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My Summer Choreography Workshop

Victoria Leigh

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Moderators' Note: This thread was originally on the Moms and Dads forum. It is now complete, and I thought that Young Dancers should read it too, so I copied it over here. :)


As an aspiring choreographer and Treefrog's daughter, when I saw the thread about student choreography, I wrote to Ms. Leigh asking if I could have permission to post about the choreography workshop that I am doing at my school. Here is my description:


The workshop that I am participating in is a basic choreography workshop. Over the course of 6 weeks (12 sessions, plus several hours a week of open studios to rehearse in) we are covering many of the different aspects of choreography. We have had two sessions and so far we have covered some of the very basics, like learning about symmetry and asymmetry. We have also talked a little about music and a lot about motivation and where choreography comes from. We have weekly assignments, that we choreograph on the other students participating or a few "guinea pigs" (dancers who aren't participating as choreographers) and we also have small assignments in class. Every two weeks we will videotape our biggest and best assignments. So far we have done 16 count movement phrases, first just "dance arrangement" which is putting familiar steps together, and then transferring that into "choreography" by making the movements our own. We have also made shapes that corresponded to a poem by William Blake, and we have explored the way bodies react to different emotions by imagining different scenes and seeing where we felt it. We have also chosen our own longer length poems to make dances to.


Over the course of the next few weeks we will cover props, rhythm, cannon, working with composers, working in spaces other than a normal rectangular area, and several other things. We will also talk about other things as they come up, and questions are fired out, both by our teachers and by the students. At the end of the session, we will each chose 1 or 2 assignments that we would want to expand on and we'll work on setting those to be performed at a friends and family showcase at the end.


Our teachers are the Artistic Director of the school and our modern teacher. Each of them also has their own small company in the Chicago area and both of them are, in my opinion, wonderful choreographers. They also have ideas in the long term, for us to keep working on these throughout the year and maybe stage a short piece by someone at next year's recital.


The information we are using for the workshop, in terms of definitions and some of our assignments, comes from "The Art of Making Dances" by Doris Humphrey. I've never looked through it, but it seems like a great book and I'm hoping to get myself a copy for home.


I'm sorry this is so long, but I think I've covered just about everything. I hope this helps give people some idea of what's out there.



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Dolphingirl, this is wonderful! I am just delighted to hear that this kind of work is being done somewhere! Thank you for posting this, and I hope you will add to this thread each week and tell us what you are learning, and about your own choreography too! This sounds like such a great workshop and a wonderful opportunity to begin exploring the art of choreography!!!

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This sounds absolutely wonderful! Commend your teachers for offering you such an enriching experience!


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Dolphingirl, you are indeed fortunate! Isn't it interesting how things turned out for you this summer?;) This workshop sounds so well thought out and promising. I only wish we could all be there to see what you're doing...maybe someone you know has a webcam?:)


I am so impressed with the quality of your program's offerings and, a bit jealous too. I would love for my own daughter to have such an opportunity someday. :cool:


Please do continue to tell us about your work, as Ms. Leigh suggested - it really would be so interesting to hear your thoughts and descriptions of the creative process throughout its stages.

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The school is The Hyde Park School of Ballet, a small school in Chicago. It's in the same neighborhood as the University of Chicago, if that helps at all. The Artistic Director is August Tye, whose company is called Tyego Dance Project.


Over the next few weeks I will post more about my choreography and the program itself. If you want to find out more about Ms. Tye and the school and also a little about the choreography program, you can check out the website. The address is www.hydeparkschoolofballet.org



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Since several posters seemed to want to hear more about my program, here is my weekly update for this week:


Since every two weeks we video tape our assignments, we only had one day of learning new material and we spent the other day practicing and polishing our assignments. This week we learned about music and we had one of our pianists, who is also a composer and works with dancers, come in and talk with us about how to choose music, how to work with choreographers, and lots of other stuff. He told us about his experiences working with choreographers and dancers and gave us a chance to use him to practice working with a composer on composing for a dance.


