I mean, like, literally.
I’m talking about weight-sharing, here.
When you weight-in, you pour your weight into your partner, who pours their weight into you. Ideally, you should find equilibrium: you’re not pushing Terry* over, and Terry’s not pushing you over.
*Our gender-neutral partner du jour
When you weight-out, it works the same way, except instead of pushing, you’re pulling.
This is the lovely thing about weight-sharing: it’s a style of partnering that depends on both partners carrying their share of the weight. If you’re distributing the load equally, you can do all kinds of crazy things that way.
The piece I’m setting to Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” (I’m kicking around the idea of calling it “Tenebrae”) combines traditional ballet partnering and weight-sharing, which makes for some interesting transitions: early in the piece, we fold from a shared arabesque en fondu through a moment of weight-sharing into a ballet-standard supported arabeqsue.
The challenge for K, as a ballet dancer who hasn’t worked in a weight-sharing modality before, is surrendering her weight into me at moments that it feels really counter-intuitive. She has the hard part of that move: basically, all I have to do is reach back with my free leg, set the foot on the floor, and get my arms to the right place at the right time so she can use them for leverage at one point in her end of things.
She’s tasked with the bizarre challenge of yielding her weight to me as I recover from the arabesque, rolling into my lap without bringing her working leg down, then fouettéing back into an arabesque.
She pretty much got it from the word go, which blows my mind. At first she wasn’t quite getting enough of her her weight down into me in the middle of all this, but it’s getting better and better. The fact that she springs right back into the traditional ballet mode with no difficulty is amazing.
Regardless, the more she pours her weight into me as we sit back together, the easier the transition is for both of us.
Anyway, the piece is going well. We’re well into the third minute of the dance. I’m not sure about the exact time because the last run we were behind the count and I left out a phrase that I’m pretty sure I want to keep. Regardless, given that we’ve put in about 2.5 hours, I’m very happy with how much we’ve built.
There will, of course, be some rebuilding involved once I start setting this with a larger cast—not least because right now we have the entire stage, and we use the heck out of it.
- Though, in fact, I need to dial back my travel … the space in which we’ll be showing it is smaller than the studio where we’re rehearsing, and there’s one point at which I’m not only off the stage but probably outside the actual building XD
We’ve started taking video of basically everything, because I have this habit of finishing the part we’ve already worked and starting right into the next section, and it can be hard to remember what, exactly, I did sometimes. Most of the piece is pretty clear in my head, but where it’s vague, I tend to just let the music drive and I, like, forget to remember.
Couple more for posterity 😉
This week I have one more rehearsal for this piece, plus one for Thursday’s show (ArtWorks) and about a million for Weeds, in addition to the usual class schedule.
Class, overall, is going well: I’m working on relying more on my inner thighs, working from my back down through the floor, and trusting my balances.
Oh, and also not doing dumb things with my hands or letting my shoulders creep into my ears when things get complicated. That, too.
A few years ago I wrestled with composing a solo piece about grief set to Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”
At nearly 8 minutes, it’s quite long for a solo, and I don’t think I had the choreographic wherewithal to make it work back then. I’m still not sure I do. I set it on the back burner, figuring maybe I’d come return it sooner or later.
I’m not sure, at this point, that I ever will. Instead, I’m setting a piece for seven dancers about being alone and unseen amidst the bustle of humanity to the “Adagio.”
The title of the original piece was “Shadowlands”–a reference to the film about C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman, which is itself an exploration of grief, but also in reference to Lewis’ phemonenal book, A Grief Observed.
I might retain the original title. The new piece as it has evolved comprises seven dancers: the Four Sisters, the Lovers, and the Outsider.
The Outsider is consigned to the shadows at the edge of human connection, and often shadows the others.
That said, I’m leery of using that title, as it’s too close to Pilobolus’ Shadowland, which I hadn’t even heard of at the time I created the original solo piece.
The first draft of this piece will be shown at the June 1st meeting of Louisville Movement Exchange, a nascent choreographers’ workshop and dance-community connector. I won’t have a heck of a lot of time to set and rehearse the piece, but it doesn’t need to be polished (or even finished).
