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What constitutes "successful" choreography?


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Or is this just a matter of taste? Don't stone me now you professionals! ;)

In the course of reading different threads, as well as listening to comments made after watching a performance, I've come across the phrase "The choreography just doesn't go anywhere." I have to admit that I've never been quite sure what has been meant by this comment.:confused:

I am aware that there is "no accounting for taste" when it comes to one person's loving a ballet vs. another's being bored by it, or worse ... However, when one is discussing the choreography as being successful or unsuccessful or "leading" somewhere vs. "not going anywhere"... I am wondering if this means that in looking at the piece from a bare bones perspective or, rather, at the underlying pattern of the steps -- that one feels they just don't "work"? How's that for a vague question?!;)

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Well for me, good choreography is when I can never listen to the music again without the images in my head (not because I've seen it so many times, it can be after just 1 viewing). Dance is so much about the imagery the audience is left with. Apollo and Serenade are good examples of IMO, perfect synthesis of music and movement. It's strange that sometimes music that seems to "go no where" begins to, after it is set to dance. So there aren't any restrictions on music, I don't think. Some music is obviously more 'danceable' that others, but any piece has potential to made into "successful" choreography.

It's really difficult to define "successful" choreography. There is no formula. I suppose all that is essential is for the choreographer to not only fully understand but also be completely inspired by the music he/she is working with. When the inspiration is not there it really shows- steps are meaningless, random, repetitive. There are story ballets that lead nowhere, and plotless ones that take us to incredible places.

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Good question, BW -- and I think Paquita's answer is very clear; it is hard to quantify, and I agree there is no formula. As soon as there's a formula, it's copied to the point where it's senseless, and great artists develop their own "formulas."

As for whether it's a matter of taste or something more than that, this is something that's always been clear to me -- I was taught it at home and at school -- that there's a difference between taste and judgment. I may like something that's utter trash, and recoil from something that's great, but I think there's a difference. Doug Fullington posted something -- just an offhand comment -- that I'd like emblazoned on our door: "personal preference being a different issue than appreciation" Yeah!

I'm very interested to hear what people think makes for good choreography, but I wanted to explain one term, since BW questioned it. When I write "the choreography doesn't go anywhere" I mean it doesn't develop, in the same way one would expect a piece of music, or a literary composition to develop. I think this is the besetting sin of much new choreography -- modern dance or ballet -- that I've seen in the past too many years. I use this when there's no overall plan or design to the ballet. Just a movement here, and a movement there.

A piece I saw a few weeks ago was a good example of this (by Trey McIntyre, who I think does have talent as a choreographer, from the little I've seen of his work). The ballet was set to a collection of songs, and each song was choreographed a completely discrete entity. There was a similarity in movement vocabulary -- I think McIntyre is a good craftsmen, and the movements were appropriate to the music -- jazzy, slinky movements rooted in social dance. The actual movement/content of each "song" was interesting, but there was no frame for it, no point to the whole piece. All of the dances were about "relationships," yet the dancers were not paired off. It was as if Joe and Mary go to a party, Joe meets Harry WOW!!! hearts atwitter. Mary comes back and looks displeased -- and, the next time we see her, she's with someone else and Joe is with another woman. Now, there could be a point to this -- Swingers Night Out, or Love Doesn't Matter, Let's Just Do It. But I don't think this particular piece -- and the trillions, it seems, that I've seen like it have a point -- except to make sure everybody has something to do. (A friend of mine commented "it's so they don't have to have a leading couple" and that may be part of it too.)

What is YOUR definition of good choreography?

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My definition of choreography that is successful, is more along the lines of what Paquita wrote:

Well, for me, good choreography is when I can never listen to the music again without the images in my head...Dance is so much about the imagery the audience is left with.

I do know that there are pieces that I've seen that I have not "liked" but oddly enough it's usually due to the music, not the choreography. I can still appreciate the piece, even if I don't particularly care for it.

The next time I attend a performance, I am going to try to look at the choreography of the various pieces and try to think, to myself;), about why I think it works or doesn't...but, truth be told, I really prefer to become "one" with it - I suppose, after all, that this is when it really "works" for me. :)

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BW, may I suggest that the next time someone says to you that the choreography "doesn't go anywhere" just ask them to give you an example of some choreography that "does go somewhere". And then if they give an example, then just ask them... well then, where does it go? Where does it take you?

But as for me, I feel like choreography goes somewhere when it supports the mood or telling of the story. Energy with excitement for example... or if there is no story, then the choreography has to support the feeling that the music was designed to convey. But as you know, I am just an newcomer to all this, but that is my guess on it.

Its an interesting question. It may just be that the person saying this to you is just repeating what they have heard from someone else... so it may be useful just to probe a little to see if they have something specific in mind.

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ronny, thanks for your reply - I'm certainly a "newcomer" too.:) However, my interest in asking this question about choreography is more along the lines of say, Choreography 101 for non-Music majors. Having taken many an art history course, and not a few English literature and poetry classes, if I try really hard some of it comes back to me;) - the rules, the structure, etc., and this is more along the lines of what my original post was meant to elicit.

Alexandra, in reading your post I feel as though I am catching on to what you've written...and wishing I were able to watch the same performance you were writing about because then I think it might be a bit easier to understand. In a way, it's like writing about a specific painting, when we're not looking at it or may never have even seen and yet, if one has seen a number of paintings, one may still be able to learn about their structure and meaning... Am I just muddying the waters here?

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For me, successful choreography causes me to think somewhere along the line, that "of course; it can't be any other way!" This test might seem to break down when faced with different treatments of music by different choreographers, but for me, anyway, it doesn't.

The issue of the choreography that "doesn't go anywhere" is a rough parallel to Sir Arthur Sullivan's "serious" works that he worked and slaved over, while his art songs and popular theater works, which he dashed off with seeming abandon, are splendid! Sir Arthur appears to have been a frequent entry in the Law of Diminishing Returns competition!;) His "Irish" Symphony, in particular, is a structural masterpiece - it just doesn't engage the listener, and "doesn't go anywhere".

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Still find myself thinking about this subject...and I wonder if anyone might be able to recommend a book on the subject of choreography that would be useful to those of us who are not schooled in it?

One of the more interesting threads about choreography, from my point of view, was the one started by Dolphingirl about her summer choreography workshop. Her descriptions of the process by which she came up with her piece, and how she changed it - as it "grew" to performance - where really excellent.

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I think good choreography is put together in the same way or idea that good essays and poems are put together. So yes, essays and poems are two TOTALLY different types of literary works, but that just illustrates my point even more.

Good writing has a good point (or if abstract, a good abstract lean), with a strong vocabular (steps) which are put together in a coherent way, with the right tone (music).

Of course, I am all for the experimental stuff, choreography to silence, etc etc etc, but I guess that even that stuff can be likened to literature. There are classics: Shakespeare, Milton, Cervantes, Homer--that can be compared to Swan Lake, La Sylphide, Coppellia, and there are also new works of equal worth but less time tested: Balanchine, Tharp, etc.

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Well for me, good choreography is when I can never listen to the music again without the images in my head

Sadly, that is all too often true with truly excerable choreography as well.

I'm sure I'm not the only regular poster here who'll never again be able to listen to Capriccio Italien without wishing for some sort of aesthetic cross or clove of garlic to ward off images of the spectacular gay orgy Boris Eifman set to this music for his Tchaikovsky. Not to mention a wooden stake.

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