Coming off a fantastic break I feel renewed but unaccustomed to full days. Love holidays, being a night owl, spending time with people I dig and sleeping in. Why is the work day structured the way it is and why aren't there more days off in a year? Life could be filled with more play! Maybe all that stands between us and knowing true happiness is a ban on keeners, workaholism and alarm clocks. (If only)
The past two days have been invigorating but I feel sore and spent right now. I wish we were allotted more energy per day. Dancing leaves me semi comatose in the evenings and it is difficult to have energy to think or be social. It is really good to have work though, so I will arrest these complaints.
Today was jam packed with stimulating information. Montreal Danse(the company), is hosting a week long workshop on choreographic research and development. The company's director Kathy Casey has invited Larry Lavender, a professor of dance from the U.S. to teach his theories on the creative process; and five choreographers to investigate their methods of making work. I am dancing for a choreographic team comprised of Sacha Kleinplatz and Andre Tay.
Larry made us aware today of the operations of invention, development, evaluation and assimilation taking place when someone is choreographing a dance. His discussion in the morning was illuminating and the whole intensive is quite rich in its offering of new directions and food for thought.
I think it is a potentially rewarding but simultaneously terrifying experiment for those involved. To become aware of and change your way of inventing goes right to the heart of what people value about themselves as artists. Of course the idea of evolving is appealing, but the reality of doing it in front of others can be scary and awkward. So far the five are facing the challenge head on.
There is a lot of stimulating dialogue and questioning that takes place as we show work at the end of each session. Yesterday the choreographers raised questions about how to set true moments of connection, timing, physicality and authenticity without killing the spontaneous vitality of initial impulses.
Obviously I don't have the ultimate answer to these questions and there are many methods of generating a desired movement or quality. Some thoughts have come to mind which stem from my experience as a dancer. They aren't a commentary on the workshop so much as inspired by the questions within it.
Basically, I feel that almost the whole discourse surrounding modern dance isn't true to the real events taking place in rehearsals. Modern dance as it stands is the cult of the choreographer, supposedly the manifestation of an individual vision brought to light through the material of human bodies. In reality contemporary interpreters are doing much more than performing sequences even when they are performing sequences.
I am going to state the taboo, we create too, possibly equally. Generally the choreographer suggests a direction and the dancer investigates the territory. Then the choreographer chooses and directs the work. The initial propositions and secondary choices are of course essential to the creation, but these actions are acknowledged. The fact that dancers are often generating vocabulary, figuring out the mechanics, and inventing the transitions and motivation is not dealt with much.
Choreographers are not evil figures oppressing poor dancers. But the contemporary dance construct does not show the collaboration taking place. It is their creative vision we are trying to realize, but we are the living beings embodying their ephemeral ideas from the beginning. Our sensibilities also define the work generated. The reason this is important is because we could use more time to facilitate our tasks.
The thing a dancer fears most is being slow. You are prized if you can learn and produce fast. But the subtleties usually have to be skipped to make this possible. Often the choreographic process does not allow for the human act of processing information. So many of the problems when something doesn't look right, right away have to do with the multiple tasks the dancer is performing at the moment of creation. Expected to look at someone else or take their (generally vague) instructions and in a short amount of time produce for them the image they want to see, is no easy feat. Seldom if ever do we have help accomplishing this task. If the pressure to do it quickly and perfectly was relaxed than we could be more creative in our suggestions and our proposals would be more fully integrated. This would result in stronger, potentially more interesting work, with more magical moments.
I am not saying either that choreographers are impatient. It makes sense that to decide if their idea is going to work, they need to be able to see it quickly. Naturally they don't want to waste unnecessary time on something if it isn't the right direction. But often if we were given a little more space to practice, the abandoned goal could be achieved. It would be worth waiting for. The whole event is/could be more satisfying, when the dancers' role in the creation is more explorative; rather than immediately result or perfection oriented.
Added to this scenario is the reality that contemporary dancers in Montreal are expected to pay for and train themselves. This means you may do a class (if there is time to) that is not necessarily suited for the task you are asked to accomplish; and the people asking you to do things do not have to consider the physical energy that you already expended that day. If choreographers trained us or at least employed someone to, they could have the physicalitiy they desire faster and more deeply. They would also be more aware of the energy being used and their own fatigue could make the rehearsal more human.
I really think our art form would progress further if dancers' role in the creative process was better understood. People come to us with their ideas and we generate them through our bodies and in our improvisations. Time to fully realize our tasks and train our bodies would result in more powerful choreographic works and a longer more fulfilling career for dancers.
I truly enjoyed today but do feel sometimes the reverence towards the individual creator only tells half the story. Gifted choreographers have the knack for drawing the best from their dancers and this also an essential part of choreographing. Making dancers participation in creation invisible, weakens dance, as the material used to create it is the human form.
Thankfully I am presently involved in a process bent on enriching the ways in which choreographers and dancers exchange and cultivate inspiration. Let's hear it for that!