS and I respect her.

CL: What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in your career?

VN: My self-assurance and self-worth. I trained and worked really hard all my life in dance classes. I always fell into the shadows of my mother, and it was hard for me to really realize that I had done the work. Yes, she took me to the best teachers, but I did the work.

CL: How have you been able to maintain your mother-daughter relationship and working relationship without the two colliding?

VN: Space, respect, and girl time. It’s really important for us to find and carve out those moments where we get to be “Debs” and “Viv,” because she’s so busy. Sometimes, I just have to yank her in a room and be, like, “OK, Mom, we are going to sit down and watch The Real Housewives, and that’s it.”

CL: Debbie, you’ve been in this industry for a very long time. What is your secret to longevity?

DA: I’m driven by passion. I mean, I am tired right now. I work to a point of abandon. I am fueled by my understanding of the need for self-expression that exists for young people. This production [Brothers of the Knight], that’s what this is about. I mean, I do a lot of things: I direct Grey’s Anatomy, I direct Scandal, I’ll be directing Lee Daniels’ new TV show. But what I am able to give to those kids is everything, because it’s changing lives every day. And you know, if you just change one person’s life, you feel like you’ve done something. But if you can change a whole lot of them and get them looking at themselves differently, it’s amazing.

CL: Throughout all your years in this industry, what have you learned about fame?

DA: Fame is fleeting, honey. Fame is fleeting and it changes. There was a time when fame meant that you were either someone who is really gifted in your field or you were making an impact or you are famous because you were a really horrible person, you know? But now, you can become famous by eating a frog. It’s just not the same thing. There are so many famous people now that are not really gifted or talented at doing anything other than getting made up, putting on tight dresses, acting badly, getting married. I mean, what the hell? I don’t know where we are going with this here in America. And we are setting a tone for the world, because everyone looks at what we do.

CL: Vivian, what has been the best advice your mother has given you?

VN: Keep all your balls in the air. She’s exposed me to so many things: dancing, acting, directing, teaching. Sometimes, it can get confusing as to what you are going to stick with, or sometimes, you are getting pulled in so many directions. I am not the great multitasker that she is at this point of my life. She always encourages me to keep everything going.

CL: Every parent wants their child to achieve greatness in the world. What is your greatest hope for Vivian?

DA: My greatest hope for her is that she achieves the degree of success that she wants and that she continues to be a good person. And that somehow the work that she does makes the world better and she’s an inspiration to those that are looking up to her.

CL: Beautiful. Let’s fast-forward thirty years from now. Looking back on your life, what do you want your legacy to be, Vivian?

VN: I want to inspire people to be better, to do better, to dance better, and I want to help to grow this next generation. That’s something that’s really, really important to me, and I just want to be freaking good at everything I do. I want to inspire people with my work, whether I’ll be dancing, acting, on the big screen, or in the production room.



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