Earlier this week, a wise professor suggested that I start free writing as a way to organize my own ideas, even though I despise the writing process. 800 words later . . . maybe she was right. Below are my musings about a recent choreographic endeavor, entitled and faith, which is surely the devil’s masterpiece.” Hopefully some of my ramblings make sense and spark your interest; if so, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
On April 10-12, I will be involved in my last student concert EVER as an undergraduate student in the Ohio State University Department of Dance. In this show, I’ll be presenting a piece of choreography which I set on four lovely dancers: Emily Colizoli, Lauren Bedal, Kimberly Isaacs, and Elyse Morckel. This piece is a quartet I began working on back in Spring of 2013 for my final project in a dance composition class taught by Susan Hadley. The course was centered on the relationship between music and choreography and on the power of different music choices in shaping, commenting on, or coloring audience perception of a dance. It was in this stage of working that I developed (in particular) the overarching structure and core movement motifs of this piece. However, after the class was over, I felt there was something left unexplored in the essence of the work as a whole. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the dance itself had a life of its own, and one that I had very little control over. This notion was both puzzling and exhilarating to me as a choreographer. How could I conceptualize this sense of structural autonomy in a way that is both creatively satisfying and replicable (as a potential philosophy of making work)?
To answer this question for myself, I reset the piece on a second cast during my time at the American Dance Festival last summer. Here I continued to explore, discuss my ideas with fresh eyes, and get feedback on the piece from people who had no insight on the context of the class for which it was created. What I found in this stage was that once the dance was stripped of its context (as a reflection of the song’s verse structure and the general concept of harmony), feedback from viewers became much more focused on implied images, abstract narratives, and potential symbolic meanings of the dance as a whole. This was particularly interesting to me, but what was I to do with that information?
This January, I picked up working on the quartet again with 3/4 of my original cast, but this time I approached it with a much different focus. My primary considerations/questions in shaping this final version of the piece are:
1) Evolutionary psychology tells us that human beings over-read causality. That is – we perceive significance or intentionality within random events, but we don’t perceive randomness within events that were caused by an intentional agent. This is an evolutionary advantage, but a side effect of this phenomenon is our human tendency to hold superstitions. How can we conceptualize audience perception according to this theory? Given that viewers will assume a choreographer has some message or point of view they’re trying to get across, perhaps a dance can still hold meaning if the choreographer actively avoids formulating any organizing message. What needs to happen in order for a dance to be perceived as profoundly meaningful (in the absence of any intentional meaning)?
2) How can a choreographer handle the exploitation of emotionally charged images (for the above purpose) without inadvertently adopting a central message? In practice, how can such images be alternately encouraged and disrupted such that significance can arise from chaos?
3) One way that I tried to encourage the illusion of meaning was through a provocative title. I’m perhaps a bit too emotionally attached to the title that I chose for this piece for a few different reasons:
- I took the phrase that makes up the title from a longer quote by an author whom I greatly admire, Sam Harris. What I like most about Sam Harris is his unique way of nonchalantly throwing out bold and provocative statements followed by an airtight argument. What happens when there is the bold statement without the argument? I suppose this was me setting a bar for myself.
- I first conceptualized the title as a window onto what preoccupied my mind during the creation of the piece. In the same way that an improvisation where both people are dancing the same prompt gives rise to moments of synchronization, perhaps a text phrase can run parallel to a dance and imply some synchronized emergent meaning.
- Perhaps more important than the title’s text (for me on a personal level) is the knowledge that there are more things left unsaid, characterized by the inclusion of the word “and” from the original quote. What happens when a word is highlighted as being the most important (through being spoken by performers), yet simultaneously stripped of its context? Confusion? Emergent symbolism? Something else?
4) One way that I’ve tried to disrupt the strict structure and form that I’d originally created for myself is by allowing myself to draw from many (perhaps unrelated) influences to create an internal collage of images, emotions, and intentions for the performers. At what point does such an approach becomes so distracting that any emergent meaning disappears? For our cast, this point came when we tried to add a layer of text that presented a more explicit manifestation of what we had been working with (our internal collage).
The jury is still out on everything else.
If you’re in the Columbus area April 10-12, 2014, make sure you come out to see the OSU Dance Spring Concert: “Sneak Peek” in our brand new Barnett Theatre!
1813 N. High St
For more information, visit dance.osu.edu