Fresh Choreography Every Time

Untitled photo by "snickclunk". Licensed under CC Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Untitled photo by “snickclunk“. Licensed under CC Attribution 2.0 Generic.

by Janet Rothwell

As a high school dance educator I am responsible for choreographing four or five dances each year for various performances. Although choreography is my favorite aspect of dance, it can be challenging to come up with new ideas, movement, spatial designs, beginnings, endings, and themes each year. As someone who values originality and the creative process, I have realized there are certain things I do to help me stay organized and creative in my work.

Over the years I have adjusted my process to include some staple methods so as to not get burnt out with repeating the same movement or spatial pattern every time I choreograph a piece. I thought I would share these specific parts of my choreographic process that seem to aid me each year as I strive to maintain newness in my artistry.

1. Maintain a choreography journal

My choreography journal is my best friend in my creative process. Not only do I use it daily while choreographing works, but I use it year round to write down ideas that pop up at random times for future works too. I write down music I like or ideas I have for themes so that when I have to create a new dance and I feel uninspired or stuck trying to think of something, I can go to my journal and look at the running list of things I have written.

I find that my choreography journal is extremely helpful for me to remember what is happening in the dances I create with my students. When I’m juggling three or more pieces at once it’s difficult to remember what choreographic elements I have already used with other dances, and since I value being original and unique with my choreography I write everything down in my journal. I make drawings of spatial designs, describe movement ideas, brainstorm titles, take notes on my music, and write down costume ideas. I also make notes on what I want to do for the next day so that when I return to my students I can take a look at my journal and know where we are in the work and in the music.

A choreography journal does not have to be pen and paper either, although I find that’s what works for me. You could use a tablet, your phone, or whatever tool you like to work best in your process. However, I would say that staying consistent is best to keep organized. There is nothing worse than having written down great notes only to have misplaced loose papers or random receipts you wrote them on. I keep an actual journal so that all of my ideas are in one place and easy to find.

2. Pick clear themes and diverse music for each dance

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Dancing Balanchine’s Theme And Variations

Boston Ballet Balanchine

Ashley Ellis and Paulo Arrais rehearse George Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations”. Photo by Lasha Khozashvilli.

by Ashley Ellis

Boston Ballet’s upcoming program is titled Thrill of Contact, and it’s an amazing collection of ballets. Costumes range from Classical tutus to goofy hats—to dancers wearing socks. It’s an ideal program to display Boston Ballet at its best; showcasing the incredible power and range of styles that its dancers can achieve. It features works by Robbins and Forsythe, and a world premiere by Principal Dancer, Jeffrey Cirio.

It also includes George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations.

It is extremely gratifying to push myself to try and achieve the control and precision demanded by Balanchine’s choreography. In addition to the demands of the steps and musicality, there are stylistic details that are important to apply when dancing these ballets. They say that some of these stylistic changes surfaced when Mr. B would ask his dancers to do steps quicker than they were typically executed. Part of the fun of dancing Balanchine ballets is applying these details and “flares” that are particular to his choreography and are part of what makes it unique from that of any other choreographer.

At the moment I am preparing for the iconic Theme and Variations. My first experience with Theme was when I was 15 years old; I was chosen to dance an excerpt from the role for the final show at the ABT Summer Intensive. Although it was just a tidbit of the ballet, the experience really stuck with me. A couple of years passed and I got to be a part of the ballet as a whole, dancing one of the corps spots in ABT’s productions. This time around, I have the honor of dancing the principal role alongside my wonderful partner Paulo Arrais.

In Theme, the female variations are very short, but what it lacks in length is made up for in speed. I feel that my heart already needs to be beating overtime just to make my muscles react with the urgency and briskness needed. At first I found the variations to be intimidating; almost like little packages of anxiety when the music played; your legs and feet required to move so fast—all the while making it look like it’s easy. But as with other parts, you work on it and the steps start to feel more natural—and then you are able to apply the quality—like putting icing on a cake.

Paulo Arrais and Ashley Ellis

Boston Ballet’s Ashley Ellis working on the pas de deux with Paulo Arrais. Photo by Lasha Khozashvilli

The second female variation goes directly into the pas de deux. This is difficult because you are so tired, but it almost doesn’t matter because the music is just so beautiful. I even remember the first time I heard the music during a show with ABT; when it began, my attention was immediately drawn to what was happening on the stage. There is something very unique about it.

I am not an expert on the Balanchine style, or his ballets. What I do know comes from what I have experienced while preparing for and dancing a selection of his wonderful works. His choreography demands a high level of technique and a strong sense of musicality. Both of these details are things that entice me. It is so much about the music, and in turn about the quality of how your execution of the steps embodies that music.

