Development – A Journey of Research and Exploration

by Sallamah Chimera

1. How would you define development, in terms of its role and application in your process?

I have been recreating other people’s choreography this year and that has been a new experience. The developmental process was already done. But I would say the development of the movement, line of direction, dynamics, staging and emotional or intellectual impact is significant in my choreographic process. However, two choreographies gave me latitude to do what I wanted. They had new material that I wanted to explore and develop and opened the chance to research other styles of dance movement.

2. What elements and conditions do you find necessary for development to be successful?

My process begins with finding a reason to choreograph a dance and that affects the entire process and my approach to developing a choreography. Is this for a performance or for teaching? Who is my audience and where is it to be performed? I need to have an idea about what I am trying to accomplish and then find something that motivates me and spurs on my creativity. This could be technique, music, an event, a prop, etc. Time is essential for creating a dance and keeping the process going. Long interruptions in the thought or physical development of the dance is counter productive. One choreography I recreated had been a huge challenge because of constant interruptions and some of the original dance did not work with the music. I had to do extensive research on the Egyptian style to get new material for these sections. I had to learn more about the music to understand what to do with it.

3. How do you approach development (tasks, choreographic device, dance elements, etc)?

Once I have an idea about what I want to create, I take the dance in sections. Music usually provides this breakdown but it can be done by having a section for traveling, veil, floor work, a special rhythm like a chifte-telli taxim, the opening or introduction, the body of the work, and the finale. For each section I might use a different approach, i.e., for floor work I would have to be able to get down on the floor, do my floor work and then be able to get up. For a traveling section, I need to decide what technique to use for locomotion and then think about my floor design and what I was doing prior to this and what I will be doing immediately following it. With a veil, one must think about how to get it on stage, off the dancer, how to use it, and then how to get it out of the way. And, I always try to have "ahh" moments in each dance.

4. What tools/approaches do you employ to find new possibilities for development?

I look at YouTube for ideas as well as videos or take a workshop. Even a photograph can inspire me. Seeing what others are doing helps me get ideas. After 35 years of choreographing, I sometimes feel stale and I don’t do the same dance over and over again to a different piece of music. (I call this the one dance wonder syndrome.) While all choreographers have their signature trademarks or movements, I try to always incorporate new material in all my work. Since I am still performing at 61, I constantly want to challenge myself physically and mentally. This keeps my performers challenged as well. Nothing is ever static.

5. How do you determine what material gets further development?

It could be an area that looks or feels weaker than the rest of the dance or doesn’t work well with the music. It could be my ‘ahh" section need more umph. If my dancers are struggling with the timing or a movement or something feels awkward, then it has to be addressed. Sometimes there isn’t quite the "right" material for a section of the dance, and this gets worked on over the years until the dance becomes complete.

6. What has the development process brought to your work? How has your work evolved as you’ve matured in developing material?

Fairly consistent quality of choreography. There are only a few of my dances that I have stopped using. I would say my understanding of audiences, knowing the abilities of my dancers, gaining better insight into Middle Eastern music and its rhythms, the culture, styles, and technique have all made the developmental process more productive. I am producing more good dances but not as many monumental works. Or rather, I no longer try to make each dance monumental but try to make more good dances. In some ways the process has become easier but finding the right material and music and that something "new and exciting" is becoming more difficult.

7. What struggles/frustrations have you encountered when developing material? How did you overcome/work-through these hiccups?

Finding something new and exciting is becoming more of a challenge. I am constantly pushing myself to learn more as a result. Currently, I am struggling with an Egyptian dance. It has several section that I cannot find the right combination of movements to use. I came across a teaching video that has some nice combos that I am putting into the dance. I am also recycling movements and ideas from my discarded choreographies. I am even thinking about taking some of the dances and trying them to new music.

8. For you, how do creating phrases and generating material intersect? Are they synonymous, interdependent, parallel, symbiotic, etc? Why?

Movement phrases are the stuff dances are made of and they have to be created. I would say they are interdependent and parallel. One seems to happen as the other evolves. They are also symbiotic because they are dependent on one another to exist and create the flow and feel of the dance.

9. How are you choreographically different when generating material vs. when you’re developing it (in terms of process, mindset, approach, permission, etc)?

When I generate material I already know what I am going to use but when I develop it, I am creating something new. My instructional dances would be generated because I know what I want the students to do and learn. The movement, elements of dance, etc., are all planned out and predetermined. When I go about creating a dance then I have to play with movement, do research, think about it, and stay flexible. There is usually something more emotional about a creation one is developing versus something one is generating. Development implies research and exploration whether it is scholastic, emotional or physical. Generating is more mechanical, an automatic response or product. To develop material a choreographer has to give herself permission to let go and remain objective and receptive. There isn’t any mindset, it has to be improvisational and free of expectations or limitations.

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.