I’m trying to do as much development as I can beforehand, though I will very likely have to modify things based on the set of dancers I’m working with. I think I’m much better at imagining choreography than I was a few years ago—not least in terms of envisioning how to use the stage.
Given the exceedingly-limited rehearsal time at hand, I’m debating whether to concentrate on setting the first half and taking things from there, or just dive straight into the second half.
The advantage of beginning with the first half, of course, is that if we miraculously bash through it, we might get to the second half anyway … and, to be honest, it’s the part I feel less sure about.
The advantage of beginning with the second half is that I have a really strong, clear vision of it, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be quite good.
I suppose, ultimately, my dancers will determine how I approach the piece: the whole thing builds to a group overhead press-lift, and I plan to try to set that first, since it’s the thing that’s most likely to be uncomfortable for them. Most of them will never have done that sort of thing before. It’s not actually very hard (it’s literally six people doing the lifting, and they’re lifting one person), but it can be daunting.
I also kind of need to decide if I want to be in this piece if I have enough dancers that I don’t need to be. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I would, in fact, love to perform this piece, but setting a piece and learning it at the same time can be problematic, since it’s harder to adjust things on the fly when you can’t see what’s happening until you watch the video.
I’m also back to slowly sorting out problems with Simon Crane.
I think I might set the “Bolero” for a later meeting of the Movement Exchange. I’m not 100% sure it’ll make the final version of the ballet, but I really, really want to set it, and it can stand on its own.
I’m also fiddling with the score still: I’m now fairly certain that the third act will be set to Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony (E minor).
I’m still not entirely sure what to do with the first act.
I would, however, like to finish this ballet before I die (not that I plan on doing that any time soon), so at some point I’m going to just force myself to make a decision about Act I. So I guess it’s back to listening to Romantic/Impressionist music and seeing what fits the story arc.
As regards Act III, I am deeply fond of Rachmaninov’s “Isle of the Dead,” but by itself it’s a bit on the short side, and it doesn’t afford quite enough range to really develop the story. I’d love to use it for something someday—maybe something that doesn’t even have an underlying story or concept—but trying to force-fit that with some other piece of music for the third act of Simon Crane isn’t going to work.
Saint-Saëns’ cello concerto will continue to anchor the second act; indeed, if I leave out the “Bolero,” it will be the entire second act.
So that—and the little piece I’m building for PlayThink, which is rather a lot of fun—does it for choreography projects for now.
More on the PlayThink piece later, of course.
Leading up to PlayThink this year, I was bulldozed by a swift and nasty bout of your bog-standard “depressolepsy”—that fierce, crushing, exhausting depression that rocks up out of nowhere and smashes everything in its path. Thanks, Rapid Cycling Type I Bipolar, or whatever the hell is going on with my brain.
That’s been the case the past three years running, so I think it has to do with timing: the time of year; the timing of the onset of Summer Intensives and my inability to figure out how much GoGoGo I can take before I need to take my brain out and put it on ice for a couple of days; the timing of the stressful bit of my non-dance job; the timing of always effectively losing my husband to The Great Wave of Planning that precedes his standing summer plans (PlayThink and the Big Burn) just when I most need someone to help me stay afloat.
- This bit isn’t really his fault, btw. It’s more that I have a hard time broaching the divide between myself and other people, including D, when I’m struggling, and it gets even harder when he seems preoccupied. It’s something we both need to work on, together, and we’re doing it, but it takes time.
None of this was improved by my lack of security about our performance piece for the Friday-night “FlowCase,” which we hadn’t rehearsed anywhere near enough.
D offered time and again to cancel, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would be better to get out there and do the show than to back out. This is, for all its friendly down-home atmosphere, a professional gig—and the first rule in the performing arts is and always will be: “The Show Must Go On.”
- Corollary: if your name is printed on the official marketing materials, you’re part of the show.
- I consistently misspell this word, even though if I stop and think about it for a sec I actually do know how to spell it. Seriously, self: “Corolarry?” Really? Is that, like the cousin of Corojessica, or…? SMH.
