Beginnings- Readying for the next layer

by Dawn Davis Loring

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)

As I scan through my repertory, I realize that beginnings are the easiest part for me when making a piece. Often I begin a piece with a ‘what if?’ question. What if I could make a piece about a dancer’s inner monologue while performing? Or, what if ugly bridesmaid dresses sought revenge on Bridezilla? Because a good portion of my work is humorous, there must be a strong beginning to grab the audience immediately, a frame of reference to either contextualize the material and gain the audience’s trust that it is OK to laugh at dance concerts sometimes, or to lead the audience in one direction and subvert the expectation you helped to create with the audience’s participation. I like to give the audience some structure to hold onto, even in my serious pieces, perhaps because I know I like to have a lifeline to help me appreciate pieces that don’t ring my aesthetic bell.

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?

Even if I don’t start with the beginning image in mind, I usually have a very strong sense of what I want to do with a piece. For example, I found an enormous bra one day while I was shopping at the outlet store. I was so entertained by it that I tried it on and decided that, as an unhappily busty dancer (but not as busty as the bra), I really needed to do a piece about breasts and body image. If I magnified my situation (more boobs than I needed for dancing) into what the reality of wearing this bra might be for a woman, I could create a poignant, autobiographical piece. Once I gave some thought to how the bra would be introduced to the audience, the beginning became clear. It had to be a surprise – I needed to reveal it immediately. Then the snickering could die down (mine included) and they might get a little used to the enormous white shelf on my torso as I continued the piece. Perhaps a burlesque peeling off gloves and then sha-blam, an enormous bra!

But, then what? Deciding what to do after the initial visual joke is a challenge because humor is much harder to sustain than drama. Lengthy pieces can lose their punch and the joke can become labored if it isn’t developed and sustained. I describe my work as snarky and absurd with deeper message layers that cause one to consider difficult issues and troubling questions. On the surface, a piece about a giant bra could be just that, but I believe that if you can make someone laugh, they will let some defenses down and be more receptive to additional messages. Perhaps the next layer of the piece is a statement about negative body images that dancers, and women in general, share.

It’s the middle and sometimes the endings that give me difficulties and it’s easy to get lost or tangential.

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.

See the answer above, I think I connected both questions together in that answer.

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

I don’t think that I have changed my beginnings so far. However, I am reviving some old works and we shall see what happens to these pieces. I might do it now that I realize I have a pattern.