Inspiration – Asking Questions
by Diana F. Green
1. Where have your ideas come from?
Music, personal experience, commission or requisition, life
2. What approaches have you used to flesh out your ideas?
I keep trying to find new ways to work so I don’t get stuck in a rut. I used to use formulas for everything. I was good at it. It worked. But I feel more alive and creative when I work organically. Or I love to work with the dancers through ideas I give them rather than steps, and then I borrow movement and ideas from them – sometimes exactly as they give it to me, and sometimes altered for my purpose. That is becoming my favorite way to work. I use my eye to craft, but expand my vocabulary using the people I work with. This is exciting even when I am working in elementary schools with children who have never danced before. They always come up with something fresh and real.
3. Once you received an inspiration, what were some of your next steps?
Brainstorm – I begin collecting anything I can think of that relates to the idea. Sometimes that means actual research. Sometimes it is simply getting into the studio to improvise. I create, create, create without editing. Later I can decide what to use or where to start.
4. What strategies have you used to take an inspiration and translate it into something you could use to generate movement and create a piece about?
I don’t see inspiration as necessarily being divorced from movement. If I have an inspiration the movement is already in my head. I guess it just rarely occurs to me to create a dance without an idea of how to create it – unless it is something I am doing for a specific purpose, particularly if it is something given to me that I did not choose. Then I go back to research and collecting movement options. I have had some real disasters – usually trying to tell stories. Alice in Wonderland, I am convinced is just not possible to translate into movement. Now I made a mess out of Peter and the Wolf, and most everyone else does too. But I had one huge success. I decided to do it as a ballet – but I did not create the movement according to the characters or the story. I listened to the music and assigned Laban effort actions to each character as defined by the music (not the character itself). Then I went back and assigned ballet steps that had the quality of the effort actions I chose. I restricted my choreography to the steps that were listed for the effort actions chosen. Suddenly my work was about the music rather than the story. It was a whole lot more interesting with lots of variation I would never have thought of without this technique. And it should be about the music, because that is what the piece is about. An introduction to music for children. The story is secondary. Don’t know why it took me so long to figure that out. But I don’t feel too bad because I have seen a lot of very mediocre dance productions of Peter and the Wolf.
5. How have you handled an inspiration that seemed too big to tackle through movement? For example, refine it, abandon it, etc?
I have learned that too big is not always the issue. Often it is that it does not translate well through movement. For example, you would think stories and narrative would work well, but dance does not tell stories well. It is not a literal art form. It is much more abstract. If you are being challenged creating movement from an inspiration, then I would ask the question, what is it that I want to say that has anything to do with moving? Or am I being so cerebral that I will never be able to get it out of my head unless I write it down? If the work is not coming or taking shape, or seems too overwhelming then I pull back and ask the question, what is my intent? If I focus on the intent, I cannot go wrong. But if the idea is truly too big, then there is a need to focus and select something small and important and go with that. And don’t wander aimlessly. Save the rest for another dance.
6. How many of us have these magnificent ideas in our heads for pieces that never see the light of day? What advice do you have for those who find it hard to get started?
Actually, if I am having trouble getting started, then I do not yet understand my intent. If I am true to myself, and do not allow myself to edit my work or ideas before I get started then the intent will guide me flawlessly. I have more trouble keeping it going sometimes, finding new and interesting materials. Then I fall back on my formulas. I wonder what that movement would look like upside down. Will that work for my intent? Maybe I should move away from the way my weight is taking me? Etc.
7. In translating your inspirations into movement, have you found any limitations in movement’s ability to fully realize what you’re attempting to communicate? Or, have you felt that as a choreographer you were limited in your ability to access movement that fully realized your inspiration? How did you manage that hurdle?
My philosophy is, if movement can’t say it, drop it! However, I have found that working in my head rather than in my own body really freed me up to imagine more movement that I myself could execute, and suddenly I could manipulate many bodies at once. That moment in my career as a choreographer was huge. At the same time, getting back into my body has always been important too. As a beginning choreographer I always created what I could do and felt was essential for the dance. It was very frustrating because the dancers that tried to do my work could never really understand what I expected them to do. Because I created the dance for me. The hurdle was realizing that each dance is about the dancers in the performance as much as it is about the choreographer. The dancers must translate the work as they understand it kinesthetically in their own bodies. Each dancer is unique with a unique body structure, unique experience and unique dynamic quality. The choreographer must watch with an eye toward whether the translation is working for the piece and how the choreographer might manipulate the movement for that particular dancer if it is not working for the piece. That is why choreography changes so much every time a new company picks it up – and why some companies are able to do some kind of work and not others. And why in my opinion the best works are those you see that have been created with the dancers rather than on the dancers.
As a choreographer I have always felt limited by my own experience. I have always wanted to create something new and exciting and unique – and yet I know there is nothing new out there. Everything has already been done. But seeing as much dance as possible is very important so we can get ideas from each other. Often something will be seen that you never thought possible or never even considered before. Its as important as brainstorming – collecting choreography from what is already out there.