He also showed us some really cool tricks for extending the lenghth of a piece. He had me take two dancers and give them a small movement that could be repeated over and over again, moving around the room. He had the other dancers each make up 10 seconds worth and then fit those all together, so the 30 second total would repeat over and over again. He then put the two together, to show that even though it's the same movement being repeated over and over again, since the two phrases aren't always at the same place at the same time, it looks different every time. He also had us do an across-the-room combination, where we each made two counts of movement. It turned out that our combination was in 6 counts, but when the he played the music he had composed, one time he played it in 8s. That was really fun to watch.


He gave us a lot of suggestions for how to find music and several tips too. He suggested that you not choose famous, well-known music, because often it will result in the audience associating the music to something else than what you wanted it to. It might also lead the audience to just listen to the music and not pay as much attention to the dance.


Since this post is getting long, I'm going to do another post about my thoughts while working on my poem piece and more descriptions about what that's about...

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I said a little about the spoken word pieces that we did, but since those have been our biggest, most complete project so far, I'm going to describe that in a little more detail.


We started out by talking about the different kinds of sound that you can have with your dance- "music", familiar sounds like a train whistle, clapping or stomping and other sounds made by the dancers onstage, words... the list could go on for a long time. We had to use spken words, specifically poems. We each chose a poem and we were allowed to change it and add and take out things if we wanted. In my excitement to start choreographing, I didn't take down the name of the poet for mine, but it was a very sad poem about someone who's depressed and people keep bothering them about it, but they say they're fine anyways.


One of the things I tried to be careful about was to not follow the words too literally. I do at the end of the poem, where the words I added were "they think I am holding back a secret. Maybe I am" I had my dancer run forwards, motioning her arms as though she were spilling out her heart. Then I had her bring her finger over her lips, in a "shh" position and sink down to her knees and bury her face in her hands. The rest of the time, I tried to stay very open and have the movement reflect the whole idea of the poem, not the words exactly.


One of the things I focused a lot on was how I feel when I'm sad, where in my body I feel it. I especially feel it in my stomach, so there are several times in the dance where my dancer does a brighter, happier movement, then stops abruptly and clutches her stomach. Another thing was the feeling that as much as you try to move forwards, you are always moving back, in terms of trying to be happier. I came up with a fabulous movement to portray this. I had the dancer start in the Downstage left corner and scurry diagonally (to upstage right), sort of parallel bourres, while reaching forwards as though she were trying to pull her self the other direction with a rope, hand over hand. It came out looking really cool.


Once I came up with all the movements, I had to figure out where during the movement to put the words, so that I could get it all in. We were also allowed to set music to it. I discovered that if I read the poem without other sounds behind it, the dance lost meaning, because it was too empty, too quiet. I also discovered that I had the perfect version of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, which fit perfectly. So I had that playing in the background and I read the poem over it, while the dancer did the movement. It came out incredibly well.


I'll post more next week about the new assignments we have and what I'm doing. We're starting to get into doing pieces with music and larger things, so for next week I need to pick two or three pieces that I'm interested in choreographing to. I'll post more about what I choose also!



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Thank you so much for your very well written and interestign posts!:) :cool: I want you to know how much I appreciate you rtaking the time to describe in so much detail what you've been doing and learning in your course - I am sure it will be quite inspiring for others who are interested in learning to choreograph. Obviously, it seems to me annyway, that you have a background in music - is this so?


I wonder if any of our "resident" Ballet Talk choreographers are reading this?:)


Now, I just want to have your teacher install a webcam!


Keep us posted!!

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Thank you, Dolphingirl! That was lovely, and very interesting. I'm going to post a note on this topic in YD and tell them to come here to read this!

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Here's this week's update:


I'm going to have a very hectic week ahead. On Friday, we learned about rhythm and also about music. On Saturday, we worked on dynamics and "alternative spaces". We have several big assignments that are due soon!


