Category Archives: choreography

The Fundamental Weirdness of Performing Your Own Work

In my head, I don’t necessarily choreograph for myself, but in reality, I often choreograph on myself.

As an artist, you kind of tend to work with the materials at hand—and as a dancer, the materials at hand are, more often than not, you.

Even if you have access to an entire dance company, they eventually get hungry and tired and cranky and want to go home: so, at the end of the day, at least 33% of the time (assuming the normal “8 hours for work, 8 hours for rest, 8 hours for what you will,” which is admittedly a really bold assumption, given that apparently even semi-professional dancers have completely insane schedules) it’s just you(1,2).

  1. And your kitchen, or possibly your living room, or maybe (if you’re lucky) the spare bedroom in which you’ve opted for an inflatable bed over a regular guest bed so you’ll have room to dance. As LF said once, “I suspect that my dances are basically always shaped more or less like my living room.”
  2. Possibly also your cat. Cats love to help with things like yoga and modern dance, especially if there’s floorwork. They’re generally more ambivalent about ballet. Thus, if you’re a Crazy Cat Person, I highly recommend choosing ballet as your choreographic discipline. Extra points if you actually succeed in training your cats to dance the corps parts. Mine only does floorwork. His primary and secondary curves, though? Legit.

Likewise, when you put your work out there as someone who’s just starting out in choreography, chances are good that you’re also going to find yourself performing it.

As it turns out, that’s surprisingly weird.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned my greatest asset as a performer: that wild (if momentary) overconfidence that makes me unafraid to get up in front of an audience and make a complete ass out of myself dance like nobody’s watching. To be honest, that same wild overconfidence is one of my greatest assets, period: I have no fear of public speaking, for example, and I come off pretty well in job interviews as long as I’m prepared(2).

  1. The same can’t be said for ordinary conversations: they always veer off into unexpected territory, which makes it bleeding hard to study for them. If everyone would just stop going off script all the time, I’d be fine.

This weekend I discovered that my Magical Wild Overconfidence does not extend to performing my own choreography.

The nice part about being the choreographer is that when performance time rolls around, you can always just shut your eyes or spend the whole performance locked in a stall in the restroom, then slap yourself across the face a couple of times and come out looking fresh and rosy if and when you’re called upon to take a bow.

If you’re both the choreographer and one of the dancers, however, you lose that luxury. You have to go out there and do the thing, even if at the last minute you realize that the thing in question is terrible and that you’ve done something completely stupid with that entire passage from 01:34 – 2:39 (MORE THAN A MINUTE OF ABJECT STUPIDITY!!! OH G-D)(4).

  1. Don’t worry. This is not, in fact, an actual example from my own life. There are a couple of moments in which I wish I’d made different decisions because our rehearsal floor and our performance space were shaped just differently enough to turn circles into narrow lozenges, which sometimes made things weird momentarily, but nothing was that bad for that long.

Anyway, it seems that, when I’m performing my own choreography, I worry no more than usual about how well I’ll dance. The trajectory of my ability as a dancer seems to be pretty steadily upward, and I know what kind of mistakes I tend to make and how to counteract them (and that I do so with increasing success every time I learn a new piece).

Instead, impostor syndrome rears its ugly head and reminds me that, as a choreographer, I have no idea what I’m doing. And no qualifications. Like, none whatsoever(5).

  1. Except, you know, a lifetime of watching dance, something like ten years of actually dancing, and the fact that someone who has seen my choreographic ideas invited me to choreograph this piece. But, honestly, that doesn’t feel like much.

So, basically, part of me is like, “Here’s this idea, I hope you guys like it, please don’t throw rotten tomatoes if it’s terrible because I really can’t afford the cleaning bill.”

None of this was, in any way, ameliorated by the fact that I invited BW and his boyfriend to come and see my choreographic debut, heh. I also conveniently managed to acquire a nasty cold of some sort that cropped up around Thursday and was at its worst on Sunday morning, which didn’t help me feel any more secure.

As such, I was in fact hella nervous on Saturday evening: but we got through it and nobody died, and in truth I think it went pretty well.

Anyway, the “official” video’s up, and I got to see it today. It’s not public yet, as not everyone has chimed in with permission to make it so, but I don’t think that’ll be a problem.

