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Breaking Free on Broadway: UH Dancer Catapults to Success in ‘King Kong’

The production, featuring Mike Baerga, won numerous awards for outstanding ensemble, creative design and more.

“Just like in our day-to-day lives, if you’re willing to thrive through hardship, the audience will be on your side.”

University of Houston alumnus Mike Baerga keeps these words of wisdom, spoken by “King Kong” director and choreographer Drew McConie, close to his heart. As a member of the ensemble in the Broadway production, Baerga dedicates countless hours to honing his craft, collaborating with fellow dancers and fighting through moments of exhaustion to perfect the demanding choreography. And it has paid off — big time.

“King Kong,” which opened on Broadway in November 2018, won the 2019 Chita Rivera Award for Outstanding Ensemble in addition to a Special Tony Award for Creative Design, Outer Critics Circle Special Achievement Award and two Drama Desk awards. The show, a dazzling musical theatre spectacle, features elaborate choreography that fuses a diverse range of dance styles.

“We were shocked and so honored to receive this award,” gushes Baerga. “This season, there was so much amazing dance demonstrated on Broadway, but we felt like our street cred was validated by the Chita.”

This is Baerga’s second Broadway production — he first danced in the critically acclaimed revival of “Miss Saigon” in 2017, which was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.

“At this high caliber these artists are the crème de la crème,” he says. “You’re constantly surrounded with talent, and it’s nearly impossible to do anything but collaborate and work together, to continue making great art.”

His journey into the world of dance has humble beginnings. From dancing to Janet Jackson music videos in his childhood bedroom to training as a gymnast in high school, Baerga has always expressed himself through movement — but it wasn’t until his studies as UH that he began to use dance to communicate artistically and creatively.

The UH Dance Program, led by Karen Stokes, emphasizes choreography, athletic discipline and collaboration. Together, these foundational skills provided Baerga the springboard to launch into a performing arts career.

“I was able to define who I was as an artist,” he says. “I began studying dance as a purely athletic mover, but once I started taking classes ranging from improv to pedagogy and composition, along with top-notch dance technique classes, I began to find intention and storytelling within dance.”

Now, with two original Broadway casts under his belt, Baerga is more motivated than ever. 

“It’s been an honor and one hell of a ride so far, but it’s only the beginning!”