For rhythm, we talked about three different kinds. Motor rhythm, such as something very regular and like a metronome, i.e. walking. Next is breathing rhythm, which is what it sounds like. Something very natural, like breathing. After that is emotional rhythm. That one is harder to explain, because we didn't actually talk about it. We each made 8 count motor rhythm movement phrases and from there, we also learned about three ways to manipulate a phrase. Several of us set our phrases on two people and then we had the dancers travel across the floor in cannon (one person starting a certain number of counts after the first person). We also did retrograde, which is where the movements are done in backwards order, as if the dancers were put on rewind. The third way we changed the phrase was inversion. For inversion, you make big movements small and smaller movements big, like you've turned them around. It's very interesting to have two people doing inversion at once,one person doing a big movement, like a jump and the other person doing a smaller, close-to-the-ground movement and both things stemmed from the same initial movement.


We also worked chosing music for our final pieces. I chose a Yo-Yo Ma piece from the CD Appelacia Waltz. The piece has always reminded me of butterflies, so I am going to do a butterfly-inspired dance. These are supposed to be solos set on yourself, but since I can't dance because of my hurt knee, I have to find someone else to set it on. The person I had planned to set it on can't make it, so now I have to find someone else! Then, as a challenge, we were assigned a piece of music and dancers to set the dance on. I was assigned 4 minutes of clapping. It is rhythmic clapping, but it gets very tiresome after a while and it will be very hard to set. Luckily I was assigned good dancers who I think will fit the piece well. I just don't have ideas for what I'm going to do.



Saturday was a little easier. We worked on dynamics and how they can change a piece drastically. We each made up a 16 count phrase and performed it four different ways: smooth and flowing, sharp, half of them movements smooth, half sharp, and having one part of your body smooth and one part sharp for each movement. The last one is the hardest, because it takes the most concentration. We also talked about other ways to alter the dynamics, like changing lighting or music. Then came the most interesting part. We took a "field trip" in and around the building, each doing our movement in a different obscure place. I was told to do mine in a narrow hallway, which meant that I had to change angles and put my hands on the wall for support and such.


After that, we paired off and took walks around the neighborhood to chose a place where we wanted to choreograph a dance outside. I chose the local playground. I wanted to do a dance on the swings, but I realized that there was no guarentee that next week, there wouldn't be kids on the swings, or too many kids running around to dance. So I moved it to this little side area with a tree and lots of little grass-shrub things. It's not a very good dance, but I make use of the tree, having the girls dance around it and hide behind it. And it's very fun to be setting something with everyone watching. I only wish I could say the same thing about the dancing:) People look at us when we're dancing down the street or something like that.


I've said a lot for this week! We've just crossed the half-way point and are starting to think about pieces for the final show. I'll keep you updated on those.



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I read your post a few days ago and found it very interesting. You are quite good at describing the experiences you're having. I thought you might like to know there is another thread going on about choreography that you might find worth taking a look at - and hopefully adding to! :cool: http://www.balletalert.com/forum/showthrea...=&threadid=6002 it's called "How to Encourage Choreography" and I thought to myself, "Hmm, I know a place where they're doing this right now." :)

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Here is my latest installment, though, since I am missing one week, there will only be one more after this. The workshop has really flown by!


This was our last weekend really working on the fundamentals of choreography. Next week, the week I'm missing, they are deciding what dances to show at our showcase and then working on polishing them. This week we focused on props, and we also taped our successful assignments.


For props, we had a very tough time! We first talked about how a prop has to have a purpose and how to relate it to what you're doing and such. Then, we were each given a section of newspaper and 20 minutes to create a short dance. I thought about the different things that newpapers could be used for other than reading, and I came up with using it for a blanket. So I did a short dance which was a homeless person who finds a newspaper and trys to read it, but can't and then realizes they can use it for a blanket to keep warm. It wasn't very well developed yet when we had to show them, but it was on a good track.


