Development- Expanding and Delving
by Sallamah Chimera
1. How would you define development, in terms of its role and application in your process?
I have been recreating the dances of other choreographers this year and that has been a new experience. The developmental process was already done for the most part. But I would say the development of the movement, line of direction, dynamics, staging, musical interpretation and emotional or intellectual impact is significant in my choreographic process. Two of the dances I worked with did provide new material for me to explore 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 would begin with the reason to choreograph a dance and that would affect the entire process and my approach to developing a choreography. Is the dance 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—no long interruptions in the thought or physical development of the dance. One choreography I am recreating has been a huge challenge due to constant interruptions and some of the movement did not work with the music. I have had to restart the creation process several times. I am now doing extensive research on the Egyptian style to get new material for the problem sections. There have also been problems with understanding the unusual format of the music and its pauses.
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 music and divide it into obvious sections or I decide what types of dancing will take place in the choreography and that will determine the types of music I need. The sections could include traveling, veil or floor work, a special rhythm section like a chifte-telli for a 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 movements and then be able to get back up. For a traveling section, I would need to decide on the technique to use for locomotion and then think about my floor design, the tempo and spirit of the music, where I was going and what I would be doing immediately following it. There are also the special movements in the dance, the flower or the “Ah!” moments to create.
4. What tools/approaches do you employ to find new possibilities for development?
I look at YouTube and instructional or performance videos or take a workshop for ideas. 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 don’t want to do the same dance movements over and over again. Variations are good, but… While all choreographers have their trademark moves, I try to incorporate new material in all my work. Since I am still performing at 61, I constantly want to challenge myself physically and mentally as well as design dances for my physical problems. This keeps my performers challenged as well. For me, finding ways to work on the low level without going on the floor or kneeling is challenging.
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 “ah” section needs 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 time to create the “right” material for a section in the dance, and this gets worked on over the years until the dance becomes complete. I don’t believe that a dance is ever totally complete. There is always room for some further development.
6. What has the development process brought to your work? How has your work evolved as you’ve matured in developing material?
My dances have a consistent quality. There are only a few of my dances that get retired. I would say my understanding of audiences, knowing the abilities of my dancers, gaining better insight into Middle Eastern music, its rhythms, 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 something “new and exciting” is becoming more difficult. Since opening a dance studio, I have had to create more teaching dances and fewer personal solos.
7. What struggles/frustrations have you encountered when developing material? How did you overcome/work-through these hiccups?
Finding something new and exciting as well as creating new dances for my students 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 sections that I cannot find the right combination of movements to use combined with music issues. I came across a teaching video that has some nice combinations and I am working with these to finish out the dance. I am also recycling movements and ideas from my retired choreographies. I am even thinking about taking some of my older dances and doing 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)?