Lets talk about choreography

by Henrik on November 21, 2011

Choreography is the art of making dances, be that classical variations, modern pieces or contemporary performances.
That said, I believe choreography is more than just combining movements. To make a truly great choreography, theres got to be something more behind it than just fancy moves – there’s got to be substance. Not necessarily a story, but after seeing a performance, I don’t want to be left with nothing but the impression of the movements, I want to get something more – an idea, a statement or maybe just a sense of a mood, but there has got to be something.

This is also the reason why I never choreographed myself – I don’t feel I have anything to communicate that I could get out through movements. Not that I don’t have any ideas that might make good dances, but as of today, I have still not felt the urge to realize them. I truly appreciate watching good choreography, and I deeply respect the work and effort that lies behind it. To be able to make a great choreography is a gift not all people possesses, and requires, apart from lots of creativity, a great understanding and knowledge of dance that I don’t feel I have.

Eric Trottier working with the dancers creating the ballet "U2 - you too?!". Photo by Tamara Cerna ©

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You might remember my post a while back with some tips on how to better memorize the steps of a choreography?! To keep an open mind and focus on what you are doing is alpha and omega for any dancer learning a new piece. But that learning experience can be very different at different situations – learning an already performed piece is quite different from working with a choreographer developing a new performance as you go.

While a “fix” set of steps are easier to relate to in terms of memorizing and grinding the movements, it’s always exciting to work on something new, something that never has been performed before. Working like this also demands more from the dancer – one constantly has to learn and re-learn movements as the piece takes shape – what was the situation yesterday might be quite different today. To be able to keep up to date and fresh in each rehearsal can make a very demanding task. While a choreographer is the “creator” of the new piece, the dancers he or she is choreographing the piece on are like the clay from which the sculptor shapes his works – your ability to perform and personalize the movement given to you from the choreographer may have a huge impact on how the dance finally turns out.

Alexei Ratmanski, resident choreographer, American Ballet Theatre and maybe our times best classical choreographer?!

There are big differences on how much a choreographer wants you to make the movements your own, though. While some choreographers stress the ability to take the movements and perform them in your own way, add your own personality into it, others wants their dancers to be as “plastic” as possible, and wants to shape them by his or hers own expectations. Some dancers has the ability to perform almost any movements just as they are told, and will perform best with this sort of a “plastic” choreographer. Others, on the other hand, tends to personalize any movement, making their own personality shine through the movements. Those kind of dancers probably will work better with a choreographer that focuses more on each dancers unique performance.

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Nureyev, Ballet star

Nureyev was known for his ability to learn any choreography by just watching the movements once

Like anyone, choreographers are different. A dancer might have to work with several choreographers during the career, and you might work better with some, than others. To find a choreographer you work great with is like finding a romantic partner – one might have to kiss a few frogs.. But when you do, lots of great things might come from it.

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Do you have any questions about choreography, or how the dancers work with it? Why don’t you post a comment?

Until next time,
Ta-Ta
H

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Julia November 28, 2011 at 2:38 am

Henrik,
This is a really good post. I like how you are never bias when writing your posts so it gives readers a lot to think about. I do have one question though, do you think choreographers should let the dancer experiment with the movements to make it their own or keep or more structured? So many choreographers think differently but I feel there is a time and a place for each.

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Henrik November 29, 2011 at 7:05 pm

Hi Julia,
I’m glad you like my blog.
I totally agree about the time and place for each. In the end, the choreographer has to find out what way of working that suits him or her the best – after all, it is the choreographers work, not the dancers. I do like it when they listen to our “needs”, though ;)

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Seven of Nine Davids December 5, 2011 at 4:19 am

Hi Henrik. I saw 2 different Nutcrackers this weekend. One was put on by our cities ballet company that is small but trying to grow. The other was by The Moscow Ballet that tours the U.S. performing The Nutcracker and Swan Like in more than 100 performances in November and December.

Obviously, The Moscow Ballet was technically much better than our cities ballet company. It was so much of what a person would expect to see from Russian ballet.

However … the choreography of our cities small ballet company for the fight scene between the mouse king and the nutcracker was much more exciting. It had much more energy and a more of a sense of life and death struggle than that of the Moscow Ballet.

The Moscow Ballet put on a very pretty fight scene but it lacked emotion or a sense of danger between the mouse king and the nutcracker. It really felt like two male ballet dancers seperately dancing, trying to attract the attention of the audience with flashy moves and hands reaching outward in various directions. It seemed to become progressively less energetic to the point it died for me. It lacked … testosterone. (However, many other parts of the Moscow Ballet’s performance were outstanding and well worth the ticket price.)

However, our cities ballet company choreographed the mouse king and the nutcracker being much closer together in the fight and they engaged each other in the fight and it felt like life and death were at stake.

I am wondering how does a choreographer do so well in many other parts of the ballet but then completely miss what the audience needs to see and feel in a crucial section of the ballet? Why doesn’t someone tell the choreographer, “Your fight scene makes me makes me want to go watch the other ballet companies fight scene.”

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Hannah January 8, 2013 at 11:45 pm

Henrik,
I am currently engaged in a senior project and am having a really hard time trying to figure out what to write about. My topic is the difference between mediocre and excelent choreography but i dont think that i can write an 8 page essay on the do’s and donts. do you have any advice on this? How can i as a dancer improve the way i choreograph and most importantly how cani write an 8 page essay? Anything helps :) Thatnk you so much!!!

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