Next in line for our series on choreographers is Winifred Haun–a Chicago-area dance maker who has been around a long time…
How did you wind up as a choreographer?
I started choreographing when I was about 7 years old. My 3 year old sister and I made up dances to my parents Beatles albums. Since I was the older one, I mostly told my sister what to do (in the dance and in life) and we made up a series of what we thought were cool moves and called it a dance. Once we had enough dances, we would put on “shows” for family and friends. A lot of people do this type of thing when they’re young, but most grow out of it. I guess I never did.
Choreographers really create something out of nothing. We use the bare minimum of resources; we really only need a body and space to generate art. For me, this is one of the things that makes dance so universal and so accessible. And there are many things that I love about choreographing. I love finding out what’s possible with movement or movement phrases. I love seeing what happens to a whole dance when you make small changes to parts of it. I love being in the studio with dancers. I love learning more about my dancers through the process of making dances with them. I love working with lighting and costume designers. And I love sitting in the audience watching a dance that started out as nothing and has become meaningful to others.
What is your process like for creating a dance?
The inspiration for my dances come from many places: books, visual art, architecture, random movements people make, current events and sometimes music. My process usually starts when an idea, an image, or a movement resonates with me. I’ll get a rush or a feeling that there’s something needs to be expressed. (and this might sound odd, but it always feels to me like the idea comes from outside of me…) The image or idea or movement will swirl around in my head for a while (sometimes for six months or so, one time it was about 3 years). I’ll start some basic research into the idea or create some movement phrases and if the idea keeps presenting itself to me or won’t leave me alone, then I know I have to create a dance.
After that, it becomes about finding the right dancers to work with and developing my ideas in the studio.
How involved do you get the dancers? Do you let them participate in the process or do you prefer to teach the dance and have them perform it? Or somewhere in-between?
Somewhere in between. When I was younger, I used to walk into the first rehearsal for a new dance with the music completely mapped out and all of my ideas in place for how the dance was going to be made and how it would look in the end. Nothing is more terrifying than standing in a studio with one or more dancers looking at you expectantly. So, I felt I had to be choreographically “ready.”
As I matured, I found that some of the best ideas came from the dancers or from things that couldn’t be found or developed outside the studio. (Improvisations in the studio can be extremely productive.) Now when I begin rehearsals, I have a few plans and ideas and 1 or 2 movement phrases but, I let the process unfold more intuitively. The dancers I work with are intelligent, creative, and talented individuals who contribute enormously to the process of making a new dance. I love who my dancers are as people and I love to let their humanity and their individuality show.
How do you select the music you will use?
I like a huge range of different music styles and artists. And I enjoy putting seemingly disparate music choices into one sound design. I also like working with composers and commissioning original sound designs for my dances. (I’d do it all the time, if I could afford it!)
As I mentioned above, when I first began choreographing, the music always came first. The music was my frame and often my inspiration for a dance. In my 20’s, I began to see the work of many different choreographers, and I read essays and books by choreographers like Merce Cunningham, William Forsythe and others. Their intellectual ideas for how to make a dance intrigued and inspired me and I began to realize how limiting it can be to let the music decide how long your dance will be, when breaks in the movement should come, etc.
Now, when I make a work, I begin with the theme or idea or movement and I develop movement phrases, then I’ll structure it, and frame it and then finally I’ll look for music (or a composer) that will express the dance, rather than the other way around.
You mean besides having enough money and time?
The biggest challenge for me is to not rush through the process of creating a dance. I could probably create enough movement for an entire 50 minute dance in about a week. But, to make something that’s significant and worth people’s time and money, its important for me to really fully explore my movement choices and themes and ideas. And its impossible for me to do that honestly in only a week.
What have you been working on lately?
I just finished Vision, Faith, & Desire II: Dancemakers Inspired by Martha Graham, February 6 thru 8 at the Pritzker Pavilion (on the stage, indoors). Audiences got the chance to see artists who’ve been influenced the choreography and technique developed by the 20th century’s most iconic dancemaker. It included an excerpt from my first full length dance, Promise, which has a cast of 18 (9 professional dancers and 9 community dancers of all ages). The opening of the dance includes a series of walks, inspired by Graham walks and the idea of 19th century community.
If you missed it–Vision, Faith, & Desire III: Dancemakers Inspired by Martha Graham will be shown again in Oak Park, IL on Saturday, April 12 at 7:30pm and Sunday, April 13 at 4:30pm.