Basically, getting out there and screwing up sometimes is part of the business—even Nureyev fell flat on his arse from time to time—but you don’t want to get a reputation for backing out of your commitments.
So I gritted my teeth and accepted that we might totally bomb; that the whole thing might go right off the rails. That life is, after all, pretty much an exercise in walking a tightrope in a maelstrom, for all our delusions of control. That the even inclusion of a twirling beach umbrella and faux 20s-era men’s swimwear might not pull my carefully-crafted little acro-clowning-ballet back from the edge of disaster.
- I had thought of also including fake moustaches, but forgot about them, so even they could not have saved us if things went south.
So we wrestled our way through a couple more hours of rehearsal rendered incredibly awkward by the lack of so much as a single properly-flat spot in which to rehearse, which in turn made the apex of the whole number—the candlestick-to-diver transition that we basically invented for this show—literally impossible.
And then we went on.
And you know that thing that happens when you get on stage and the whole world falls away and suddenly you’re ON and even if you literally put a foot wrong, you can’t put a foot wrong?
So, that happened.
Our performance wasn’t perfect in the literal sense. Because we hadn’t been able to nail the diver transition, we left it out (though we didn’t actually program in something else, just in case it magically came off: I simply sort of rolled out to the side, pulling D up with me).
We had already scuttled the bluebird lift at the end because we need more practice with it before we put it in a show. Right now, its hit rate at home is only about 25%; the rest of the time, I wind up hitting it for about .5 seconds while D struggles to figure out the balance point, then we fall out of it and I yell at him and then apologize for yelling at him.
And, yet, in another way, our performance was a million times better than I could have imagined.
D lit up in a way I’ve never seen him light up on stage (evidently, all you have to do is give him a beach umbrella and let him twirl it).
- I actually rather suspected this would be the case, which is why he got to twirl the beach umbrella (okay, so also it fit his character better than it fit mine). D has a lot of natural clown in him. I formulated this thing to play to that strength, and I think it paid off. Choregraphy Rule Number One: when you’re creating a piece on a group of dancers, create it on the dancers you have.
The piece filled up the music exactly (I was incredibly worried that we’d get ahead, finish early, and have to stand there grinning like eejits for 30 seconds or what have you).
Perhaps most importantly, the audience rippled with genuine laughter at all the right moments. It wasn’t that weird, “Uh … is this supposed to be funny?” laughter that we all secretly dread. All the jokes (physical jokes, not verbal ones) hit the mark.
When it was over, they cheered. Lustily. Thrillingly. Authentically. It was awesome.
Here’s a shot by the talented Jesse Miller, who photographed a lot of the festival.
So, score one for team Dawson/Taylor-Dawson. Not bad at all for a pretty complex bit of physical theater that had a sum total of maybe four or five hours of real rehearsal time and literally no full run-through with music.
Throughout the rest of the festival, we constantly heard how much people had loved the piece.
A few even commented on exactly the thing I’d hoped to bring to the table: the fact that the piece had characters and a storyline, which isn’t something I’ve seen in FlowCase in previous years. Our good friend reported that she was so proud she found herself tearing up. Someone even commented that my ballet (all three-ish steps that actually made it into the final piece!) was beautiful.
Needless to say, the success of the piece and the instantaneous lifting of the pressure of it off of our collective shoulders helped immensely. So did being done, and thus able to go retire to the camper and just read (I did stay for most of the rest of the show, though, until the mosquitoes emerged and began eating me alive).
I also discovered a technique that really helps D and me: right before we went on, we simply talked our way through the piece, back and forth, each of us simply stating the short-hand name for our moves.
- Except for the ballet part: since I do that by myself, and I sometimes find it quicker not to actually attempt to get the language bit of my brain firing, I just visualized and went, “Balletballetballet, maybe some other ballet” there.
We each went on feeling like the other knew not just the skills required, but the sequence in which they needed to be called up, and it let us both relax. Handy!
Anyway, there’s video of the whole FlowCase, but it won’t be ready for a couple of weeks. I’ll watch it, even though I’m not sure I want to (the performance felt really good, but when I watch video, I tend to get hung up in my flaws).
