Beginnings- Intention and Connection

by Janaea Rose Lyn

1. For you, what role/s does the beginning play in a piece? More specifically, how have you employed beginnings in relation the rest of your work? (i.e. to frame, to present, to juxtapose, contextualize, clarify, foreshadow, etc)

I find that the beginning of every piece starts with an intention that is both intellectually and emotionally compelling and which lends itself to movement. From there I improvise to discover a movement phrase which expresses my intention and also lends itself to development into a movement language specifically for this work. I also often give myself a limitation, challenge or task within which to create (or one is sometimes inherent in a commissioned project). For example, in Sarabande, a duet for a man and a woman which I choreographed to one of Bach’s cello pieces, the intention was to depict equal support in a relationship. To express this intention in movement, both dancers lifted and supported each other equally in a continuous exchange of weight. The task part was to remain in physical contact and never lose touch with each other. The structure was based on the idea of a palindrome, so the beginning built to a climax lift and then danced back though a retrograde of the movement to an earlier section. The cellist, Borislav Strulev, understood my intention and was completely tuned into the dancer’s timing so they were not only connected to each other, but the music itself was a partner in constant contact from the first note.

I would say that the beginning of each dance is an opportunity to engage directly with the audience and invite them into the world of the piece and connect with what is happening onstage. Much of my work is progressive, with a simple beginning that builds in complexity. As I was reflecting on this question, I realized a pattern I had not noticed before, that many of my pieces physically begin with some form of walking. This most common of human movements naturally carries the potential for all other movements and can represent so much in its simplicity.

2. Author Nancy Kress addresses the reality of having rich and interesting material, and yet, lacking a sense of direction or context for the material. In these instances, how have you found the beginning of your piece? How did you arrive at an idea to begin your piece? What did you confront, clarify to discover the beginning?

One of the most important lessons I learned early on was when I was in graduate school and I was working off of an idea to create a piece based on the pogroms in Russia, which my relatives had endured. Pogrom translates roughly to A Day Sport which I used that as my working title and showed the work in progress to Mary Anthony and Anna Sokolow. My initial attempt was not well received and Anna said that if a choreographer is attempting to represent a large abstracted theme such as injustice, prejudice, rape, etc. that it was much more effective when the audience cared about the dancers/characters onstage and what was happening to them – to personalize the universal. That was huge for me and I realized that the connection needed to be established between the audience and the people onstage from the very beginning. I completely reworked the dance and developed the character aspects along with a more articulated storyline to express the themes more effectively. I keep this advice in mind whenever I am developing pieces which explore universal, archetypal or symbolic ideas.

3. At what points in the creating process have you attended to the beginning section of your works? Has dealing with the beginning at different points in the creating process presented unique challenges or discoveries? Please describe.

Sometimes the beginning is not just the starting of an idea expressed in dance but it takes on importance as the structural foundation for the rest of the piece and allows another section to occur effectively. Circadian Chant was built on a series of linked phrases in 5/4 time. It was created with composer Helen Carnavale and we took a mathematical approach to both aspects of composition because I wanted the piece to have a ritualistic feel and to build in terms of both the music and the number of dancers. The piece began with one dancer and one percussionist with additional dancers and percussionists added in to build to a full stage of dancers and percussionists in complete unison. At that exact moment I wanted a climax where the dancers and the musicians completely stop for just one bar of 5/4 only and then resume the intensity. To do this we had to graph out the bars for the whole piece with the movement and music phrases carefully crafted to achieve this effect, but ultimately it was the responsibility of the initial dancer to be on exactly the right count from the first moment. Throughout the entire piece she served as the rhythmic and structural link which allowed this climax to happen successfully every performance.

4. Have you ever had to go back and change your beginning? What occurred or revealed itself that led you to this decision?

One of the structural forms I tend to gravitate to is a larger conceptual frame with a series of smaller and related pieces within. As the individual pieces are completed I order them to most cohesive effect and often the first piece done or intended to be first changes as the piece evolves. For The Only Landmark, based on a poem by Nancy Faye, I originally choreographed a series of solos that were each inspired by a couple of lines of text with distinct movement vocabularies for each different dancer. Because the over arching inspiration for the piece was the final line of text, Me in my own skin, the only landmark, I was originally intending to have the piece be a series of solos after the poem was read. After all the solos were done it became clear to me that there needed to be a stronger framework within which to contain the solos and incorporate all of the dancers since we as individuals still live in a larger world. I created a group piece for the beginning with the dancers emerging from the ground as if lumps of clay finding their individual shape, and then ended with a group piece that brought all the dancers and their movement languages together side by side, reinforcing the idea that while we each are alone, we are also always co-existing.