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What is "thinking like a choreographer?"(And not "thinking like a dancer playing around with movement?


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#16 Klavier

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Posted 19 September 2006 - 07:27 PM

I'm still discovering moments of Balanchine's profound invention in 4T's, which I may have seen a hundred times.


And which I have yet to see once, though the DVD is near the top of my to-buy list. But I certainly will be at the State Theater for it next February.

I have no doubt that if there were a video of Masada, or if it entered the NYCB rep, I'd find it at best mildly amusing by the seventh or eighth viewing.


To tell you the truth, I can entirely relate to that comment. However much I enjoyed it, it felt slight - and not at all inexhaustible.

#17 bart

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Posted 21 September 2006 - 09:34 AM

This thread -- along with the Link to Leigh's mid-1990s dance writing -- is provocative. The Link provided by Leigh led me to one of his mid-90s reviews: a performance in NYC of Amor Brujo by the Victor Ullate company. Here's a brief description:

In Jaleos, towards the end of the work the women push the men. Why? Why ask why? It has nothing to do with any movement motif that occurred before it or with any emotional motif either. It happens because it's sexy, and because Mr. Ullate had four more minutes to go, and hadn't used this trick. The men then do double tours to an ŕ la seconde. The women then get on the floor and split their legs wide open to give us a pussy shot. The whole thing proceeds with this sort of grinding lunacy. And I've only described about 5 seconds of the ballet.

I've never seen this ballet -- though I have seen, and very much liked, Ullate's version of the old Don Quijote, and his dancers were generally quite wonderful. But I've certainly seen this approach to choreography many, many times. From companies big and small. Classiscal companies trying to cross over in order be reach young audiences. Just about every kind of company, come to think of it. It's the choreographic version of a sugar high: quick to go up/ quick to go down.

Reading Leigh's review I can imagine all the bravos, whooping and frenzy as the curtain falls and during the bows.

Then, as the house lights go up, there comes that sudden dissipation of emotional energy -- almost a sucking away of audience feelings that were there just a few seconds before. (This is NOT the same as the subdued or pensive silence audiences sometimes experience after sharing something truly powerful and moving.)

We plough our way up the aisle to the lobby, trying to think of things to say about the performance and ballet. Trying to REMEMBER something we have seen. Something to keep the excitement going for a while. ("Costumes were great. Did you see those big jumps? Have you ever been to Granada? Do you want a drink? ... Did you hear that X and Y are selling their house?")

#18 Helene

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Posted 21 September 2006 - 09:37 AM

We plough our way up the aisle to the lobby, trying to think of things to say about the performance and ballet. Trying to REMEMBER something we have seen. Something to keep the excitement going for a while. ("Costumes were great. Did you see those big jumps? Have you ever been to Granada? Do you want a drink? ... Did you hear that X and Y are selling their house?")

This is why I have a lot of single tickets to things :smilie_mondieu: When I'm with other people, I my recall goes down about 75%. I don't know how critics can talk to other people at intermission and still remember what to write.

#19 ViolinConcerto

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Posted 21 September 2006 - 08:12 PM

Choreographically, there wasn't much there - What was with the head waggling from bad belly dance stereotypes? Does he really think all Middle Eastern/Semitic movement is undifferentiatedly the same?



Well, as I said on the other thread (New Choreographers....), I enjoyed it and liked the little head waggling, which is not from belly dancing, but South Indian dance (with which I am familiar). Probably Tom doesn't know any more about Middle Eastern, Semitic, Indian dance than any other dancer in NYCB -- they do not teach dance history and ethnology at SAB, but I'm not going to hold it against him. Only Mark Morris is really educated about different forms of ethnic dance.

I do look forward to reading Leigh's article, which I have bookmarked for when I have a moment. But although my response to Tom's piece was primarily visceral, I felt he did a lot with movement themes/motifs, dancers, footwork and energy that are also considerations of good choreography. I did feel that the design/groupings was a bit weak, but overall, it was a great "closer," with lots of vibrance.

#20 jps

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Posted 08 October 2006 - 07:55 PM

Last Friday, at a round table discussion by University of California, Berkeley, scholars on the treatment of King Arthur in legend and in music (held in conjunction with the American premier of Mark Morris's production of Purcell's "King Arthur" on the UC campus), Professor Davitt Moroney, an English musicologist and authority on Purcell, and the University Organist, said that as a scholar and performer of music, he listens to music in a very particular way; and when he saw how Mark Morris choreographed Purcell he was struck by the fact that Morris listens to music like a professional musician: his choreography makes "close listening" visible.

