Generating Movement – A Product of Looking Back
1. What sources of stimulation have you used to generate movement (i.e. text, pictures, research, visualizations, sounds, experiences, etc)?
Historical descriptions of dances in the Middle East as well as the works of Orientalist painters and sculptures. Research into the subject and taking classes to learn more about the culture and the people’s use of movement and their concepts about life in general.
2. Within these sources, what specific elements have you honed in on (i.e. texture, emotional content from readings or interviews, words, sound quality, colors, etc)?
Sometimes emotional content from the descriptions of the dance, but mostly trying to capture the social aspect of the people whose dances I am trying to create. Sometimes the sound quality of an instrument or musical scale or rhythmic patterns of the music.
3. What role has improvisation played in your process of generating movement? What value has improvisation brought in unearthing rich material?
When I use a non-traditional piece of music, traditional movements do not always work and have to be modified based on timing and rhythmic structures of the alien music. This generates some unique looking movements that catch the audience’s attention. They look oriental but are not. Since I do creative departures, this is often very necessary and gives my work a signature look and a degree of authenticity.
4. How have you incorporated task structures into your process of generating movement? Can you give an example of a task you’ve used?
When creating prop dances I first have to learn how to use the prop. Then learn what the Turkish or Egyptians do with the prop. Is this prop used in our culture and if so, how is it used? What are the similarities and differences? What music do I want to use; traditional or nontraditional? As the movements and technique begin to evolve, I have to make some serious decisions about costuming. Do I want traditional or modern? What type of costume will work with the prop? Some types of costumes will prevent certain elements in the choreography and will interfere with the prop’s movement. Will I enter with the prop or collect it on stage? Can the prop be used to allow the group to interact? These are just a few of the questions I have to ponder.
5. What kinds of investigation go into your subject before and while you are generating movement? How does this investigation guide, shape, inform your movement choices?
I play around with movement, watch other dancers and dance technique videos, as well as have my dancers play with the music and see what they come up with. This can generate new ideas and directions to take. More importantly, I can see what looks the best on my dancers and what is pleasing or interesting to watch. They also have a voice in what they think works the best.
6. When reviewing movement you’ve generated, what are general criteria you are looking for to determine its relevance and/or place in a particular work?
The most important criteria for me is if the movement feels and looks natural or if it is contrived and unnatural. If it isn’t logical or natural to the piece or it doesn’t look right and it causes problems for the dancers, then it needs to be changed. Second, did I accomplish my objectives or did I get sidetracked? I have done that and ended up with two new dances as a result.
7. How do you deal with movement tendencies? Do you ever feel pressure to come up with fresh movement? What strategies do you use to address and/or overcome that pressure? What strategies have and/or do you use to find fresh ways of moving?
I constantly try to learn new movements and explore new ideas. I collect technique and variations like others collect stamps. Do I ever feel pressure to come up with fresh materials? Yes, after 35 years of choreographing, I sometimes feel stagnant. One of the strategies I use to overcome pressure is to explore what other dancers are doing. I always see something new I can add to my movement collection even if it is a different combination of the same moves. I recently added a new arm move to a movement giving it new life. To find fresh ways of moving I get up and move around. I also took at photos, watch videos or performances, go back over my dance seminar notes, and just ponder about movement combinations. When I get a new combo, I get up and dance it through no matter where I am.
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Read more reflections from Sallamah here.