George Balanchine was one of the most influential choreographers of his time. He may even have been the most influential. I always find that I feel something special when dancing his ballets, and because of my long history with Theme, I know that performing this particular treasure will be very dear to me.

Boston Ballet presents Thrill of Contact, a striking program of precision and impressive athleticism featuring works by Balanchine, Robbins, Forsythe, and a world premiere by Principal Dancer, Jeffrey Cirio. It runs from May 14th – May 24th.

Ashley EllisContributing writer Ashley Ellis is a principal dancer at Boston Ballet. Ellis hails from Torrance, California and she received her dance training at the South Bay Ballet under the direction of Diane Lauridsen. Other instruction included Alicia Head, Mario Nugara, Charles Maple, and Kimberly Olmos.

She began her professional career with American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company and later joined American Ballet Theatre as a company dancer. In 1999, Ellis won the first prize at the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Award, and went on to become the recipient of the Coca Cola scholarship award in 2000 and 2001. She has performed in Spain with Angel Corella’s touring group and joined Corella Ballet in 2008 as a soloist. In 2011, Ellis joined Boston Ballet as a second soloist. She was promoted to soloist in 2012 and principal dancer in 2013.

Her repertoire includes Marius Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty; Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker; Natalia Makarova’s  La  Bayadère;  Marius  Petipa’s  Swan Lake; Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse, VIII and Polyphonia; Harald Lander’s Études; Michel  Fokine’s  Les  Sylphides;  Rudolf  Nureyev’s Don Quixote; Christopher Bruce’s Rooster; George Balanchine’s  Serenade,  Coppélia,  Symphony  in Three Movements, Symphony in C, and Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux; Clark Tippet’s Bruch Violin Concerto; Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room; Stanton Welch’s Clear; Angel Corella’s String Sextet; Wayne McGregor’s Chroma; Jorma Elo’s Awake Only; Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free; Jiří Kylián’s Wings of Wax, Symphony of Psalms, and Petite Mort.


The Royal Ballet Dances La Fille mal gardée


Frederick Ashton’s ballet La Fille mal gardée (The Wayward Daughter) is based on an 1828 French ballet, but was inspired by the Suffolk countryside. This is a ballet with both wonderful choreography and a delightful sense of humor. Where else can you see dancing chickens, folk dance, clogging and maypole dancing–all in one performance?

Ballet fans across the country will be able to take in this well-known ballet on May 5th as it shows on the big screen. Find a cinema near you to get a ticket for this classic, danced live by The Royal Ballet.

The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae. Photo ROH, by Tristram Kenton

The Royal Ballet’s Steven McRae. Photo ROH, by Tristram Kenton

Philip Mosley as Widow Simone and Francesca Filpi, Samantha Raine, Vanessa Fenton and Kristen McNally as Clog dancers in The Royal Ballet production of La Fille mal gardÈe. Photo ROH, Tristram Kenton

Philip Mosley as Widow Simone and Francesca Filpi, Samantha Raine, Vanessa Fenton and Kristen McNally as Clog dancers in The Royal Ballet production of La Fille mal gardee. Photo ROH, by Tristram Kenton

Steven McRae. ROH, by Tristram Kenton

Steven McRae. ROH, by Tristram Kenton

Here’s a sneak peek for you as well:

Disclosure: 4dancers accepts compensation for promoting this series


Choreography, Collaboration & Laughter: Margi Cole & Peter Carpenter

Choreographers Margi Cole of The Dance COLEctive and Peter Carpenter of Peter Carpenter Performance Project discuss collaborating on “Rituals of Abundance for Lean Times #14: Curious Reinventions”, a project that explores the concepts of mimicry and imitation.

Photograph by William Frederking.

Photograph by William Frederking.

What first inspired you to collaborate?

Margi Cole: Pete and I go way back, and I have always admired his work as a performer and choreographer. After a very chance conversation about the possibility of me being a performer in his work, it happened, and I had the great pleasure of performing in two of his very recent installments of Rituals of Abundance for Lean Times, the series he is working on. To be blunt, I am totally turned on by working with Pete in the studio, creating movement vocabulary, exploring the use of text and the creative process. As a result of my own experiences, I wanted my dancers to have an opportunity with him too, as I know firsthand how much can be gained from the work. Double bonus: I get to be a co-choreographer and continue to learn as well. It’s an awesome opportunity created by being in the right place at the right time.

Peter Carpenter: Margi and I have known each other as part of Chicago’s dance community for years. In the fall of 2012, she performed in an earlier installment of the Rituals of Abundance for Lean Times series (a series I’ve been working on since 2011), and then last year she invited me to come and do some workshops with her company. Several of her company members are former students of mine (from Columbia College Chicago, where we are both faculty members) so I was excited to work with them. From there we pursued an opportunity via the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events for a produced event at the Storefront Theater. That was about a year ago, and we’ve been in the planning stages of this performance ever since.