This week, I’m taking two days off to get things back to normal as much as I can before diving back into class and so forth. I am vaguely regretting not signing up for our AD’s master class, because I know a couple of people who are taking it and it sounds cool, but I also recognize that I need a breather.
I need a couple of days to just do day-to-day life stuff. Mentally speaking, I already feel like the summer is more or less over: I’m away for two weeks of July on dance intensives (LexBallet and Pilobolus), then possibly again for much of August and the first week of September (depending on a handful of circumstances) for Burning Man. Because I struggle with time, the idea of those giant pre-planned blocks makes it hard to understand that the rest of the summer, the windows between those bricks, exists.
Inevitably, when I take a couple of days off, there’s a part of my brain that remembers how nice it is to have the whole day to do the things that need doing (or, if possible, to do nothing, or do only things that don’t need doing). Occasionally, a very quiet voice in the back of my head whispers, “Wouldn’t it make more sense to do this than to pursue your insane visions?”
I remind it, of course, that “it makes more sense” hasn’t really worked out for us in the past—that I’m not actually great at predicting what makes sense; that (perhaps more importantly) the pursuit of impractical dreams, Quixotic though it may appear, keeps the wind in my sails.
Someday, I’m sure, it probably will make sense to ease off the accelerator a bit; to drop out of the big ring. Right now, though, I’m riding to ride the hills; I’m dancing to feel the sensation of soaring at the top of the grand assemblé porté.
And, yet, I think it’s good for me, having a life in which something as powerfully thrilling as Friday night’s performance is followed by something as entirely mundane as getting out in the backyard to chop up the branches that are still waiting there for me.
To misapply Jack Kornfield’s magnificent summary of Zen practice: “After the ecstasy, the laundry.”
So there we are. Back to class tomorrow, though I am sure I’ll sorely (ha!) regret jumping back in with Killer Class instead of something gentler.
Woke up in a terrible mood again today. At this juncture, though, I recognize that it is what it is, and it will pass. We’ve been around this block before. It’s easier to cope if you can say, “Just hold on for a minute; this, too, will pass.”
I did, however, actually get some sleep last night (better living through chemistry, heh), which should help.
At any rate, something spurred me to get back to work on Simon Crane, so I’ve been gathering a possible selection of music and stringing it all together in a playlist in order to determine whether or not it’s musically coherent. I don’t think I’m ever going to be the kind of choreographer who goes in for an incoherent score, as much as I suppose that could be a useful theatrical device.
This whole process makes me very grateful both for the exposure my parents gave me to good music (literally from before I was born) and for my formal musical training. It helps to know about things like relative keys, and so forth, and to possess at least a basic understanding of stylistic epochs within classical music.
At the moment, the score for Simon Crane begins with piano works by Satie, then transitions in the second act to orchestral works by Ravel (the famous “Bolero,” with a bit of choreographic homage to Béjart, because I think it would be an insult not to acknowledge his “Bolero”) possibly followed by either Saint-Saëns (‘Cello Concerto No. 1) or Vaughan Williams (Oboe Concerto).
The Saint-Saëns is quite difficult to play, evidently, which might be problematic, but a listen-through last night suggested some real choreographic possibilities. The overall arc of the piece rather nicely fits the part of the story that I’m trying to set.
I haven’t listened to the whole of the Vaughan Williams yet, so I have no idea if it’ll really work at all. I just happen to love Vaughan Williams, and the feeling of a lot of his music would fit the overall mood of the ballet pretty well, I think—though, ironically, Vaughan Williams might not be a good fit for the second act. Act II is distinctly urban in tone, while Vaughan Williams frequently evokes the English countryside. We’ll see how it goes.
Regardless, I haven’t listened to “Bolero” with either of the other two pieces yet, so that’s on my agenda for today while I’m finishing up some really boring yard work. It’s possible that neither will actually be a good fit and that I’ll have to find something else. Thank goodness for the sheer profligacy with which the Romantic and Impressionistic composers as a whole deployed their musical gifts!
