Middles- A Point of Centrality

by Joshua Legg

1. Writers say that the middle section is where the plot thickens (with new characters, sub-storylines, conflicts, villains, etc.) How would you describe the function/s of the middle in choreography?

The processes and functionalities in dancemaking and writing are so different. While I sometimes talk about editing a dance, or compare a movement phrase to a sentence, I try to avoid using a lot of literature-related language with my choreography students. I want them to think about dance according to its own constructs, rather than overlaying concepts from another artform. That really follows from the Cunningham-Cage ideas about dance and music being separate, distinct forms. It also has to do with the postcolonial perceptions I discussed in our conversation on beginnings in January.

When we talk about beginning, middle, and end, it is hard to avoid ideas about chronologies in the dance structure (or performance) that may or may not actually exist. I suppose if you are working with linear narrative, it might be accurate though. But, if you’re dealing with nonlinear narrative or complete abstractionism, there may not truly be a conceptual middle.

2. What have you found challenging about constructing the middle section of a work?

If I’m really working from a conscious, logical idea about this reference point, “middle,” I’m probably thinking about it more in terms of being a point of centrality. I’m probably treating it more like a) a nucleus from which other ideas or material emanate, b) a conduit, or c) a separate component of the dance that is distinct from the other parts. If I’m working with classical musical forms, then I may allow that form to influence that construction.

In some of these cases (like the idea of a point of centrality), chances are good that I actually choreographed that portion of the dance first and embedded it the midst of things. That helps me understand what needs to happen around the center. So, that approach is less challenging than the idea of the conduit. This is likely the closet approach I take to dancemaking relevant to a “middle.” I find the challenge here to be one of avoidance: avoiding the expected, the pedantic, and the inevitable. I would want this transition to lift us out of where we’ve already been, and send us in a direction that is a surprise. If we are going to be storytellers, I want to tell a new story, not one that has already been told well. That conduit has to transport us then.

3. What strategies have you used to prevent the middle from meandering and/or going off on tangents? If you have experienced tangential and meandering middles, what was your process for getting the work back on track?

If I’m really working from a conscious, logical idea about this reference point, “middle,” I’m probably thinking about it more in terms of being a point of centrality. I’m probably treating it more like a) a nucleus from which other ideas or material emanate, b) a conduit, or c) a separate component of the dance that is distinct from the other parts. If I’m working with classical musical forms, then I may allow that form to influence that construction.

In some of these cases (like the idea of a point of centrality), chances are good that I actually choreographed that portion of the dance first and embedded it the midst of things. That helps me understand what needs to happen around the center. So, that approach is less challenging than the idea of the conduit. This is likely the closet approach I take to dancemaking relevant to a “middle.” I find the challenge here to be one of avoidance: avoiding the expected, the pedantic, and the inevitable. I would want this transition to lift us out of where we’ve already been, and send us in a direction that is a surprise. If we are going to be storytellers, I want to tell a new story, not one that has already been told well. That conduit has to transport us then.

4. As choreographers, much of our middle content is about variation and development. In this process, new directional possibilities arise for the work. When faced with these new possibilities, what considerations have helped you decide whether to continue the dance on its original path, or venture down a newly presented path?

Dancemaking is an organic process. We have to listen to the dance, observe it as it unfolds. If something is occurring that suggests a direction different from what we initially designed, it may be the direction best suited for our creative growth. That’s not to say that the initial idea wasn’t “good,” just that it belongs in a different dance. (That’s different than the meandering we talked about in number 3.) When I see that a different dance is unfolding, I listen to my subconscious. The resulting dances are generally some of my most successful.

5. Are there differences between constructing middles for shorter works (under 15 minutes) and larger works (i.e. evening length)?

Not really.

6. What words of wisdom and warning would you give for creating a strong middle section?

Think about this central point or “middle” first, before the rest of the dance. Start there and build around it. It will tell you a great deal about the other sections or elements of the larger work.