The title of this article is the second half of the title of one of the best descriptions of choreography I’ve ever read. Roslyn Sulcas wrote a year-end article in the New York Times summarizing the most memorable performances she had seen during the year. The article is called “Leading Bodies, Stirring Imaginations”, and it begins with a superb description of the art of choreography:
"CREATING a dance involves much more than inventing steps for dancers. It needs a judicious eye for visual and spatial effect, a sense of timing and an instinct for building attention, for varying the mood and creating an overall theatrical arc that draws an audience into the world of the dance. Thinking about my favorite dance watching moments of the year, I realized that they all involved a sense of wonder at the skill with which the choreographers had woven these elements into a whole, making every aspect of a dance feel not just necessary, but inevitable."
Despite the importance of music in almost all dance creation, the world of dance and the world of music are very different. They are different cultures, different economies, often different classes. In my experience, though, the most significant differences are actually the result of differences in perception.
For most of its professionals and for most of its audience, choreography is essentially a visual art, and dancers and choreographers are primarily visual in their perceptions. They react intensely to music, but often as texture more than as composition, the way a fashion designer perceives fabric. Although profoundly inspired by some music, they often perceive it almost as color, but rarely as artistic structure, much the same way that a painter perceives light.
The process of choreography is variable and complex, and several projects ‘ohana Dreamdance has done in the past year, along with the Tenth Anniversary of Thodos Dance Chicago’s New Dances, makes this a good time to talk about that process. Extensions Dance Company, who’s 2010 Showcase is on Saturday, May 29 at the Ruth Page Center For the Arts, will be performing Lizzie MacKenzie’s work “Time Now”, set to two ‘ohana Dreamdance tracks, “Time Now” and “Some Time”. We’ve just finished the choreography mix of our track “What Was Beyond” for Shayna Swanson’s brilliant aerial choreography and performance. Finally, Mollie Mock and Jeremy Blair’s enchanting work “Reflect”, set to our track “Hidden”, premiered at New Dances last year and has just completed it’s first year in the Thodos Dance Chicago repertoire.
But maybe I should explain how I got mixed up in all of this to begin with. I’m a record producer by trade, but like many mixer/producers, I’ve also spent a lot of time recording and mixing projects that I was not producing. Before the development of system-based recording, choreographers like Melissa Thodos had to find a recording studio to put together the music for their works, and that was my first exposure to the world of Dance.
Thodos Dance Chicago celebrates the tenth year of its New Dances series, probably the most successful of the many Dance Company-sponsored programs for the development of new choreography. It’s not uncommon for Dance companies to have a program that encourages their members and guest artists to choreograph in a special developmental program. The Thodos Dance New Dances approach is a much more far-reaching commitment than is the norm, though.
Choreographer and Dancer Jennifer Meek has begun working with the students of Moving Arts Dance Studio in Concord, CA on her work in progress titled "Sleeping Palms". The extraordinary students who are trained extensively in modern, improvisation, and contemporary partnering will be assisting her in creating images of a community or crowd of people.
“Sleeping Palms” began from an inspiring experience performing at the TED conference in Long Beach, CA in Feb. 2009. The conference brings together many brilliant minds from all over the world to share ideas, innovations, and technologies with the hopes of helping others. For me, this concept seems to have great relevance for our national situation today.