Solos – A Pursuit of Artistry
by Becky Bearse-Esqueda
1. What challenges do you encounter when making solos that you don’t encounter using any other number of dancers? What liberty do you find?
Solos present unique challenges to a choreographer. The main challenge is finding the right dancer for the piece. This dancer must be very strong, not just technically, but as a performer, as it is up to this dancer, and her alone, to engage the audience in her world. In creating solos, I also choose dancers that have a wide movement vocabulary and are essentially more than dancers-they are artists. This way, I can sculpt the movement around this dancer’s strengths and unique gifts she brings to the table. The additional challenges are telling your story successfully via one dancer and using the stage appropriately. The liberty I find in creating solos is the ability to craft the solo around the dancer’s strengths and skills. Solos also present unique opportunities for collaboration, as I often talk about the piece as I create it, the emotional aspect of it, the story I am trying to tell, and also the movement style I am looking to create. We often work together to build off movement phrases and sculpt the phrases to fit the dancer. Overall, creating a solo is a really unique opportunity for a choreographer to collaborate with the dancer by allowing room for improv. and movement creation.
2. How is your compositional approach different in making solos than other configurations?
My compositional approach in making solos is not necessarily different than making group pieces, as I am very intentional about how I use the stage. I use this same intent in going about how I stage a solo work. I oftentimes like to use the entire stage, whether it is through circular or diagonal pathways. It all just depends on the story I am trying to tell and figuring out how best to tell it through the movement and the pathways on which I stage the movement.
3. When you are constructing a solo, what are some of the things you are looking to see or create?
When I make a solo, I am hoping to make a vision come to life. I oftentimes have images that I am trying to create and begin with these images in mind, create movement phrases that contain these images and then work with my dancer to elaborate, sculpt and tweak the phrases to better fit the vision and my dancer.
4. What pitfalls or cliches have you embraced or confronted when making solos?
I have learned that it is very hard to transfer solos from one dancer to another. While in theory one dancer should be able to take on another dancer’s solo, the reality is that it takes a certain type of dancer to perform a solo. Oftentimes dancers want a solo, but do not realize the amount of emotional and technical prep it takes to get a solo from rehearsal to the stage. Overall, I have learned that the biggest and most important decision that each choreographer must start with in creating a solo is finding that one dancer who lives in your head with you, who tracks your vision with you and who lives in the same movement vocabulary in which you work. Without this match, a solo simply looks like a string of technical movements instead of a piece of art.
5. What are the reasons you choose/have chosen to create a solo over other configurations?
When I create solos, I choose to create them over group pieces primarily due to the fact that the vision that I have in mind is truly meant for a soloist. I have also chosen solos when I am having challenges finding dancers. However, this factor is always secondary to my vision, for if I cannot find the dancers, I must rework or reimagine a work that is meant for a soloist.
6. What, and how, do solos contribute to your work, to your practice? What is their relevance?
Solos help me become a better choreographer as I learn how to work with dancer’s unique movement styles one on one. Solos also limit me to this one dancer and in this way force me to truly find my vision within this dancer’s movement style, strengths and ability to emote the vision. Solos are always relevant practice for me as a choreographer as they teach me new lessons about collaboration, movement and art making.
7. For you, what necessities exist with solos that do not with other groupings?
The main necessity is finding that one and perfect dancer who can portray the vision I am looking to create. When I have multiple dancers, I can move them on and off stage. With a soloist, that dancer is on stage the entire time and it is up to me to figure out how to use that dancer in the best way possible. With this said, I always seek soloists who have a wide range of movement understanding and are trained in multiple mediums, as these mediums offer me more material with which to work and to play.
8. For you, what characteristics make up a well-crafted solo?
A well-crafted solo comes down to the strength of the soloist and her ability to bring the audience into her world. It is the choreographer’s job to make this happen and to use the soloist in the best way possible to do so. As such, I do not find that there is a particular formula for stage use that translates into a "good" solo. It really is how the choreographer uses the dancer and plays on her strengths to string together the movement to tell the story. In the end, the audience will tell me if I have done my job and this is how I know when I have created a well-crafted solo.
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Read more reflections by Becky here.