#21 artist

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Posted 03 March 2007 - 10:31 PM

Pacing, Structure. Coherence. Having a beginning, middle, and end.

You mean choreography ISN'T just about stringing together lot of interesting (preferably difficult) steps and combinations and ending things when the time runs out? :clapping:


yeah, I've read something on that (i don't remember) - someone said that you shoudn't be able to take a section of it and perform it separately; it should be cohesive; it should flow as one piece.

#22 2dds

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 11:11 AM

I wonder if some worthy choreography doesn't have a core or a seminal section(s) that can stand alone. I have total subjectivity here as the parent of an emerging choreographer, but I have actually watched this person choreograph over more than a decade. We have also discussed choreography for as long or longer than that. Often these discussions follow performances and inform our reactions as audience members. I have also watched in classes as teachers put together combinations and noted the differences between classes and combinations taught by teachers who are choreographers and those who are not. Most importantly, I have noted the total disjunction among the skills needed to be a great dancer, great teacher, and a great choreographer.

I disagree that great choreography will never have stand alone elements. We have all seen excerpts from our most treasured ballets that are not only integral to the overall ballet, but are also quite satisfing as stand alone pieces. Two of my daughter's longest and most successful pieces were built around core stand alone pieces that were presented independently and well received, then later integrated into longer works. In both cases the choreographer intended these independent pieces to be part of longer works from the very beginning.

My daughter has also discussed choreographic techniques with established choreographers, and shared aspects of these conversations with me. As a result of observing the choreographic process in these ways, I have become convinced that:

#1 choreography, like dance, is partly a gift and a passion; it can be learned, but for some it is a calling, and has aspects that often (more often than dance itself) defy the ability to teach

#2 different choreographers choreograph differently; some, for example, work mostly in their heads, others prefer to actually move physical bodies in space (obviously each choreographer is a mixture, but tendancies are usually very clear cut)

#3 choreographers hear music differently; some seem to actualy hear it as moving shapes, dynamic formations, negative space, etc.; this is related to how dancers feel music in their bodies, but certainly not identical

#4 coherence/intent/meaning are crucial to choreographic success; this relates to the choreograper's vision (which in a particular piece may be more or less grand and ambitious—some pieces honestly are more modest or even actually slight!)

#5 transitions are very important in making choreography meaningful, moving, lasting, and successful; memorable choreography usually relies on the "in betweens" to transcend something more than what any well-trained dancer can simply string together

#6 good choreography relies on a shared dance vocabulary and will engage an audience with the occasional unexpected passage, but ultimately will say or at least suggest something to the audience that is familiar enough to be intelligible, but unusual enough to be informative and neither predictable, nor trite nor banal.

This sounds more set in stone than it is. It's merely my opinion, but is gleaned from conversations with a very articulate (also a writer) person actually trying to create choreography and open to discussing the process.

Has anyone else had occasion to discuss choreoraphy with choreographers (established, emerging, or somewhere in between), and/or witness the process? I suspect this happens only rarely...

#23 bart

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 12:30 PM

Has anyone else had occasion to discuss choreoraphy with choreographers (established, emerging, or somewhere in between), and/or witness the process? I suspect this happens only rarely...

Good question. I've only seen choreographers at work teaching (and tweaking) what they've already conceived -- or on panels discussing after-the-fact what they've already set.

Anyone able to answer 2dds's question from personal experience? Or have a published source that you can suggest? :)

#24 Mel Johnson

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 02:31 PM

My maiden piece of choreography was set to bits and pieces of La Source, which at the time I didn't realize was the cut used for "Suite en Blanc". After I set it, I had to take it back to the woodshed, because, as I had set it and rehearsed it in one week, some bits weren't classic, or would have been called derivative of Balanchine's "La Source" setting, which debuted two years after mine. Seems Mr. B. and I agreed about which steps belonged in which phrases of music. As he had the greater audience coverage, I had to go back and revise what I had put there to avoid charges of plaigiarism. Then somebody taught me parts of "Suite en Blanc" and I had to change some more for the same reason! What all this produced was my realization that, a. sometimes great minds steal from the same gutter, and b. incredibly difficult movement is not necessarily beautiful movement. These, and if you have a dancer exit on one side of the stage, it is best to have him re-enter from that same side. :)


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