The final act begins with Rachmaninoff’s “Isle of the Dead;” I think it may, in fact, stick with Rachmaninoff all the way through the final act, though that may or may not make every dancer who ever gets saddled with this thing hate me. I don’t know. I quite like dancing to Rachmaninoff, to be honest.
I’m debating whether or not some of this plan entirely works: not so much the use of the two long transitional pieces (“Bolero” and “Isle of the Dead,” both of which practically constitute entire acts in themselves from a storytelling perspective) as whether I’ve worked out an effective transition from Satie’s spare piano works to the lush Romantic orchestral works that follow. Right now, Act I ends with Satie, and Act II begins with “Bolero,” the opening of which is very far-off and spare.
I still have no idea how one, having conceived an entire ballet on this particular scale, goes about trying it out on actual dancers and eventually setting it if one doesn’t already happen to have access to an entire ballet company.
I do think I should be able to set bits of it, however. In particular, the opening scene from Act II, in particular, seems like it’s pretty amenable to performance as a standalone piece, perhaps with some small modifications.
Regardless, I sometimes find myself wishing that I had the slightest sense of how to compose for ballet, or at least for this ballet. Part of it is that I don’t feel like I compose well enough to create an original score for Simon Crane—if there’s one thing that drives me crazy about a lot of the great classical ballets, it’s that their scores are at best trite and at worst practically unlistenable. One accepts them because the dances that go with them are sublimely beautiful, but finds them irritating in the absence of dancers.
- I could see setting dances to some of the music I’ve written, but not this ballet.
I don’t want to beget yet another such score. I’d rather borrow music written by people who knew what they were about and be done with it.
Besides, Simon Crane began with a small piece set to one of Satie’s “Gymnopedies,” and I kind of think that you have to honor your muses. Apparently Terpsichore didn’t see fit to issue me a ballet with original music.
That’s fine. If she had, knowing me, I would probably never actually finish the damned thing.
Update: Having just listened through the Ravel-Vaughan Williams-Rachmaninoff option, I’m pretty sure that the Vaughan Williams is probably not “it.” The transition from “Bolero” to the Oboe Concerto is really quite nice, but I’m not sure that the Oboe Concerto A) fits the moon and B) won’t be a complete nightmare to choreograph, set, learn, and/or dance.
Going to listen to the Ravel-Saint Saëns-Rachmaninoff option now…
Further update: I’m listening to Grieg’s A Minor ‘Cello Sonata, and while it steps back from the complex orchestration of Ravel’s “Bolero,” as it’s written for ‘cello and piano, it might actually be a good fit, as well. Even if I don’t use it for Act II, I should keep it in mind for Act III, assuming that the rest of it fits. I’m only halfway through the first movement.
D and I are now rehearsing our #Playthink piece.
It’s actually going much better than I expected it to.
As one does, I’ve re-written essentially the entire piece now that I’m setting it on actual people and not just on myself prancing about in the studio and waving my arms to vaguely represent the acro moves.
Initially, I had one vision in mind. Because I was futzing around with it by myself, it involved a lot of ballet.
Now, of course, that has changed. I mean, there’s still ballet: there’s always going to be ballet because, hello, it’s me. That’s kind of what I do, apparently.
But choreography has a way of getting away from you. You begin with one vision, and as you actually create a dance and actually set it on actual people, it transforms.
I suppose that this is because, in a way, a dance is sort of a living thing. It’s a little like having a child (though, of course, on a very different scale) or maybe an elaborate pet. You might think, of a horse, “I’m going to train this horse to be the best cow pony ever,” but the horse might actually not be any good at being a cow pony. It might turn out to be a dressage beastie or something else.
- My philosophy on training horses was very much shaped both by my childhood trainer and also by the trainer of my friend’s lovely Arabian gelding, which began life as what the Arabian show world in the US calls a “park horse,” morphed into what the Arabian show word in the US calls an “English pleasure” horse, did a brief stint in Arabian-show-world western pleasure, and then eventually found his calling as an endurance racer. Basically, the lady who was responsible for training the horse felt that you needed to figure out which discipline suited the horse, and then train it to be as good as it could possibly be at that discipline. I think that’s a good way to do it.
