Dancer Collab – Acknowledging Qualities and Limits

by Katy Kauffman

1. How do you define your relationship with your dancers as it relates to the choreographic process?

My choreographic process so far in my current collaboration is all about brainstorming and finding ways to create movement and structure based on my current intention (i.e. soul mates). If I were to define how my dancers relate to this, I would say their relationship with one another effects my choreographic choices. For instance, currently I am working with a male and a female. The female’s movement style is very staccato and precise, while I find the male is more curvilinear and smooth. This informed my decision to base my idea on two unique individuals that find their souls are actually one. My relationship with my dancers in a more literal sense is about maintaining respect and understanding their unique qualities and limits. This makes it easier for me to create me piece not only based on my own intention, but what will look best on their bodies as well.

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?

As a choreographer-to-dancer, I have contributed the idea and vision. I craft my vision on my dancers’ bodies, and they abide by my input. However, a portion of my choreography was based on an improvisational structure that manipulates the main phrase I created. My dancers transform this phrase into something that is comfortable to them. If I like what I see, I give the phrase a name and I tell them to hold on to the movement chunk for later. This is very different to how I worked in the past. When I stage the material, I look deep into the relationship (spatially) of my dancers. This is not only based on a pathway that supports my structure, but the aesthetically pleasing arrangement of my dancers in the space.

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 think I lie somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. My intention that I wrote about in my prospectus is my main roadmap, and my core phrase is my vehicle. My dancers are the destinations along the way to the “promise land”, or my final product. I feel keeping an open relationship with them, asking them for their input, and giving them artistic freedom with improvisational structures is rewarding for their hard work. While I make the final decisions on what stays and what goes, it is still important to me that my dancers are comfortable with what I give them and that they understand what I am looking for. Each rehearsal I bring quotes and ice breaker questions to loosen them up and get their creative minds cooking. If we all have a strong understanding of where we are heading with my work, then the process will be rewarding.

4. Along this spectrum, what factors have influenced how you utilize your dancers in the choreographic process?

Each rehearsal I have a few set things that I want to work on and set as choreography, however things don’t always go as I plan. If I don’t like what I have prepared, my dancers are there to help me experiment on bodies and fill in the blanks. We have had rehearsals focused simply on finding ways one can partner the other, which helps me see what works and what doesn’t. It is definitely hard to choreograph partnering when you don’t have two bodies to work with! Also, in the beginning of my rehearsals, I bring quotes for them to read and look over. I then ask for their opinions on what they think it means and how they interpret it. This has helped me generate more choreography and explore my vision even further. It helps to talk about things. A lot of their creative thinking has helped me view my dance from a different perspective.

5. Is there a side of the spectrum you tend to lean towards? Why?

I used to lean towards the “old-school genius” model until recently. Before, I was a very linear choreographer—“this is what you are going to do, followed by this transition, and then you will do the next phrase…” As I have learned more about the choreography process, I have come to accept that it is truly a PROCESS. You can’t choreograph a piece overnight, and my dancers are more than just robots that feed on choreography. They are humans and their input is important. I also feel my rehearsals are more comfortable and laid back, which helps me since I tend to stress over getting things done. I am able to enjoy my time with them and create something that is meaningful to me, and hopefully they feel the same. While this is my work and my creative process, it is important to me that my dancers are able to embody my overall message. This makes it very convincing and moving for the audience.

6. Has that propensity changed over time or as you have gained more experience? if so, what has led to that change?

I actually touched on this in the previous question. As I said, viewing choreography as a PROCESS requires me to research every part of my dance. My journaling time has become my main source of discovery, as well. I draw pictures, write down quotes, doodle, and free write. This gives me a lot of ideas to work with and room for experimentation when I have rehearsal. Because of the journaling process, I have found it is difficult to choreograph in a linear, “my way or the highway” pattern. I think it is because my mind is an open book, and I don’t choreograph to a storyline. I use rehearsals to explore and watch my dancers embody and play with what I give them. There has been a few times so far that I get chills after I see my duet improvise during my phrase. Those are the moments I capture and store for later on. These are things I would not have found if I didn’t have open communication and artistic freedom for my dancers.

7. As a choreographer, what do you glean from your dancers that informs, adjusts, clarifies, confirms, etc., the material and the work at-large?

The main thing I learn from my dancers that clarifies things for me personally is the relationship between the two individuals in my piece. When I finally take a step back and look at my dance, the space between them and the contrast of their movements are constantly suggesting relationships. Because my dance essentially is about relationships, it is my job to utilize this information and find ways to translate my intended relationships to the audience. Also, I have found it to be very difficult to create a genderless feeling between my dancers. No matter what, my male dancer is clearly masculine and the other is very passive and feminine. This is something that I realized in my last rehearsal, and I am curious to see if I am able to overcome this pattern.

What are your thoughts about Katy’s reflection on making solos? Leave a comment below. Want to share your own reflection on making solos? You can share it here.

Read more reflections from Katy here.