Development- A Pursuit of Clarity

by Joshua Legg

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

Development is a multifaceted set of actions or activities in the evolution/manipulation of a work.

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

Well, let’s face it: the initial material has to have some kind of merit. There has to be some semblance of “oomph” in the movement that warrants a sussing out process or investment of everyone’s time. If there’s no merit in the initial idea, then no amount of investigation is going to reveal what isn’t already there. If there is some oomph, then it’s worth investing time and energy into figuring out just how far that idea can grow.

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

More often than not, the two things that are my biggest allies in development are my ear and my eye. I’m always listening to the dance, to what it’s telling me needs to happen and how things need to fit together. Then, I’m looking at the material to see if it’s standing up on its own. It’s pretty clear when it’s not.

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

See number 5.

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

That really depends on the dance I’m making at the time. If I’m making a dance based on a score of some kind (dance mapping, musical score, text, etc.), then I already have something prompting my decisions about development. In other instances, when I have the luxury of time, I might have someone else come in and do some critical response during the creative process. I rarely have that luxury of time though, so I’ve learned to listen to the dance, to see, and to quickly discern what warrants further exploration, what’s “done,” and what needs to be eliminated. My gut instinct, coupled with my eye, are my best assessors for further development in most cases.

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

Clarity. Definitely clarity. That’s certainly true in terms of the overall shape of the work. And, I think it’s true, too, when I deal with content. As I matured in my ability to develop material, I really embraced nonlinear narrative, so that was a big change in how I approached storytelling. Since 2007 though, I’ve really cut a hard left back into the abstractionism that drive my earliest works, so visual development is the major focus of much of my work—especially in terms of how sections of movement merge or emerge from one another. There are layers of things happening in my work this year, similar to film work in a way. I’m not sure how long that will last in my process, but I really enjoyed the most recent experiment I did with this.

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

The biggest frustration is time. While I might want to spend more time exploring an idea or something that catches my curiosity, I have to be judicious with how I allocate rehearsal time. But, that does mean that I also don’t hold anything too precious. In that sense then, it’s pretty healthy. I stay pragmatic most of the time.

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

In my work, generating material and creating phrases have never been parallel experiences. The other three words you list (synonymous, interdependent, and symbiotic) have much greater resonance though. Approaching the two things together helps me stay in the moment, and makes crafting the piece both more organic and more logical. That’s not to say that I never go back and make edits (I certainly do). It just means I do less editing later when maybe I’ve forgotten the energetic flow or the train of thought that led to the material/phrasing. That can make editing so much harder. Besides, at that point, I’d rather focus on cleaning the dance/dancers in something that’s already intact than still be futzing with phrases.

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

Within the framework of a single dance I usually maintain a similar mindset throughout the process. That seems to help me stay on track while creating a new work, and the works are more successful when I allow the two parts of the process to remain connected in that sense.