Anyway. I digress.
So this dance is now almost a steady stream of rather-balletic acro and physical theater, and I’m okay with that. One of my goals was to build a dance that tells a story, and in this case, the story is kind of funny and implausible, and acro and physical theater are good ways to tell it.
I’m not going to try to force this dance to be something it isn’t. I have an entire lifetime in which to craft ballet pieces on ballet dancers (I keep joking that I have this entire three-act ballet in my head, now I just need about fifty dancers and a million dollars or so to get it off the ground … but, really, I do have an entire three-act ballet in my head, and it’s taking up a lot of space!). Right now, I’m working with one ballet dancer (me!) and one Denis, and that presents its own set of challenges and limitations.
Honestly, in creative work, it’s so often the limitations that free us to innovate (just as necessity—or, just as often, laziness—gives birth to invention).
The neat part is that this has led us to inadvertently create a new acro move. I mean, probably someone, somewhere has done it before, but I’ve never seen it. It happens to be one that requires that the flyer have a legit center oversplit (among other things), so probably there are a lot of people who can’t do it. Bony impingement is real, it’s just not something that I experience.
Anyway, the sequence involves moving from this:
…via returning to a standard vertical candlestick, then opening to a straddle and rolling down onto the base’s feet, and then rotating your legs back and around into the position above (the arms also have to do a thing, obviously).
The same basic end could be approached by moving from the vertical candlestick into a pike candlestick and lowering both legs down that way, but I don’t think it would look anywhere near as cool.
Annoyingly, when I snagged these screenshots, I completely failed to get one of the straddle transition. At the time, I think I was like, “A still photo of this isn’t going to impart any useful information.”
Anyway, you really have to have a perfectly flat straddle for this particular sequence so you don’t just rip your legs off, because your hips take a lot of your weight in the middle of the transition. Basically, if lying face down in a center split feels stretchy, this isn’t the sequence for you.
You also kind of need really good turnout in order to do the rotation bit.
The fact that D literally cannot straighten his legs in an L-base also means that I kind of drop myself onto his feet. Eventually, I’ll reach a point at which I can do a complete smooth rolldown whilst upside-down in a full center split, which will make things a little easier, but right now there’s a gap between the end of my smooth rolldown and the end of Denis’ range of motion (because my core strength is still only pretty good, and not completely awesome).
I wanted to use a sort of grand rond de jambe as an exit, but that also takes more adductor power than D has right now. If I bring my downstage leg to second, then rond it over, the force makes his right leg (which supports my left hip) shift, and I fall off 😀
We’ll get it eventually, but not in the next two weeks.
So there’s that.
Anyway, classes were good-ish yesterday and today.
Yesterday’s, in fact, was fairly lovely. Today’s was our first Advanced Class with JAB (OMG, his initials are seriously JAB!!! XD), who really does actually give an advanced Advanced Class.
On the upside, I’m finally (FINALLLLLYYYYYY) jumping again for real: grand allegro and everything. Cabrioles with turny bits, even (though I think I kept turning them into some kind of cabriole-scissor hybrid and landing on the wrong leg).
On the other hand, possibly because I went to a party last night and didn’t get to sleep ’til almost 4 AM (and then had to wake up and eat a sandwich, which was surreal because I was still pretty tipsy and more than half asleep), my brain was for the birds today.
I struggled because there were gaps in my recall of Every. Single. Combination. once we left the barre. The bits that came off, though, mostly went pretty well (except for a weird disaster in adagio during which I basically fell off my leg and then couldn’t get back on because gravity is the worst thing sometimes).
I also hit up a new class at Suspend, which is basically floorwork for acro.
You already know how much I love floorwork, soooooo…
Anyway, we got to break out our improv for the last 10 minutes of class, which resulting in some video that’s party really cool and partly like WHY DO YOU KEEP NOT COMPLETING THE MOVEMENTS WITH YOUR ARMS, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU.
But, anyway, here are a few nice shots from this morning’s video, just because I like them:
Also, I feel like in the arch picture, my butt looks like a couple of angry badgers having a fight. Muscular angry badgers, though.