It looks better than it felt, which is comforting. I felt like I was way ahead and screwing everything up the whole time. In fact, in the video, I’m mostly on point timing-wise (including the little bits that fall into a brief canon), not as awkward as I felt by half, and only the off-kilter extension a la seconde early on looks particularly meh. That was the cold’s doing, as it affected my balance.

There are a couple of moments in which I clearly didn’t think about what to do with my arms during a transition. If I get a chance to stage this dance again, I’ll program something in to fix that.

This is one of the challenges in working in a stream of dance other than ballet: you have to think about all that stuff. In ballet—particularly classical ballet—what you do with your arms is largely a foregone conclusion. The technique offers only so many options, and “forget to use your arms entirely” is essentially never one of them.

There are also some spaces that feel kind of blank: like, the action in this dance happens in flurries, and I don’t know that I’ve joined those flurries together terribly well. Those are things I’ll revisit somewhere down the line.

In the end, nobody died, and my piece was rather delightfully well-received. As a first effort, I’m pretty happy with it. The human origami bits (which, sadly, didn’t work as smoothly on the mats as they did on the dance floor) are my favorite parts, and I suspect that sort of thing will appear in my future efforts.

I don’t know if performing my own choreography will get any less weird as time goes by. I guess I’ll find out!

I feel like it might be less weird if the piece in question was strictly a ballet piece, because I feel more at home in the medium of ballet.

Obviously, all my thoughts on this aren’t terribly well organized.

I am, at least, getting over the cold now, which is good (although at yesterday’s rehearsal, our script-writer described my voice as “Totally Metal!” which was kind of awesome in its own way :D).

…And, of course, I’m already thinking about the Next Big Thing—which, in this case, Orpheus (not my choreography, but I’m dancing all the things), followed by PlayThink, where I’m performing a ballet-and-acro piece with Denis. Can’t wait!

~

Tiny update: just looked at a video of the second dance we’ve learned for Orpheus, and holy cow, it looks really amazing already! Can’t share that one because Orpheus is still in rehearsals, but I’m stoked.

Too Tired to Write an Entire Post

… So please enjoy this screenshot of a screenshot of “Fade to White.” 😉

More soon! 

Today I Learned… 

…The Apollo jump (which I had seen, but as far as know had never done) and the last remaining piece of our dance, which is mine alone and involves a turn in second and said Apollo jump.

That’s about all of it: we finish the Noodle Experiment, I back away from the girls and throw in a turn in second, then I pause for a second and when everyone else is essentially running upstage, I do the Apollo jump downstage, land it, collect myself, and run a few more steps to my place for the end of the dance. 

We might change up the first partnering bit, though we might not. We’ll see. I like the change that T and BG worked out, but it’ll be a question of whether the remaining two girls from that group are okay with it.

I’m fine either way. They’re worried about kicking me. 

I mentioned that if they kick me, it’s probably my fault. That’s kind of how partnering works for boys:

  • If the girl kicks you, it’s your fault. 
  • If you kick the girl, it’s your fault. 
  • If the girl smacks you in the face, it’s your fault. 
  • If you smack yourself in the face with the girl, it’s still your fault. 
  • If you drop the girl, it is Definitely Your Fault (and you will never live it down). 

FWIW, yes, this is intended to be funny but it’s also largely true. If you’re dancing the (traditionally) male role, part of your job is being in the right place at the right time and accounting for glitches, because the person dancing the other part has enough to worry about already. You adjust. 

And if she stops dancing, turns around, and punches you squarely in the nose? 

That is also Definitely Your Fault, unless it’s Because Ancient Aliens. 

~

PS: I was wrestling with keeping my waterfowls in a linear array in the turn from second because ATTAAAAAAAACK!, and BG was like, “Keep your chest up and think of it like … a hammer throw, only your foot is the hammer.”

Bizarrely, this worked really hecking well. 

Important note is that you still have to keep the working leg hella engaged, especially if you have sick mobility in your hips. If you think of a track & field person winding up for a hammer throw, though, they stay really tight basically the whole time. 

Day “Off”

The Time of the Allergies(1) is upon us again, and D had a coughing fit at 6 AM that woke me up.

