Dancer Collab – A Complex and Process Driven Endeavor
1. How do you define your relationship with your dancers as it relates to the choreographic process?
I have always approached my relationship with professional dancers as a collaboration. When I was directing my own company, I regularly involved them in the creative process, especially when working on solos and partnering. Even when I have choreographed for a specific dancer without their direct contribution, I created the material specifically for their unique gifts as a dancer and performer. It is the individuality of each dancer that I find most compelling as a choreographer, and seek to bring out in my work. I use this same approach as an educator and provide all students with opportunities to incorporate their contributions into the making of new dance.
2. As choreographer-to-dancer, what function/s have each of you held in contributing to and/or impacting the generation, selection, staging, etc. of material?
I gave my company members opportunities to contribute on every level by producing their work as well full company collaborations. Because I often work with live music and theatre these disciplines have specific requirements that can shape the staging, ordering of sections, etc. but it is important that they are all integrated into the final production in a balanced way. For example, in The Unicorn, The Gorgon and the Manticore by Gian-Carlo Menotti, we had a set designed with company input which ultimately incorporated musicians (playing classical instruments) underneath a performance loft which was accessed by stairs off to one side. The height of the musicians placement within the set piece, and its location on stage was determined so they could see the dancers, the dancers could hear them, and so all were equally visible to the audience.
3. In her article, “Collaborating with Dancers,” Hope Mohr talks about a spectrum of collaboration which spans from the “old-school genius” model, where “creativity falls almost exclusively to the choreographer,” to a more mutualistic model, where choreographers “rely heavily on the dancers with whom they work not only to generate vocabulary, but also to problem-solve at every point in the creative process.” As a choreographer, how have you traversed this spectrum?
I have traversed the entire spectrum throughout my career, but in a way that is project driven. I approach each work with a general idea of what structure and degree of collaboration best suits the project, both as a whole and for individual sections within the piece. This is even more crucial when layering in artists from other disciplines to the process.
4. Along this spectrum, what factors have influenced how you utilize your dancers in the choreographic process?
The dancers themselves – those who are open to creative work, whether student or professional, thrive on being included in the creative process, but those who are interested in just dancing find it tedious, resist the process and challenge ongoing changes because they want set steps to rehearse, period.
5. Is there a side of the spectrum you tend to lean towards? Why?
I love collaboration because it places an idea/intention at the center and not ego. Participants work together toward realizing that idea in the strongest and most creative way.
6. Has that propensity changed over time or as you have gained more experience? if so, what has led to that change?
What has changed is understanding that I thrive in collaborative setting, but only when I am doing so with artists who are committed to working in collaboration; understand and have the skills for working in this complex, process driven manner; and share a passion for the subject of the work being developed.
7. As a choreographer, what do you glean from your dancers that informs, adjusts, clarifies, confirms, etc., the material and the work at-large?
One of the most exciting things for me now is working with dancers from diverse backgrounds and sharing movement vocabularies and approaches. Finding ways to respectfully integrate and weave world dance forms together is enriching and energizing. When everyone involved in a collaborative work has an area of expertise to share it creates balance among the group. Learning the movement languages of other cultures keeps me always growing and connecting with people through dance.
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Read more reflections from Janaea here.