Dancer Collab – Honoring the Creative Process

by Marsha Parrilla

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

I have been very intentional in the hiring process in my company, precisely because I truly believe in the power of collaboration in the choreographic process. I always make sure I am working with people that are not only talented, but thoughtful, engaging, problem solvers, daring, and open minded. My relationship with my dancers is very organic, and they are very inspiring to me. I have a very diverse and multicultural group, which enables rich discussions that inform our choreographic material. They are contributors to the material, and their ideas are always welcome.

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?

Very good question. I work in different ways depending on the work/piece/concert. I have made pieces in which key elements of the piece were result of a meticulous selection of the dancers’ movement offerings to a specific theme. Sometimes I choreograph the whole piece, and they embody it. And other times is a combination. As far as staging, it really depends on availability. You hear say that the first step to make things happen is "showing up", and I completely believe that. Sometimes I restage a piece because a dancer could not make it, and that has an impact on the piece, especially if it is a work in progress. Interestingly enough, sometimes the story in the work changes and morphs -because- of the restaging. This is not to say that the dancer misses out, but the piece just takes a different turn and the roles change. It always ends up being a win/win situation. As far as selection, understudies are always helpful. But I have had concerts where I did not present a specific piece because we were missing a dancer that fully embodied the essence of the piece; there was no replacement. In those cases, I either create new work, or choose other pieces from our nice and hearty repertoire.

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?

If I have an idea for a topic, and all the movement comes through me as I choreograph, I definitely honor that. This is how I choreograph all my solos, which is how I first started choreographing in the first place. There was a visceral need to "let out" a very powerful voice/feeling/expression, and my body knew just how to do it. But, there are times when it is completely different. I have an idea/theme/concept, and I want to explore it with my dancers. I want to see what their bodies have to say, I want to see how they move organically, and I bring that into the equation. They are smart, talented, and creative. Not using their skills would be a disservice to the Art process.

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

I think that the main factor has been that the driving force of my company is: organic movement. I want my work to reflect how our human bodies move naturally, and also how they move when propelled by different forces. I did a piece called "Lysis", based on the idea of an insomnia that stems from "collective unconsciousness". Thus far, this is the most collaborative work that I have done. There are sections of the piece that we literally built together, and the result was a very organic piece that flows from beginning to end. The original cast did it so well, because they were part of the process of creation. Another factor is expertise. Literally, all my current dancers have completely different movement backgrounds. I just recently asked one of them to teach a lesson on how to do backflips for a section of our newest work coming up. He does an amazing job with this.

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

I do not lean more towards one or the other; it really depends on what the work demands. I am happy to work either way.

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

Again, for me it is a process factor, so it depends on the work at hand. I am contemplating the possibility of commissioning a choreographer to choreograph a piece for us, but I am waiting for the right person/time.

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

Their strong sense of commitment, their availability, their support. I have a group of dancers that are incredibly supportive, smart, creative, and powerful. That gives great stability to the group work, and creates a strong and successful environment for creation. In addition, Danza Orgánica is a very cohesive group. We work together, and we foster honesty, respect, and freedom of speech. As part of our philosophy, we strive for a world where there is no room for oppression, and it begins with ourselves. That is the way we interact with each other, that is the way we create, and that is the way we perform to the world.

What are your thoughts about Marsha’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 Marsha here.