  1. Or, if you’re me, the time of EVEN MOAR ALLERGIES, because all times are the Time of Allergies.

Since then, I’ve actually managed to put dishes away, wash last night’s remaining dishes, put those away, make waffles (because either someone in the neighborhood was making them or I was totally hallucinating the scent of waffles, and I just couldn’t stand it anymore), eat a waffle, feed D a waffle, clean up after the waffles, and run a couple of loads of laundry.

I also failed at making tea, however: boiled the water, then forgot to actually make the tea for two hours, so had to start over. Anyway, I have tea now.

facetea

I’ve got this, guys.

Fortunately, D picked up some allergy meds for me, so I’m breathing through my nose pretty decently at the moment. #smallvictories

Anyway, ballet-wise, I feel pretty on top of my choreography, including the Partner All The Girls! bits (actually, those are the easy bits; I really basically just stand there, look pretty, and put my hands where they need to be). However, we still have the last 23 seconds to learn, so I’m going to rehearsal tomorrow instead of going to see Wendy Whelan’s “Some of a Thousand Words.”

Funny thing is that it really wasn’t a question (because apparently my #priorities are properly aligned, or something). If we’d finished the dance last night, I might have gone to the performance instead, but I really actually want to go to rehearsal.

Fortunately, D isn’t offended that I’m opting out on my birthday present, and in fact agrees with me that going to rehearsal is the right choice. He is going to give our tickets to someone who wants to go and doesn’t have tix, which is a nice thing as well. So instead of seeing Whelan’s show for my birthday, I get the pleasure of giving someone else the chance and still getting to go to rehearsal 😀

In other news, I still have no idea what I’m wearing in the show, besides white socks and white shoes. I keep forgetting to ask, and people keep asking me, and I keep having to say, “Um, actually, I have no idea.

BG described the tights I’ll be wearing as “awesome,” so of course I’m picturing something like this:

matador

Ganked from the Googs because I’m lazy right now. (Also, I’m guessing matadors don’t wear dance belts. Huh. Honestly, that looks hella uncomfortable.)

…But I suspect that reality will be somewhat less ornate, since all the girls are wearing pastel leos and white romantic tutus, and not so much with the bling.

In other news, today is perfect soup weather, but I forgot to buy soup, so #firstworldproblems etc. I could make soup, though, if I get desperate.

 

Addendum:

Here’s what I wore last night, anyway:

White-Socks-Blue-Tights

Lo-res video is low 😦

I was use-testing the socks, which are new. BG and I agreed that we kind of liked the blue tights (which are brighter in real life) with the socks, but also that they would clash with the rest of the performance.

The shirt, OTOH, is just the same shirt I wear every damn day.

Balanchine Noodle Experiment FTW

Tonight we added Apollo-y things and something I’m calling a Balanchine Noodle Experiment.

If you’re familiar with Balanchine’s ouevre, you probably know what I mean: those things where a flock of dancers basically ties itself into moving a Celtic knot?

Basically this, but with more heads and feet. (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Anyway, I’ve always thought those were cool (even back when I didn’t like B-style because I hadn’t seen it done well).

So that’s the kind of thing we’re doing—with partnering in the mix—and it’s hella cool.

We’re basically two weeks to launch now, which is really exciting.

Tomorrow, modern and BW’s class(1). 

  1. I still haven’t found my effing jump rope, blergh; I’m just going to buy a new one. It won’t kill me to have a couple. 

Tonight, sleeeeeeeeeep. 

~

PS: I was a brainless mess in Killer Class, but evening class went brilliantly. Some light & lovely turns to combat the sheer badness of this morning’s turns. 

Bizarre Choreography Advice from a Dream 

Today was the third straight day that I woke up at 7, did a few things, decided to read for a few, and promptly zonked out for two hours. Considering that I can usually only nap if I’ve been awake for two days straight that’s bizarre enough. 

However, today’s nap featured a dream in which BG offered the following advice for creating dances:

  • Make sure the floor is clean. (Okay, that’s not so weird.) 
  • If you’re choreographing a dance for your little sister, use a combination of dish soap and Windex so she can see the reflection of her arm in the floor, but only if it’s a wooden floor (…oookay).
  • Never leave rotting fruit on top of the piano unless you’re using it as part of the choreography. (Wat.I mean, obvs, but WAT. Also, why?!)
  • And even then, only bananas.

