As dancers, we often strive to perfect our performances of the choreography given to us; and we may only wonder what it feels like on the other side of the rehearsal studio. However, at Ballet Society, some students are given the rare opportunity once a year to choreograph their own pieces to music.
During the first Beautiful Chaos production at Ballet Society, I was about fourteen-years-old and I had decided I wanted to be in a student’s piece rather than choreograph my own—school was stressful during that time and I didn’t want the added pressure of choreographing my own piece. It was a wonderful experience. Two other students had chosen me to be in their pieces and I remember being excited to help bring their creations to life. The following year, after understanding the Beautiful Chaos process more and taking a summer class that truly inspired me, I was ready to try my hand at choreographing.
Beautiful Chaos, as a whole, provides a safe and private environment for dancers to practice their craft without the typical stresses of selling tickets, getting rehearsal space, or even satisfying donors (if we’re talking about real company situations). The dancers are only responsible for choosing their music composed by student musicians, setting and creating movement, and running their rehearsals—which, in the end, produces an ideal learning environment for students.
Dancers who take on the role of a choreographer learn what it means to be the maker and translator of a creation. For some students, the creative process may begin by turning to their favorite choreographers and dance pieces for inspiration, to generate new ideas, and to discover their own artistic taste. For other students, the creative process simply begins by hearing the music. You would be hard pressed to find a dancer who listens to any given song and doesn’t have visions of movement come into their mind. I still do it and I’ve been out of the dance world for eight years. Visions of movement are important. Those visons lead to marking the movement and sometimes even trying the movement full-out, while thinking about musical phrasing and spatial structure. Quite a few decisions need to be made while generating movement; students must ask questions such as: Is some movement syncopated? Are their canons? Where are the dancers placed during the movement? Is each performer dancing the same movement? Are their moments where there is no movement?
Once a dancer has chosen a few sequences of movement and made their decisions, they must face their next challenge: communicate it to someone else. As choreographers, students are asked to solidify their ideas, remember every choice they have made, and translate their creativity into tangible instructions. The experience helps hone students’ communication skills. Sometimes communicating creative ideas is like finding a word you cannot recall—you know the word, it’s on the tip of your tongue, and you know it would best represent your idea, but you cannot find the word in the vocabulary vault of your mind. Student choreographers must remember to be patient with themselves and their dancers—it may take a rehearsal or two before they can communicate their ideas effectively. However, it is also important for students to learn that flexibility is a useful tool because ideas often change. The movement that they envisioned and set on the dancers may not look ‘right’ and they may have to modify sequences of steps to bring about the results they desire. In other situations, working with dancers in a rehearsal may inspire new ideas, steps, and movements—this is the editing process. Flexibility allows choreographers the freedom to be wrong which can lead to pieces that are even better than imagined.
When I choreographed my piece for Beautiful Chaos, I found myself facing the same challenge each week. Due to the pieces of choreography I was learning in my own classes and for the Colorado Youth Ballet, my brain decided that I didn’t need to remember my own choreography for my own piece. I wasn’t one of the dancers who planned their entire piece out before the first rehearsal; my creative process was freer and in the moment. When I got the music, I did arrive at my first rehearsal with the first few eight-counts but then I began to let the piece lead itself as I watched the dancers in rehearsal. So I had to do my homework and prepare for the every rehearsal by putting the music on, each day in-between rehearsals, and going over the movement I had set.
I would advise any new choreographer to recognize what challenges them the most during this creative process and find a way to face that challenge because your piece (that end result) depends on you being proactive. You also need to be aware of your dancers. If they’re facing challenges with the choreography or your teaching style, then you need be proactive there too and have open communication so those problems can be solved.
Stepping into choreographers shoes will take a dancer on a journey of personal growth. Not only are they in a new creative realm, but the process demands that they have or develop time management, organizational, and leadership skills. Student choreographers are not in their rehearsal worried about learning the dance, they now must take charge of the room and sensitively gauge the work habits of others while staying on course. Each time I participated in Beautiful Chaos, as a dancer and as I choreographer, I was in the studio with friends. As a dancer, you have to see your friend as a choreographer who is in charge of the rehearsal—plus, they are your fellow student and you want them and their piece to succeed and be all that it can be—so that friendship gets tucked away for the duration of the rehearsal. As a choreographer, the dancers I chose were friends and I didn’t want to be rude or come across as too authoritative, but I didn’t want to be so lenient that the piece didn’t turn out well. So I had to find a happy-medium. At the beginning of rehearsal, we took a few minutes to do a check-in (how everyone’s week, classes, and other rehearsals were going) and then we would get to work. The check-ins at the beginning of the rehearsal allowed us some transition time to go from a place of friendship to a place of creative collaboration.
This journey and experience will not only allow dancers to develop new skills, but it will also allow them to grow more profoundly mindful of what their teachers and guest choreographers need from them as a dancers. When you return to the side, you will want to be even more of a motivated, hard-working, and cooperative dancer.