Generating Movement- A Quest of Honesty and Integrity

by Joshua Legg

1. What sources of stimulation have you used to generate movement (i.e. text, pictures, research, visualizations, sounds, experiences, etc)?

I have definitely turned to all of the items on that list, but so many things have inspired my movement in the past: interesting jewelry that suggests motion or shape…the shattered patterns in a window pane or the sidewalk…the rhythm/cadence of someone’s conversation…athletes…the way someone lifts groceries into their car…the way humans move in a group (say at a festival or rally)…the way someone’s body moves in prayer (not the gesture, but the flow of energy and spirit)…animals…architecture…the echo of a footfall in a marble hallway…the texture of a carpet on bare feet…

Sometimes it may also be a piece of music that inspires movement. Generally in that case, I will make the movement to that piece, but ultimately, the work will be performed to a different piece of music…that often requires making adjustments and further abstracting/manipulating the movement, which is a good exercise and strengthens the work.

Those are just a few things that have inspired my movement in the past.

2. Within these sources, what specific elements have you honed in on (i.e. texture, emotional content from readings or interviews, words, sound quality, colors, etc)?

Oh, I’ve used them all at some point. We all have habits, but working in so many genres or modes of dance helps me break those up a fair amount. So, I try to vary the sources that inspire my movement. If something informed the last dance I made, then I make myself work differently in the next dance. I think I’m finally getting to the place where that’s a disciplined part of my dancemaking practice.

3. What role has improvisation played in your process of generating movement? What value has improvisation brought in unearthing rich material?

I think I’ve used improv at some point during the choreographic process for almost every dance I’ve ever made regardless of the genre. It’s so central to my investigation. Sometimes improv helps me figure out what kind of movement doesn’t belong in a particular dance, which is just as important as revealing something that does.

4. How have you incorporated task structures into your process of generating movement? Can you give an example of a task you’ve used?

I used to use task structures much more than I do these days. I did a lot with task, chance, and indeterminacy in grad school- lots of charts and graphs and such. Last month though, I structured a piece for a dancer and clarinetist (who was also in motion) using graphic notation. The notation provided the basic pathways they were to take in space, broke down time increments for each unit of the work, and assigned specific geometrical patterns that had to be completed at various points in the process. I then gave the dancer three movement tasks as a foundation for his other movements. Then, after working with both artists, I asked them to work together in one rehearsal without me in order to develop another task on their own.

5. What kinds of investigation go into your subject before and while you are generating movement? How does this investigation guide, shape, inform your movement choices?

Hmm…If I’m doing something driven by content (or a period piece), then I may do a great deal of background research so that I have a dramaturgical, journalistic, or even anthropological perspective of the topic. Even if the work is inspired by a painting or some other artwork, I want to know something about the artist and their processes. This all hones my thinking about the work before I begin, so that I’m working with honesty and integrity regarding the subject matter- especially if I’m telling a true story.

6. When reviewing movement you’ve generated, what are general criteria you are looking for to determine its relevance and/or place in a particular work?

Generally, I’m looking to see if I’ve really attended to movement invention and manipulation, or if I’ve just strung a bunch of ineffective stuff together. Levels are also huge for me right now.

I also ask questions like:
+ Are the musicality and/or rhythms clear?
+ Does a movement or phrase seem like it fits organically into the larger whole, or does it belong in another dance?
+ Is that the most interesting use of space, or do I need to arrange the movement in a different spatial construct?
+ How am I pushing the technical envelop for the dancers?

Also, I used to do a lot of dancetheatre, and one of the hardest elements of that is creating movement that is abstract and distinct from the text. I’ve had this longstanding rule when I create dancetheatre that I can’t use gesture during dialogue. I think there was one piece where I made an exception to that rule- but, I created another rule that required the gestures to be broken up so that they didn’t stray into pantomime.

7. How do you deal with movement tendencies? Do you ever feel pressure to come up with fresh movement? What strategies do you use to address and/or overcome that pressure? What strategies have and/or do you use to find fresh ways of moving?

Because I’ve taken on such widely different projects in the last few years, many of my habits are being broken up naturally. The last piece I made was to Caribbean percussion music. Right now, I’m contributing choreography to a romantic ballet (which I rarely do anymore), and I’m prepping a new modern commission. All of that is challenging my use of time in the dances, both in terms of tempo and length of phrasing. That’s also breaking up some of my effort affinities. I think that eclecticism drives me to stay fresh. Maybe it’s my best strategy.