I wish I could remember more of it. 

It was all so sincere! BG in the dream was totally offering this in the vein of choreographic mentorship, as if these were basic questions central to the art of choreography that any budding choreographer might encounter. 

…And yet, at the same time, it was all so bizarre(1).

All of this suggests that my unconscious mind is, at present, deeply concerned with matters of choreography and cleanliness (which, yes, but I didn’t need weird choreographic cleaning advice from a dream to figure that out).

So, in short, remember:

Never leave rotting fruit on top of the piano unless you’re using it as part of the choreography. And even then, only bananas.

  1. I should probably admit that this dream also involved a “pee machine,” which was a kind of elaborate Japanese urinal-and-holding tank that was supposed to allow people of any sex to pee modestly at outdoor festivals (apparently Dream Japan has never heard of the standard Port-o-Potty). In fact, it was so badly designed that even a bog-standard cismale with no intersex stuff going on would wind up pissing all over everything within the area of a meter and a half. Oy to the vey. I was cleaning that, too. I spritzed it with bleach, which caused crackling noises, which caused me to say, “I love chemical reactions!” What. The. Hell.

La danse est fini! 

…Essentially.

“Knocking,” that is, not the ballet one. 

The second-to-last missing piece was The Lift, which we hadn’t gotten around to really trying. Today it was just ABM and me, since AMS has a tech run for another thing tonight, so we took the time to firm that up. 

The one we’re using is a simple modern-dance lift that involves wrapping yourself around your partner as she wraps herself around your middle, lifting her, turning in place, and then releasing her back into the wild.

Of course, that all happens as one smooth movement. In this case, it follows a series of washing-machine chaînés, which makes spotting the turns essential if you want to maintain a spotless record as someone who doesn’t drop his partners. 

Getting the lift down also solved another problem I was having, which was an Awkward Classical Ballet Moment. I replaced it with a Contemporary Ballet Moment that hooks into the surrounding steps, et voilà, it all hangs together.

The really-last remaining piece is just a little moment that each of of us has individually right before the last sequence, and I’m confident that we’ll all come to the next rehearsal with something.

So, basically, the whole thing is thinged.

ABM told me she’s proud of me for stepping out of my classical ballet box and creating something much more contemporary. I’m pretty pleased with that as well—I feel like I left the dance go where it needed to instead of fighting it. That’s kind of a breakthrough for me, too be honest. 

Our performance date, meanwhile, has moved to April 1st, which is totally fine by me. It gives us time to really polish the dance, and I think the end result will be nice.

Meanwhile, our Rep group is swinging right along. We’ve made really good progress this week! I’m still enjoying that piece immensely. 

That’s it for today. Everything is tired, but I have really good chili and an evening and a day day to stay home and recharge. 

Saturday, we’re going to see Human Abstract, which is exciting. I’m glad I take 9:00 class, though, because we opted for the mâtinée.

Rep: In Which I Get My Own Posse

(Sort of.)

First, I didn’t make it to Killer Class this morning.

I’ve been wrestling a nastier-than-usual episode of insomnia, but I’ve been trying not to take sleeping pills because they can screw with my mood. Last night, I was exhausted but just plain couldn’t get to sleep, so I finally took a sleeping pill at 3 AM.

When I woke up at 9, I knew within seconds that neither driving nor riding a bike was a good idea. The sleeping pill I took hadn’t worn off enough. So I went back to sleep and did evening class instead, which was actually pretty nice. I made myself do everything on relevé that could be done on relevé, of course, as penance (and also because that’s what I would have done anyway).

I also applied the note that JMG gave me about balancé back on Sunday. For some reason, I’d fallen into the habit of doing this weird up, down, up movement instead of the canonical down, up, up. JMG pointed out that it’s not necessarily wrong (sometimes choreographers want stuff like that), but it’s an alternative approach. I also think it isn’t really as pretty (and it looks weird when everyone’s doing down, up, up and you’re the only one going up, down, up.

Anyway, my balancés looked nicer tonight than they have in a while.

On to rep. We got into the meat of my part tonight. The girls are divided into three groups by height. BG has nicknamed them “Fun Size,” “Sirens,” and “Amazons,” and in this section I’m partnering the Sirens, and they kind of turn into my posse.

