The below post is the seventh in a series of 13 texts related to NOW-ID's inaugural Rite of loosely following the 13 episodes in Stravinsky's score. The author, Liz Ivkovich, is also a dancer in the piece. Get your tickets to the performance here.
I love what Kate described about the relationship of photography to architecture, and criticism to dance in her latest post. She said, “...just like many people only know a building through the photographer’s carefully framed image, dance history has depended on critics’ writing as a kind of archival or circulating material for an art form that is embodied and sensorial.”
I am curious about a similar relationship of performer to choreography.
I think it is often true that for dancers, our own experience of being in the studio learning from a choreographer is often substituted by the artifact of stories from friends or friends of friends. Though most of us won’t work with most choreographers, we may still feel like we know about it, even though we’ve never had an embodied experience. The choreography has been framed for us by the circulating material of dancer stories. I think this is an interesting phenomenon.
On the note of being in rehearsal, getting into the studio on June 3 with Charlotte and the other three dancers is on my mind. I always get nervous in advance of learning choreography. In fact, in a recent NOW-ID blog post, Charlotte asked the question:
Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process - how do you learn new choreography?
I answered: “I almost have no answer here -- I am embarrassingly bad at learning new movement. I used to learn really quickly (ok, like in high school, but whatever, I’m only 32 34 (I lost count), so it’s recent history) and now it takes me so much mental labor to retain choreography. I absolutely have to do it full out a lot of times / I watch what other dancers are doing in the mirror until it settles into my body.”
So in preparation for entering the studio, and since today’s post is aptly titled “The Procession of the Sages,” I thought I’d cull from stories of the three other dancers, my sages, who are processing in front of me before we begin rehearsal. These quotes are responses to the same question, “Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process - how do you learn new choreography?” And since Jo Blake, Tara McArthur, and Sydney Sorenson each have more experience working with Charlotte’s choreography than I do, these artifacts of their embodied experiences are guideposts for me.
Jo: When I learn choreography I stand behind the choreographer and pretend that they know what they are doing. (jk) And, with as little energy as possible, I will experiment with the choreography. (jk) Do I like to dance? No, not really. (jk) Do I want the choreographer to know that I am passionate about dance? Naaaah. (jk) Do I LOVE the creative process in the studio with the choreographer and dancers? HELL YEAH!! I live for the creative process!!
Tara: My creative process is a constant evolution, shifting from project to project. When learning new movement I get really curious about the transitions between movements, shapes, or concepts, not only as a way to string it together and solidify it in my mental and physical memory, but also to find my own creative voice within a certain structure. When learning movement from someone else I like to try and imagine what the movement must feel like to them, what it would be like to be in that particular body, and then use that information to inform how I approach the choreography. If I’m asked to generate material, I feel most successful when I am able to fully immerse myself and ‘buy into' the world the choreographer is trying to create. Some people work from the fined tuned details out— I tend to start in broad strokes and narrow in on subtleties as I go. I am definitely movement driven as opposed to shape. My instincts are to blur the lines a bit.
Sydney: When in a new creation process I try to be as pure of a dancer as possible for the choreographer. I desire to serve their vision. I also aim to move expansively within the realms of the choreography if it calls for it. I find big, full movement to be the most satisfying, so I try and keep that in mind when dancing either classical steps or in a new creation.
I’d say I am a visual learner. When learning phrase work it helps me to see it first before I put it into my body. However I’m learning to approach choreography kinesthetically by trying it on, and allowing my body to process before I over-think.