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Searching For Swans…

Swan Lake Ballet

Jessika in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Swan Lake. Photo by Lindsay Thomas

by Jessika Anspach McEliece

The dreary landscape stretched out before us as we migrated northward on I-5. Headed to the Canadian border, we were searching for that powdery white stuff they call snow. A ski weekend for him, not so much for me – there’s always the lodge and hot cocoa, right? Sitting in the passenger seat, the scenery seemed to mimic the weariness of my own self, having spent weeks recovering from mono.

And then, in the brown bleakness he saw it. He saw them.

“Hey. Hey babe? Do you see that?” my husband asked me as he drove. “On the left…”

I looked over his shoulder through the driver’s window and across two lanes of traffic to see a field, all white. And no. It wasn’t snow.

Squinting his eyes he continued, “I think… Are those..?”

The little kid leapt out of me as my eyes grew wide with wonder; as my heart began to flutter; as I shouted aloud, “SWANS!”

There they were. A whole field of them. Swans. Dozens of them. Maybe even hundreds. An invisible string tugged tightly on my heart and suddenly my soul felt awake – alive.

“PULL OVER BABE!” I implored. “Seriously. Please. Please?!! We can take that next exit… At the very least drive past them? I just have to see them!”

His eyes smiled at me as he laughed and shook his head.

This invisible string.

This strange connection to these beautiful white birds. Why did I feel so drawn to them? What was it about them that so compelled me? When had this affinity begun?

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The Art Of Tragedy: Giselle

Rachel Malehorn, Davit Hovhannisyan, Luz San Miguel

Davit Hovhannisyan and Luz San Miguel in the studio working on Michael Pink’s Giselle. Photo by Rachel Malehorn

by Rachel Malehorn

Dancers who join classical ballet companies will be a part of the centuries-old tradition of the full-length ballet. These evening-long works not only showcase the brilliance of classical ballet technique, but also set this dancing in a dramatic context with the goal of telling a story. Even an audience member who has no background or understanding of dance can get lost in these stories, and can leave the theater transformed. Dancers spend years of their lives endeavoring to perfect their technique, but sometimes their power as actors and actresses can be overlooked or de-emphasized. The stories our ballets tell are magical, fantastic, romantic, tragic, and sometimes difficult. Throughout my career as a dancer, I have come to love and look forward to the dual opportunity to dance with accuracy—and also to convey the drama of these stories.

As Milwaukee Ballet prepares for its upcoming performances, I have been meditating on two important themes: the process wherein dancers and choreographers communicate the story of a full-length ballet, and the importance of telling these stories—even if they don’t always have happy endings. Romeo & Juliet, Manon, Onegin, Madame Butterfly, and even La Bayadere are classic tales of thwarted love, in which the tragic heroines suffer death or disaster as the price of their love.

But perhaps the epitome of the tragic ballet is Giselle, created in Paris at the peak of Romanticism. In this story, Giselle, a peasant girl, is wooed by Albrecht, an aristocrat in peasant disguise, but is driven to madness and death by the discovery that Albrecht is already engaged to be married to Bathilde, also an aristocrat. When Albrecht visits Giselle’s grave to beg for forgiveness, the Wilis – ghosts of other girls who have died of broken hearts – compel Albrecht to dance himself to death, but Giselle (seemingly inexplicably, and most definitely tragically) saves Albrecht from death and forgives him for his betrayal. At its core, Giselle is chilling, heartbreaking, and achingly beautiful.

Michael Pink’s Giselle

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Hubbard Street 2 Hits the Road: European Tour 2015

Hubbard Street 2

Left: Jugendstil-Festhalle, Landau in der Pfalz. Photo by Andrea Thompson. Middle: Hubbard Street 2 dancers in Aschaffenburg, from left: Katie Kozul, Zachary Enquist, Elliot Hammans, Jules Joseph and Adrienne Lipson. Photo by Andrea Thompson. Right: Sketch by audience member of HS2 performance in Heerlen, the Netherlands, signed by the company. Photo by Zachary Enquist.

by Andrea Thompson

After a whirlwind tour of three central European countries in late February and early March, regular 4dancers contributor and Hubbard Street 2 Dancer Andrea Thompson found a quiet spot and answered some questions about the experience.

Where did you go?

We flew into Frankfurt and drove around Germany to perform in Rüsselsheim, Landau, Aschaffenburg, Idar-Oberstein and Essen. After that we drove across the border to Heerlen in the Netherlands, and then flew to our last stop in Treviso, Italy.

How long did you stay in each city?

Just long enough to arrive and sometimes have a workshop that day, then tech and perform the following day. We stayed longer in Rüsselsheim because we had an acclimation day there when we landed, and we had a day off in Landau as well.

What was a typical day on tour like?

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