Dancer Collab – Making Room for Variation and Difference

by Shannon Batdorf

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

As a choreographer, I see myself as a leader of the dancers within my piece. We collaborate together, but I give them guidelines to follow while we work together to create a piece. It is normally my vision that I want to see fulfilled, and together my dancers and I create a work that completes my vision.

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?

When choreographing a piece, I normally set the final staging. However, my dancers and I experiment with different staging throughout rehearsals and see what feels best and what works the best for the piece. The same goes with the selection of material. I collaborate with my dancers when generating the material, but again, I normally have the final say on what goes into the piece and what we leave out. However, I do take into consideration my dancers’ opinions.

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?

When I first began choreographing, I followed more of what Hope Mohr calls the “old-school genius model.” However, as I grow and develop as a choreographer, I have learned to rely more on my dancers and trust them by incorporating their ideas frequently when creating a piece. They can help expand upon my ideas and make my piece even better.

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

I rely upon my dancers the heaviest in the beginning of the choreographic process, when I’m just generating ideas. Not only does it help me see how my dancers move, but it helps get the juices flowing and ideas moving.

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

I feel like I dip into both spectrums. Towards the end of the choreographic process, when I am trying to set and finalize things, I normally resume the leadership role and make the final decisions when it comes to my piece.

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

Yes, as I stated before I have started to rely more and more on my dancers. I am trying to give up some of the responsibility and control because I believe when I do, it allows for my creativity when I include my dancers. It also makes the dancers feel more a part of the work, and inspire them to connect better with the piece.

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

When I choreograph a phrase and teach it to my dancers, I am always inspired by the different ways my dancers do the same movement, because of their different personalities and different movement preferences. Depending upon the piece, I will allow these small variations to create a more diverse and dynamic piece, because thus far, I have not created a piece where each dancer has to look exactly the same. Sometimes, if a dancer makes a mistake and does a movement in a way I did not intend, this can be a positive thing because it might create and allow for something that looks better within the piece or something that is more comfortable for the dancers to do.

What are your thoughts about Shannon’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 Shannon here.