Teaching in Higher Ed in the field of dance, working only undergraduate students often brings the challenge of how to be both the choreographer of a new work and teacher at the same time. What do you do when you want to challenge the students artistically but they may not have the artistic experience or maturity to handle the project? Do you only cast students you know are up to the challenge, not wanting to have to deal with pushing students out of their comfort zone in the six to eight weeks you have for the rehearsal process? Do you change your artistic vision so that its watered down but you know that it will ‘look good’ once on stage?
In my previous post, I discussed my creative process in creating a new dance work entitled, ‘A Sequence of Related Things That Lead to a Certain Ending ‘. I was the Choreographer/Director of the piece and in this role, I often found myself at conflict with the Teacher role.
I used the concepts of ‘Lines’ and ‘Rotating Inscriptions’ from William Forsythe’s ‘Improvisation Technologies’, to create movement phrases that I taught to the dancers. This combined with the phrases the students created also using the technologies, became the backbone of the piece.
As dancers drew lines in the space and wrote out words and/or phrases with different parts of their body their movements were athletic and sometimes a little awkward looking. As their teacher I wanted the dancers to create with out the fear of ‘right or wrong’ so that they could just get used to thinking about making movement this different way.
The students really worked hard to understand the concepts of Forsythe’s Technologies and as the choreographer of the piece, I felt it was important to use some of the material that each of the dancers created. At times this conflicted with my natural choreographic choices, as some of the material that they created fit a little less into the ‘vocabulary’ of the piece. Students were sometimes more literal in their movement choices than I would have liked them to be, they often used the arms and legs instead ‘writing’ in the space with a knee or shoulder or part of the pelvis.
The teacher in me kept their movement influences anyway, deciding that I wanted to see the piece fully choreographed and produced with lighting and costumes before I considered replacing any of the student’s phrases with other movement phrases that I created. As the choreographer,it was challenging to accept the awkwardness of some of the movement the students created.
Another part of my artistic vision in this piece was the use of an interactive video projection. The projections were created using the software program called ‘Isadora’ that was created by the dance company, ‘Troika Ranch’. The video is projected on the cyclorama and the images of white lines change size and location based on what the dancers are doing on stage.
As the teacher, I had to work with the students on how to perform their choreography in such a way that the computer would be able to ‘see and respond’ to what they were doing. As we didn’t incorporate this layer until later in the process, we had the challenge of time limiting how much we could work in the theater with the video. This resulted with the students again exploring a new concept in their performing and not being able to get as comfortable with the process so as choreographer, I did not use the projections in as many ways as I had hoped.
This piece, more than some other works I have created highlighted this challenge of working as both Teacher and Choreographer. I think that because Forsythe’s methods of creating movement were so foreign to some of the students that they did not have enough time to feel more comfortable with creating movement this way in the time we had. That being said, I feel that the experience that these dance majors had with moving out side of the comfort zone and using different ideas to create movement was essential in their growth as dancers, future choreographers and student artists.