Solos – A Test of Fortitude

by Jamie Benson

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?

I was recently challenged to not feel like a worthless piece of crap, to answer your question. In an attempt to simplify my life (Ha!), I recently dove head-first into the idea of making a couple of new solos. This was after recently doing a lot of ensemble pieces. I always came up with material when in the studio but it was tough to figure out how that material might "read" to an innocent audience-go-er. There is a more immediate response when working with other performers. They laugh if it’s funny, look at me cross-eyed when its too complicated or unintentionally awkward, and so on. It can be tricky to express a source of whatever emotion one is exploring as a soloist. When doing a solo, it’s real easy to go from dancer to crazy person in the eyes of an arts bystander if not careful. Peer review has become more crucial then ever. That being typed I was completely free from scheduling ridiculously busy, creative people. It. was. bliss.

2. How is your compositional approach different in making solos than other configurations?

Rarely with my work are a group of dancers just bodies attempting to be compelling onstage. That alone is something of course, but for me, it’s more then that. When dealing with a larger group, I usually get really preoccupied with the relationships on stage, whether implied or very straightforward. The composition of the dancers in space already implies a relationship. When doing a solo, I seemed to approach something more internal about the “character” I’m portraying. What I’m doing seems to be more cerebral, then social.

3. When you are constructing a solo, what are some of the things you are looking to see or create?

I’m fussing with creating a clear relationship with myself, and one that hopefully translates universally to the internal life of others. I’m also really hoping to eat up the space, unless limiting space is really specific to the story I’m attempting to sell an audience. It’s so sad when a soloist doesn’t utilize the entire performance space, venue or public space. Stand in a corner for a while. Use the aisles. Do something creative with a unique architectural aspect of the space. See how it can inform what you’re saying with the work.

4. What pitfalls or cliches have you embraced or confronted when making solos?

I’m very careful to avoid overt self-indulgence when making any work and even more so when working on a solo. Doesn’t mean I don’t get near it on occasion though. It’s a fine line to walk, in dance.

5. What are the reasons you choose/have chosen to create a solo over other configurations?

To be honest, the first thing that came to mind was to control cost (because you better be paying/bartering with your dancers). Creating solos also lessens the burden of scheduling a bunch of people with loaded daily agendas. OK, so I start a solo for those more practical reasons then the true excitement comes when you challenge yourself to captivate an audience completely on your own. It’s a formidable task that, when if works out, can be extremely satisfying.

6. What, and how, do solos contribute to your work, to your practice? What is their relevance?

7. For you, what necessities exist with solos that do not with other groupings?

8. For you, what characteristics make up a well-crafted solo?

Everything is more crucial during a solo. There’s less to distract the audience from what you’re doing (although costumes and sets can do a lot). Authentic emotional expression, free of self-consciousness, is something I’m looking for. Stillness is a good way to gauge that. A soloist that really allows moments to happen, reverberate, shows that they’re not afraid to just “be” in front of an audience. That is very compelling. That is what a good solo is built on I think.

What are your thoughts about Jamie’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 by Jamie here.