Next, we had to use the same newspaper, but we couldn't touch it with our hands. That was really difficult. My dance had no particular motivation, aside from having to get it done, which was a mistake. It was very boring and mostly consisted of me sliding along the floor on it (it kept getting stuck!) and stepping and jumping over it. I also planned, to try to start it at the top of my head and move it down by shifting my body around, which involved me first getting it off the floor. I tried to pick it up in my lips and it worked fine, until I had to demonstrate. Then it got all folded up and I burst out laughing because it wasn't working. By then I had everyone laughing too and I straightened it and went on, using my elbows to put it on top of my head, then bending my head to the side so it got caught between my ear and my shoulder, then flapping my arm so it flew up in the air and then down. It was very silly, when I think of it now!


In our third prop assignment, we were allowed to chose anything we wanted from "the stage" which is really just where we store everything and people put dancebags. I chose the bag full of beanie animals that are there for the preballet students and my teacher's daughter to play with or inspire dancing. I did a short dance which involved my pack being too heavy, so I had leave some toys behind. Then I missed them, so I did a short series of "animal poses" to signify remembrance. After that, I picked them all up and threw them above my head, letting them all shower down on me. In my opinion, it wasn't very good. I've definitely done better.


On Saturday, we spent the whole time working on our outdoors dances and then we trooped around the neighborhood, watching and videotaping all the dances. My piece came out quite nicely. I ended it with both girls falling down into the grass-shrub things and they both ended up laughing. I thought that it was a good mixture of dancing and playing, which is what I wanted. I also danced in outdoor dances, which is unusual, since I don't usually perform things on my knee. Both choreographers, worked around it, and they came out nicely. The one I particularly liked was one in which we were on a curved ramp and I started at the top and the other girl started halfway down and then I made my way down to her and we did sort-of synchronized movements, which I'm told looked very cool from the angle the audience was watching from!


As for our two big assignments, I got together with my dancers for those also and worked out about a minute of each. For my "butterfly dance" I really like the beginning, where I'm having the dancer sitting on her knees, away from the audience, and just "breathing" her arms, like she's using her wings for the first time. The dance is supposed to be about growth and growing up. That's why I like the first part; it really is like that, but the second part, after she gets up from the floor, feels like I did it just because I needed movement. I really don't like what I did with it and I'm rethinking what I'm doing, though I don't know if I'll have time. I discovered that it is very hard to count the music I chose, so it's hard to tell my dancer exactly when to do things. I try to find little clues in the music, but sometimes she doesn't hear it exactly the same way I do.


On the other hand, I think what I've done with my "clapping piece" (Which is actually called "clapping" and it's by Steve Reich) is quite good. I decided to start the dance before the music, and the girls get into position and then have a few sets of claps before they start movement. This is another very impossible one to count. I figured out that it is in 6s, but they are so incredibly fast that it is very hard to count. They also aren't exactly regular. Sometimes there's a little break between rhythms, and it should be a 2 count, when it is actually a 1. It's very complicated. But I've done a series of shapes, and then a little movement in seperate directions, and then I had my two dancers switch sides. I'm planning on having them retrograde (reverse) all the movement I've given them so far, but also slow things down, speed them up, change the direction, or make them go down to the floor or jump or otherwise slightly change the phrase. I think it's going to come out really well. I also had fun doing it. My dancers are being great about the fact that I'm not going to be around for a little while and are getting together to rehearse it while I'm away. They are going to have to do massive amounts of work on spacing, as I had them over to my house to choreograph it, and of course, my bedroom isn't nearly big enough. That's also why I didn't put any jumps or anything in it; I didn't want the dancers hurting themselves, or a ceiling falling thorough:)


I think that's about it for this week. I'll post my last post after the showcase and let you know how things turn out and what pieces I show, etc. I'm also looking forwards to choreographing something on my sister while we're on vacation! I'm sure she'll enjoy that, though she might get frustrated with me bossing her around. I think it will be fun though, and if I get anything exciting out of it, I'll post on that too.



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Great work, Dolphingirl! It is fun reading about all this creativity, and you are also doing a fine job of writing about it :) When you have put in your last installment, and the thread is complete, I will copy it to the YD board too. I was going to do it earlier, but then realized that when you added posts I wouldn't be able to get them there. I can only move or copy a whole thread. So, we will wait until it's finished. :)

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