The tape, by the way, is just there because a tree stabbed me in the foot yesterday
Anyway, I was being annoyed with myself for not making the effort to do quadruple turns today, and then realized that I’ve somehow, like, sideswiped my ballet goals without realizing it. Like, basically, I’ve made a significant dent in them and didn’t even notice.
Basically, one of my major goals for this year was to nail down reliable triples and unreliable quadruples, basically. And, bizarrely, I have achieved that goal. I had this weird epiphany on the way home from class yesterday: I realized that, like, a year ago or so, even doing one little triple turn more or less by accident was the most amazing thing ever.
And now I’m like, “Meh, triples, yawn,” when I don’t try for quads.
So, basically, I need to pause and appreciate how much progress I have made.
For what it’s worth, I’ve also got turns in second sorted. They’re not always beautiful (or, let’s be honest, even pretty), but I can always do them. Just not always sixteen of them.
So, yeah. There you go. I feel like I’m “back,” more or less, right now.
Of course, Choose Your Own Intensive begins Monday, soooo… . . .
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.
Set two more segments of the dance tonight and ironed out half the costuming issue.
I say “set,” but they’re really only half-set, as we didn’t run them with music (we were all too tired to screw around with all that). I did set them with the music in my head, though.
I have another phrase in my head, but I don’t feel like I’m quite hitting what I’m trying to say, so I’m going to sit on that one this week.
This piece is very adagio and really quite serious, which means we need to approach it a little carefully to prevent accidental silliness.
^This is actually right at the beginning of this dance. Which is good, because this movement begins on one knee and one foot and involves pressing sloooooowly up into attitude without falling on each-other. The supporting leg basically does all the work getting you from “on bended knee” up to attitude (and then you arabesque, and then you penché, and then you failli…). In short: engage all the things.
Definitely the kind of thing you want at the beginning rather than the end (not that I’m any nicer at all to us about the end).
It’s a screenshot from a video, btw, hence the slightly pixelated image quality.
All my choreography worked today. Regarding which:
My upcoming grown-ass semi-professional dance piece is a ballet/modern hybrid piece to Antony and the Johnsons’ cover of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” and the opening looks exactly as I visualized it—and it’s beautiful.
I was surprised by that. Maybe I shouldn’t be, but sometimes you suddenly make something beautiful, and it catches you off guard.
The rest is coming along nicely. The opening 35 seconds set a high bar(re).
Speaking of high barres, my coupé balances in class tonight were surprisingly good, though even the top barres in the studio where Monday class takes place are lower than is ideal for me. I think I’ve been over-correcting.
This class is at the school location in one of the two two larger studios. I’m guessing the top barre is optimized for students between 5′ and 5’3″. At 5’8″ with short arms, I have to do funky things to reach the barre when I’m on relèvé. The portable barres are even lower, though. The bottom barre, meanwhile, is optimized for cracking your knees when doing turns.
Speaking of turns, mine were meh today. I don’t actually have the faintest idea why, either.
Anyway, I’m cooked, so to bed with me.
Eventually you’ll get to see my “Heaven’s Door” dance, but probably not ’til it’s complete.
So, I’m writing this at 3 AM, but scheduling it for Actual Morning.
We’ve had a late casting change for Work Song. My other boy wound up with a bounty of work projects, and he’s swamped. I’m fine with that; in the gig economy that feeds so many artists, you have to strike while the iron is hot. I love his work, so I’m excited about seeing more of it down the line, even though it means losing him for this piece.
Last night I asked GM, a fellow aerialist, if he’d like to try jumping in. His formal training in dance is pretty minimal, but he’s a very good mover. I think he’ll be able to roll with it. AM, AS, and I will be able to coach him on technique.
Interestingly, bringing in a less-experienced dancer has helped me to streamline my choreography a bit. I had about five different ideas for the third phrase, and only one of them is something I’d feel confident handing to someone with limited dance vocabulary.
It’s good to work with limitations. They make decision-making easier and help to shape the finished work. Just as the stone tells the sculptor what figure lies within, sometimes the dancers shape the vision of the choreographer.
