Middles- Swiss Cheese or a Straight Road
by Dawn Davis Loring
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 middle is the guts of the piece and the easiest place to get lost. It’s where things get juicy and developed and lush with unfolding layers of meaning and it is where you have the opportunity to prove to your audience why they should continue to watch.
2. What have you found challenging about constructing the middle section of a work?
I have always found the beginning and the ending easier than the middle. I often know how I want a piece to begin and where it should end and I had the same problem doing proofs in geometry – the middle of a piece is the true unknown territory. If Doris Humphrey is correct and ‘all dances are too long’, then it’s in the middle where they can stall and become less impactful.
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?
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?
3 and 4. I often do a storyboard or draw the middle of my piece so I can see it in a linear form. Is there enough? Do the transitions make sense? Should there be more? Does it lead the viewer to the final conclusion? These are all questions I ask myself while creating the middle of a piece. Sometimes the piece resembles Swiss cheese because I have choreographic holes to fill in my overall structure. If I create a tangent, I have to be honest with myself that it is indeed ‘another piece’. I put it in my pocket and save it for later (if I can). If it really must stay, then I reassess my structure to determine if the piece should be ABA or rondo or ???. I recall not quite understanding my professors years ago when they said that you must be willing to throw stuff away, that the work cannot be so precious to you that it can’t stand up to a ruthless edit. I always assumed that one had to throw excess choreography away and I found that frightening, but as a mature artist I realize that one doesn’t need to be so literal, yet it doesn’t hurt to have an abundance of ideas and tools for developing them. Perhaps one can release a dance just as Michelangelo released statues from a block of marble. Those chips and rocks go somewhere – they don’t just disappear. Maybe they can help build something else.
That said – sometimes the piece takes you somewhere else and you can either fight it or go. I find this happening with writing more than with making dances. The words can be like living entities and they develop their own personalities, independent of my initial idea or framework. And, what a great light bulb to realize that if I can just listen, the work will present itself to me.
5. Are there differences between constructing middles for shorter works (under 15 minutes) and larger works (i.e. evening length)?
Absolutely. I have often said that I would get very bored by a movie that consisted of one, long 45 minute scene, so why would I do that to a dance audience? For me, longer pieces must have some variety and/or change and some sort of resolution of most or all strands of the dance. I like that kind of experience and feel satisfied at the end of a concert if the middle leads to the end in some way. A shorter piece has less room and one must be able to impart the message/mood/theme compactly and with great care.
6. What words of wisdom and warning would you give for creating a strong middle section?
Begin dancing, show the audience a path and then take it.