Dancer Collab – Cultivating Shared Ownership

by Sallamah Chimera

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

If the dance is for a soloist, I let her select music and movements. Then we work to make the dance come together so it reflects the personality of the dancer. If the dance is for a group, I usually come up with movement themes and ideas but the dancers contribute new ideas and help debug the technique and timing.

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?

For the soloist, I am the objective viewer and provide feedback about the music, timing, movement, emotional content and the overall performance. I make recommendations about the costume as well. I help the dancer with her staging, give ideas about entrances and exits and help the dancer select movement and music that is suitable to her abilities and body type. With a group, we look at all of this together and make decisions. I usually have the final say in the group dance.

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 the dance is based on traditional movements, music and motivations, I usually do most of the work on my own using my expertise to help educate my dancers. If the dance is generic I am far more open to the dancers generating the vocabulary and they help with the problem solving. I make it a point to have all my performers work on choreography to give them training.

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

I am including my dancers more and more during the choreographic process to give them the skills they need to create their own dances and to give them confidence. I am also encouraging improvisational dancing and seeing all kinds of new combinations and movements. This is exciting for them and me.

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

Yes, I tend to create and collect movement, listen to the most music and see the most dancing so I am the person who is the most likely to want to create new dances and begin the creative process.

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

Now that my dancers have a solid background and understanding of Middle Eastern culture, technique, motivations, music, etc. they are able to help more and I encourage their participation and suggestions.

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

Sometimes their input can change the direction of a choreography because they come up with something better. If a dance or concept is beyond their abilities, we work to find ways to utilize as much of the material as possible and reserve the difficult technique until they are ready for it. This makes everyone feel like they own the dance.

What are your thoughts about Sallamah’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 Sallamah here.