The trouble with planning is not that it is time-consuming or cumbersome; or that it requires being thought through again and again, or even made into a series of alternative plans to prevent failure if something might go wrong with the original plan (although those factors do make it difficult). The trouble with planning is that no matter how much effort goes into it, no plan is immune to the unpredictable obstacles that reality throws at it.
Choreographing is a lot like planning. Choreographing on groups is like planning wedding where all the guests speak different languages. Choreographing collaboratively on groups is like planning a wedding with all the guests who speak different languages.
This past semester I enrolled in my first focus coursework of my college education. Group Forms, taught by Sofie Clemmensen, a visiting professor from Denmark, was available this semester, and I excitedly took the opportunity to become a student in it. I looked forward to making dance on bodies other than my own—my first two required composition classes focused primarily on solo work. What I didn’t anticipate was choreographing with the input of my peers. So, although I have learned a great deal about myself artistically this semester, I have learned twice as much about how my artistic vision might run parallel, or at 69-degree angle in a different dimension, with the artistic visons of my peers. From simply discussing choreographic concepts from “Looking at Dances” by Valerie Preston-Dunlop, to viewing the elements of well-known dances, to working together to choreograph a work collaboratively, my ability to imagine choreography from different perspectives has broadened indefinitely.
Some of the most interesting conversations about dance took place in our discussions about conceptual aspects of choreography such as its medium, eukinetics, dynamics, and choreutics. We were required to read and be prepared to discuss sections of “Looking at Dances” several times throughout this course. I was genuinely enthusiastic about these readings, mostly because I had never seen my beliefs about choreographic theory written down and published. It was, in a sense, cathartic to read in a book what I had been trying to process in my head for years. I am fascinated by the methods of communicating through movement, and having the chance to study such a thing in an academic sense is still marvelously sensational to me.
One particular conversation on these readings revolved around the role of the dancer in a choreographic work. It is difficult to place exactly how much influence a dancer has on a piece. Firstly, it is dependent on the genre of the work. In a ballet, the dancer has much less liberty in developing the character, simply because the character they are assigned has already existed in earlier iterations of the same story. However, in a contemporary work, “the dancer’s body, personality, creativity, look, gender, technique, biography, are an essential elements through with the idea is realised” (Preston-Dunlop 2). In this sense, the performance is dependent both on the choreography and the dancer(s) performing it. In some instances, the choreography takes more weight, and in other instances, it’s the opposite.
This entire conversation shifts when the performer and the choreographer become the same person, and another layer is added when there are multiple choreographers as performers within one piece. We executed this exact scenario on multiple occasions throughout this course. In one case, there were eight choreographers who played dual-roles as the eight performers in the same piece. In other words, there were eight voices to be heard and essentially no outside eye since all eight voices were inside the work. In our final assignment, we were prompted to make duets, which we combined into quartets. Finally, we added four more dancers from outside the class to make octets. This reduced the amount of creative input (from eight people to four), but the struggles of collective choreographing still persisted.
We all fall victim to the “but it’s not how I imagined it” phenomenon, but settings like these, provide an entirely new collection of related complications. For example, if one person states that they have an idea the following events must occur: everyone must agree that their idea is worth trying, then the person must translate the idea to seven completely different minds (who might all interpret that idea differently), and then they all must take the time to work it out. If it ends up that the idea is not how the original idea-conceiver “imagined,” the group must go through the entire process again. Instead of sticking with that idea and modifying it until it worked, someone else’s idea is usually tested out to ensure that one person doesn’t have too much authority. This made the choreographic process long and grueling, but eventually my peers and I developed a method of realizing ideas collectively. The following video shows the result of our final assignment: