NCDF in Greensboro: Ask the Choreographers

November 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

This year at our Greensboro concert, we gave audience members the chance to write down questions they had for the choreographers. We got some amazing questions from audience members of all ages and our choreographers rose to the challenge and gave some great and thought provoking answers! Ever wonder what goes into choreographing a song, how choreographers choose music, or even their workout routine? Now’s your chance!

I understand that choreography goes beyond dance…but what part does dance play in choreography?

Headshot-3Diego Carrasco Schoch (DCS): As a choreographer it’s important to understand that I have a specific way of moving/dancing and therefore my choreography is going to reflect those habits, tendencies, biases, preferences, etc. In order to expand my vocabulary and get away from those tendencies, I will often incorporate movement generated by the cast through improvisational structures, asking the dancers to talk about the movement material I have created, and allowing them to make adjustments and changes based on the intent of the phrase and the piece overall.

I think also that the question is asking about the definition of choreography in that choreography is not just movement/dance but an arrangement of images in time and space. The placement of the individual musicians in an orchestra and the entrance of the conductor could be considered choreography or the way drivers negotiate a four-way intersection could be choreography.  Dance/movement affects how these images are perceived and interpreted.

Lastly, A Place Apart was created on bodies other than my own, using some improvisational structures and exercises. Because of this the piece was very unfamiliar to my own body when I had to learn it in order to perform. I had to discover how to inhabit the movements in a way that felt natural to me, so the choreography changed simply because the steps look different on my body due to the differences inherent in it.

How difficult is it to create a performance that the general audience can understand?

DCS: First, it is very difficult because modern contemporary dance generally utilizes abstractions and imagery, often in juxtaposition, without the aid of text, explanation, or direct associations. We can think about those images as symbols or signs. As an example, some signs are very easy to read and pretty universal such as smiley faces made with a circle, two dots and a curved line inside it (emoticons work this way). However the more abstract a sign, the more each audience member is able to interpret or translate those signs/images in their own way based on their cultural background, education, and experiences. This is why a joke told in English may not work in Spanish or Arabic. The cultural touchstones and associations are not the same.

A Place Apart. Photo credit: Rosalie O'Connor

A Place Apart. Photo credit: Rosalie O’Connor

Sometimes it is not a choreographer’s intent or first priority to “be understood”, but instead wanting or allowing the audience to interpret the dance in their own way. Many people feel intimidated when confronting modern dance but they shouldn’t be. The place to begin is to examine one’s visceral reactions to the work.

Lastly, George Balanchine basically said it is impossible to define complicated familial relationships such as step mothers or cousins purely through dance. For universal understanding, it is best to stick with simple, universal themes.

What is the audience response most desired by you?

Kristen Jeppsen Groves 2Kristen Jeppsen Groves: I want people to recognize what dance can communicate. I really hope the audience members leave my pieces saying, “I got that, I understood that.”… I hope most of all there will be a sense of community that the audience can experience with us. That everyone leaves and they start to get a sense of what true community should be like and how we should work with one another.

I hope that everybody in the audience thinks about who they are and to recognize that sometimes we can let go of the everyday performances that we put on for people. And that we are enough as we are.

As We Are. Photo credit: Chris Walt

As We Are. Photo credit: Chris Walt

How did you find the beautiful music accompanying your choreography? (asked by a student of the Dance Project: School at City Arts)

Gaspard head shot by Robin GallantGaspard Louis: For most of my works the choreography and the music are usually created together. I have been fortunate so far to be able to collaborate with local musicians. Sometimes they would come in the studio to play as we were improvising, other times, I would listen to a piece of music and ask them to compose something similar.

DCS: I am always listening to music and I expose myself to a lot of different music. When I hear something I particularly enjoy I make a note of it and kind of put it in a catalogue that exists in the back of my brain. When I start a new project I’ll go through a lot of music to see what might work. Sometimes when I’ve begun rehearsals I haven’t yet picked the music. Other times I can’t find anything and will see if I can I get an original score composed.

Rubix. Photo credit: Warren Scott

Rubix. Photo credit: Warren Scott

What inspired you to create “Mess”?

Leah Wilks (LW): I don’t know…I’m curious about what you do when you can’t make sense of things? I like Leah Headbang-2to make sense of everything. I think a lot of artists like to make sense of things. It’s kind of why we do art, right? We take these really abstract emotions and we make meaning out of them. And for me, what this piece emerged as is what happens when you’re in those situations where you can’t make meaning? What happens when you can’t do that and how do you still move?

How long do you prefer to work on a new creation and when do you know its ready to show?

DCS: My basic equation is as follows: if a piece is 10 minutes long, I need at least 20 hours of studio rehearsal time. Basically I double the number of minutes a piece is and then call that number hours. This does not include all of the extra time spent researching and thinking about the piece, the time going over the day’s videos or notes, the production meetings, or the production rehearsals. Sometimes the gestation or preparation time for a piece can be months or years before one actually gathers a cast and steps into the studio.

I am always thinking I could have used another two weeks on a piece before it is “finished” and premiers in a theatre to audiences. I have also found that when given the chance to re-stage a piece, I re-work or tinker with it, which could imply that it was not “finished” when I first did it. 

In general, a piece is finished when it fulfills my expectations and I have addressed or completed all of the elements I was interested in or working on. In the end, I look to make the work coherent from beginning to end, that the vocabulary is consistent and meshes well, and I have edited out anything I feel is peripheral or unnecessary to the understanding of the piece.

How do your ideas evolve?

LW: I start with questions. I’m never interested in answering things for people, I don’t really want to tell a story, I don’t want to do things linearly. I like creating worlds and environments that start from a question that allows people to have their own experience inside of that. So I guess that’s sort of my choreographic device.

Mess photo by  Tim Walter-0226

Mess. Photo credit: Tim Walter

DCS: In very strange ways sometimes! I have begun a project thinking it was about one thing and as I got further into the process I realized it was about something else. Most of my work begins with a kinetic idea. As the phrases and images evolve, I try to notice and reflect on how the dancers inhabit the movement and relate to each. These cues and elements begin to shape into something that has meaning for me. Once I can see a theme or direction I begin to shape the work toward that idea.

What is your exercise routine? Yoga?

DCS: I lift weights, swim laps, and, yes, practice yoga. These days, I very rarely take a dance technique class.

How did you do those dance moves? (asked by an audience member under the age of 10)

DCS: A lot of practice!

Thanks so much to our attentive audience in Greensboro for asking such thought provoking questions, and another thank you to our choreographers for taking the time to answer these questions in such depth.

Still hoping to catch these choreographers in action? Check our schedule to see how you see us on our last stop in January!

Dance Local.

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