The Fundamental Weirdness of Performing Your Own Work
In my head, I don’t necessarily choreograph for myself, but in reality, I often choreograph on myself.
As an artist, you kind of tend to work with the materials at hand—and as a dancer, the materials at hand are, more often than not, you.
Even if you have access to an entire dance company, they eventually get hungry and tired and cranky and want to go home: so, at the end of the day, at least 33% of the time (assuming the normal “8 hours for work, 8 hours for rest, 8 hours for what you will,” which is admittedly a really bold assumption, given that apparently even semi-professional dancers have completely insane schedules) it’s just you(1,2).
- And your kitchen, or possibly your living room, or maybe (if you’re lucky) the spare bedroom in which you’ve opted for an inflatable bed over a regular guest bed so you’ll have room to dance. As LF said once, “I suspect that my dances are basically always shaped more or less like my living room.”
- Possibly also your cat. Cats love to help with things like yoga and modern dance, especially if there’s floorwork. They’re generally more ambivalent about ballet. Thus, if you’re a Crazy Cat Person, I highly recommend choosing ballet as your choreographic discipline. Extra points if you actually succeed in training your cats to dance the corps parts. Mine only does floorwork. His primary and secondary curves, though? Legit.
Likewise, when you put your work out there as someone who’s just starting out in choreography, chances are good that you’re also going to find yourself performing it.
As it turns out, that’s surprisingly weird.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned my greatest asset as a performer: that wild (if momentary) overconfidence that makes me unafraid to get up in front of an audience and
make a complete ass out of myself dance like nobody’s watching. To be honest, that same wild overconfidence is one of my greatest assets, period: I have no fear of public speaking, for example, and I come off pretty well in job interviews as long as I’m prepared(2).
- The same can’t be said for ordinary conversations: they always veer off into unexpected territory, which makes it bleeding hard to study for them. If everyone would just stop going off script all the time, I’d be fine.
This weekend I discovered that my Magical Wild Overconfidence does not extend to performing my own choreography.
The nice part about being the choreographer is that when performance time rolls around, you can always just shut your eyes or spend the whole performance locked in a stall in the restroom, then slap yourself across the face a couple of times and come out looking fresh and rosy if and when you’re called upon to take a bow.
If you’re both the choreographer and one of the dancers, however, you lose that luxury. You have to go out there and do the thing, even if at the last minute you realize that the thing in question is terrible and that you’ve done something completely stupid with that entire passage from 01:34 – 2:39 (MORE THAN A MINUTE OF ABJECT STUPIDITY!!! OH G-D)(4).
- Don’t worry. This is not, in fact, an actual example from my own life. There are a couple of moments in which I wish I’d made different decisions because our rehearsal floor and our performance space were shaped just differently enough to turn circles into narrow lozenges, which sometimes made things weird momentarily, but nothing was that bad for that long.
Anyway, it seems that, when I’m performing my own choreography, I worry no more than usual about how well I’ll dance. The trajectory of my ability as a dancer seems to be pretty steadily upward, and I know what kind of mistakes I tend to make and how to counteract them (and that I do so with increasing success every time I learn a new piece).
Instead, impostor syndrome rears its ugly head and reminds me that, as a choreographer, I have no idea what I’m doing. And no qualifications. Like, none whatsoever(5).
- Except, you know, a lifetime of watching dance, something like ten years of actually dancing, and the fact that someone who has seen my choreographic ideas invited me to choreograph this piece. But, honestly, that doesn’t feel like much.
So, basically, part of me is like, “Here’s this idea, I hope you guys like it, please don’t throw rotten tomatoes if it’s terrible because I really can’t afford the cleaning bill.”
None of this was, in any way, ameliorated by the fact that I invited BW and his boyfriend to come and see my choreographic debut, heh. I also conveniently managed to acquire a nasty cold of some sort that cropped up around Thursday and was at its worst on Sunday morning, which didn’t help me feel any more secure.
As such, I was in fact hella nervous on Saturday evening: but we got through it and nobody died, and in truth I think it went pretty well.
Anyway, the “official” video’s up, and I got to see it today. It’s not public yet, as not everyone has chimed in with permission to make it so, but I don’t think that’ll be a problem.
It looks better than it felt, which is comforting. I felt like I was way ahead and screwing everything up the whole time. In fact, in the video, I’m mostly on point timing-wise (including the little bits that fall into a brief canon), not as awkward as I felt by half, and only the off-kilter extension a la seconde early on looks particularly meh. That was the cold’s doing, as it affected my balance.
There are a couple of moments in which I clearly didn’t think about what to do with my arms during a transition. If I get a chance to stage this dance again, I’ll program something in to fix that.
This is one of the challenges in working in a stream of dance other than ballet: you have to think about all that stuff. In ballet—particularly classical ballet—what you do with your arms is largely a foregone conclusion. The technique offers only so many options, and “forget to use your arms entirely” is essentially never one of them.
There are also some spaces that feel kind of blank: like, the action in this dance happens in flurries, and I don’t know that I’ve joined those flurries together terribly well. Those are things I’ll revisit somewhere down the line.
In the end, nobody died, and my piece was rather delightfully well-received. As a first effort, I’m pretty happy with it. The human origami bits (which, sadly, didn’t work as smoothly on the mats as they did on the dance floor) are my favorite parts, and I suspect that sort of thing will appear in my future efforts.
I don’t know if performing my own choreography will get any less weird as time goes by. I guess I’ll find out!
I feel like it might be less weird if the piece in question was strictly a ballet piece, because I feel more at home in the medium of ballet.
Obviously, all my thoughts on this aren’t terribly well organized.
I am, at least, getting over the cold now, which is good (although at yesterday’s rehearsal, our script-writer described my voice as “Totally Metal!” which was kind of awesome in its own way :D).
…And, of course, I’m already thinking about the Next Big Thing—which, in this case, Orpheus (not my choreography, but I’m dancing all the things), followed by PlayThink, where I’m performing a ballet-and-acro piece with Denis. Can’t wait!
Tiny update: just looked at a video of the second dance we’ve learned for Orpheus, and holy cow, it looks really amazing already! Can’t share that one because Orpheus is still in rehearsals, but I’m stoked.
Posted on 2017/04/03, in balllet, choreography, performances and tagged choreography, dance weirdness, performing arts, revenge of the nerves, why did I invite my favorite ballet teacher to this?. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.