Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Collaboration part 2, Electric Boogalo: Working with an Artistic Director

NB: Anyone catch that dance movie-related reference in the title? No? Okay, it's this:

So, let's talk about collaboration again. You are the choreographer and you're working with a company that isn't yours. For whatever awesome reason, you are setting a work on some fantastic dancers. If you're smart - and you are because you're a choreographer and dancer - you will be working with them, not just setting steps on them, especially if this is a dance you are creating. Dancers are smart too and skilled and they have brains that are constantly thinking and wondering and challenging. They want to do their best and they want to do your work justice.

Because this is not your company, there is probably an Artistic Director, most likely the person who founded the company, or a former member of the company if the founder of the company has passed on or retired. It is through this person that all dance is filtered. She (or he) wants to make sure the work you're doing with the company dancers is reflective of her philosophy and fits into the repertory - or doesn't, if it's a departure from their typical material.

The AD is the guiding vision of the company, a very knowledgeable second set of eyes for the choreographer. You need to think of this person as your ally, not your foe. The AD is not there to tell you you're wrong or your movement is dumb (if this person does that, you might want to rethink your relationship with the company).

The AD is like an editor of a book. You are the writer and you have a fantastic story to tell but sometimes something works in your head but the reader doesn't get it. The editor is there to help streamline your story, to make sure one scene flows to the next, that characters make sense and don't change in mid-stream. Is the boyfriend blond in one scene and red-haired in another? That's a small thing but you weren't paying attention and it slipped by you.

In the same way, the Artistic Director notices that there are back-to-back pas de deux. She sees that a character exits one scene frightened of her lover but enters angry in the next. She asks how one scene flows into another and might suggest you move things around a bit to make things make more sense for the audience. She is asking questions the audience might ask before they ask them.

Very recently, Nancy Evans Doede, who is the Artistic Director of her eponymous company, and I met to discuss the arcs of the characters in Sweet Sorrow. We discussed scene transitions, from the practical (i.e. there will be lights in the way so you can't put Juliet there) to the philosophical (e.g. what does Romeo want from the Zombie Queen?).

The timing of a discussion like this is crucial. Too soon and the choreographer won't feel comfortable to create freely but too late and the dancers could flounder if given new material so close to performance. Nancy and I talked directly after the majority of the choreography was set so she could view it as a whole - again, she is looking at the big picture, at the work as a whole, and it's very easy to get swept up in the details just as a writer falls in love with images or dialogue she has written.

Murder your darlings.
-Arthur Quiller-Couch, "On Style" (1914)

The AD isn't as close to your work as you are so she can be honest and objective. Use her eyes. They are fresher than yours. And remember: she wants your work to look good because it will make her dancers and her - her company! - look good.

So what were Nancy and I talking about? Story. Characters. Motivation. Here is a video Jenn Logan created to give more information about the first act of the ballet. Check it out and please donate if you can:

Sweet Sorrow Story from Jenn Logan on Vimeo.

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