I mean, like, a beautiful, balletic posse, of course. Not the kind with pitchforks and torches.

The choreography isn’t hard, but it’s lovely. I’m happy with that: we don’t have a whole lot of rehearsal time before we show this piece to the universe, so I’m glad that BG has put together a dance that we can do well in the time available, but which still looks like legit ballet.

After rehearsal, I told one of the Sirens that they were really looking good, and she said, “I’m glad we’re dancing with you!”

Apparently, she likes the way I dance. w00t! (It so happens that I like the way she dances, too. We make a good team, which is good, because we’re also both sweaty disaster areas and have totally bonded about that.)

I do feel like I’m getting it back for real. I keep laughing at myself, because I say this Every. Single. Class.

I mean, seriously. Class ends, and I’m like:”It’s not 100% yet, but I feel like it’s coming back!”

Anyway, today the turnouts were doing their job, the arms had their waterfowls in a linear array, and I didn’t fall out of my turns (though I did keep proactively spotting, AGAIN).

Likewise, my jumps are regaining their ballon. Especially the sautés Arabesque in the rep piece—they were light and high, and not as “Heil Hitler-y” as they’ve occasionally been in the past.

Which is good, because I don’t want to give the wrong impression, here 😐

I do have to better work out this one part where I dodge between the Sirens. The spacing can make it challenging—they’re all standing in 4th arabesque à terre as I sort of lightly and gracefully run through the line of them in such a way that I wind up at the head of the line facing them in 2nd arabesque à terre. Or, at least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. We need to work on the blocking so there’s a little more room.

At this point, I’m really looking forward to learning the rest of the dance. I’m having no trouble at all remembering my part, which is good, because I can’t exactly follow anyone.

Anyway, I’m pretty tired, so I’m going to call it a night.

Knockin’, Rehearsal #2

Set two more segments of the dance tonight and ironed out half the costuming issue. 

I say “set,” but they’re really only half-set, as we didn’t run them with music (we were all too tired to screw around with all that). I did set them with the music in my head, though.

I have another phrase in my head, but I don’t feel like I’m quite hitting what I’m trying to say, so I’m going to sit on that one this week.

This piece is very adagio and really quite serious, which means we need to approach it a little carefully to prevent accidental silliness. 

Screenshot from

From last Monday. Prolly the only preview for a while. This is how people attitude when they’re half asleep (seriously, I think my eyes are literally closed!), which is what happens when the only feasible slot for rehearsals is at 9:30 PM on Monday  😉

^This is actually right at the beginning of this dance. Which is good, because this movement begins on one knee and one foot and involves pressing sloooooowly up into attitude without falling on each-other. The supporting leg basically does all the work getting you from “on bended knee” up to attitude (and then you arabesque, and then you penché, and then you failli…). In short: engage all the things.

Definitely the kind of thing you want at the beginning rather than the end (not that I’m any nicer at all to us about the end). 

It’s a screenshot from a video, btw, hence the slightly pixelated image quality. 

Monday Madness: In Which I Am Amazed 

All my choreography worked today. Regarding which:

YAAAAAAAASSSSSSSSSS! 

My upcoming grown-ass semi-professional dance piece is a ballet/modern hybrid piece to Antony and the Johnsons’ cover of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” and the opening looks exactly as I visualized it—and it’s beautiful. 

I was surprised by that. Maybe I shouldn’t be, but sometimes you suddenly make something beautiful, and it catches you off guard. 

The rest is coming along nicely. The opening 35 seconds set a high bar(re). 

Speaking of high barres, my coupé balances in class tonight were surprisingly good, though even the top barres in the studio where Monday class takes place are lower than is ideal for me. I think I’ve been over-correcting. 

This class is at the school location in one of the two two larger studios. I’m guessing the top barre is optimized for students between 5′ and 5’3″. At 5’8″ with short arms, I have to do funky things to reach the barre when I’m on relèvé. The portable barres are even lower, though. The bottom barre, meanwhile, is optimized for cracking your knees when doing turns.

Speaking of turns, mine were meh today. I don’t actually have the faintest idea why, either.

Anyway, I’m cooked, so to bed with me. 

Eventually you’ll get to see my “Heaven’s Door” dance, but probably not ’til it’s complete.

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