Dancer Collab – Traversing Issues of Ownership

by Dawn Davis-Loring

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

I see my dancers as an integral part of developing an idea or expanding on a theme. I welcome their input and contributions toward the creation of collaborative or mentored work that will enrich the concert.

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 am the idea generator and they are a valued contributor. I come to the process with a topic or theme and usually several dances that expand on it. I enjoy interspersing dance pieces with vignettes and I encourage my dancers to contribute a personal story or perspective and we work out the idea, text and movement together.

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 happily inhabit the middle of the spectrum. Even if I come to rehearsal with a piece completed, I always make adjustments based on the abilities and interests of each dancer and they are welcome to contribute ideas or make necessary adjustments. By encouraging choreography from within, I am able to expand my idea in directions I hadn’t initially conceived and audiences can feel like they can get to know the dancers better by seeing into their minds and experiences. More practically, I can produce a full-length show and not be responsible for creating every single part.

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

When you work collaboratively in this fashion, uncomfortable issues of ‘ownership’ can arise. I purposely did not name my company after myself because it felt disingenuous to claim that all of the work was solely mine. Additionally, I do not claim credit for collaborative vignettes because I want to support the creative aspirations of my dancers and I think it looks unnecessarily cluttered on the program. I figure the audience is intelligent enough to realize that I made some decisions as the director of the show and I don’t need to spell it out. But, sometimes, strangely, the critics don’t get it. My dancers are welcome to take the vignettes and develop them further as their own solos, but often their meaning is so tied into the show’s theme that they may not make sense outside of it.

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

I like the middle because I don’t see myself as the "genius" model because I don’t just ‘put’ work on my dancers and I don’t depend on them to generate movement or problem-solve at every point in the creative process. Some pieces may be more collaborative than others, but they all have to fit within the thematic structural framework I initially created.

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

I have always worked collaboratively, either using a dance/theatre or multi-disciplinary model, because I enjoy exploring multiple meanings, seeing multiple perspectives or revealing multiple word shadings in my concerts.

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

In any piece, only each dancer knows what he/she is capable of and how he/she interrelates with the other dancers, the music, the movement or the material. It makes sense to me that they each have a say and feel some ownership over the role. Their performance savvy and choreographic instincts are critical to the success of the work. I trust that they know what works and what doesn’t and to let me know how we can make things better, smoother, funnier or scarier.

What are your thoughts about Dawn’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 Dawn here.