We should be able to start rehearsing next week or the first week of January.
Ultimately, this piece is only about 3.5 minutes long. The rehearsal process will be less about learning the choreography, which shouldn’t be too hard, and more about making it really sing. There’s a lot of partnering in this piece, though it’s largely not of the classical-ballet bent. GM takes acro with me, so I suspect he can handle it. Timing and musicality are the open questions, one everyone learns the choreography.
I guess, really, this is my first professional project as a choreographer-director. I’m learning on the fly how to cast dancers, schedule rehearsals, teach choreography to four busy performers with very different backgrounds, make costuming decisions, and so on and so forth.
Having done it once, I feel like doing it again won’t be so difficult. The biggest ongoing challenge will be finding rehearsal spaces on a budget of $Zip.ZilchNada. The nice part in this case is that rehearsal space is built in. I teach with AS, and this performance is part of the Instructors’ Showcase, so we will be rehearsing at the studio.
Finding dancers isn’t incredibly difficult. I’ve managed to connect with a decent handful of adult ballet students who want to perform, including a fairly advanced core group. My aerials family is made up mostly of very game performers, a few of whom have reasonable dance training.
I might have to learn how to do fundraising stuff. The internets should make that easier.
I’m pretty excited about all of this. The only thing I’m not looking forward to is the cat-herding involved in scheduling rehearsals 😛
That might not be as bad as it could be, though, because we’re all attached to the aerials studio, and we all spend a lot of time there.
More to come. It’s weird how far 2016 (the Year of the Dumpster Fire) has taken me as a dancer. No matter what I’ve said, one year ago I wouldn’t have predicted that I’d be staging a piece (for four dancers!) with so much confidence.
Gives me something to look forward to in 2017 (which, hilariously, is the Year of the Cock).
So DanceTeam is going well (though I am still convinced that at any moment our dancers are going to realize that I have no idea what I’m doing and revolt/go rogue/possibly eat me).
Ballet and modern were less than awesome last week, but the Pilobolus workshop made up for a lot of that, especially the part when one of the instructors tracked me down afterwards and told me I was a beautiful mover with a lot of presence. Definitely one of those “I can die happy now” moments.
Likewise, today’s Open Fly, during which I started formally building a dance to Hozier’s “Work Song” that’s actually going to happen (Finally!), felt like a leap forward.
Including myself, I have four dancers lined up. Aerial A, who went to the Pilobolus workshop with me, is also in, as are my DanceTeam partner-in-crime and a fellow I know from acro (upon whose very high shoulders I have literally stood). We’ve got a tentative performance date early next year (the performance is a definite; it’s just the date that’s undecided). Aerial A happened along while I was working on choreography this afternoon and we stepped through the first 41 seconds of the dance — at least, as much as we could, since there’s some partnering stuff that requires our compatriots.
Aerial A likes what I’ve got, and I think it’s going to really work.
Needless to say, the explosion of dance stuff in my life is both exciting and a bit overwhelming. I’m still in that phase during which you just kind of white-knuckle it whilst you adjust to your new schedule. Hence less posting. I’m somehow managing to scrape paint off the trim in the midst of all this, also, because miracles evidently do occur.
This week, we’ve got a dance event on Monday evening (a sort of “live interview” with Wendy Whelan), then I think a “normal” schedule again — wait, no, DanceTeam performs on Friday!
Anyway, here’s hoping that in class this week I won’t do dumb things like choosing too shallow a line in a bidirectional combination and almost colliding with someone in the next group.
Intensive plans for next summer are also in the works. Aerial A and I are hoping to hit at least one of Pilobolus’ week-long workshops. In addition, I’ll probably go to Cinci and Lexington again. There’s a remote chance of doing Sun King if our finances are okay, but in the current economic climate it’s really hard to predict.
No worries there, though. If I don’t get to go til 2018, I’ll be even better prepared than I will next year.
There are also a few audition-y things on the radar, but let’s file those under, “To Know, To Will, To Dare, To Keep Silent.” At least for now.
So that’s where I am at the moment. Still percolating other choreo projects, especially Simon Crane — but one of them is finally taking off.