Making Dances

Choreography: The Messy Juxtaposition Of Aesthetics

Sophia Lee in In Tandem, Photograph by Bruce Monk.

                        Sophia Lee in In Tandem, Photograph by Bruce Monk.

I’ve known Peter Quanz since our ballet training years at Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet Professional Division. I have always admired Peter for his courage as a choreographer in taking on supreme artistic challenges and creating inventive, thought-provoking art. It has been a joy to see Peter succeed in what is an incredibly demanding and difficult career path.

I was thrilled that Peter agreed to share with 4dancers readers a bit about his life-changing adventures; his passion and drive for creating cutting edge choreography; and of course, his lovely humanity in connecting with artists across vastly different disciplines and languages. We spoke for about an hour over Skype while he was on a break from rehearsals.   – Karen Musey


Dancers of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. Photograph by John Hall.

Dancers of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. Photograph by John Hall.

KM You have had an illustrious career and have explored many different avenues of work as a choreographer. What has prompted you to branch out?

PQ I’m very excited that I’ve been working as a choreographer now for over 20 years. And that has given me an incredible life, with experiences that I’d never expected I would encounter. I’m looking forward to more.

I’ve really tried to choose projects that scare me. If I don’t face a project in sheer terror with the feeling of “I’m not skilled enough for this”, then there’s an excitement that’s going to be missing.

KM You make bold choices and continually seek out opportunities to collaborate – how have these different experiences informed your perspective as a choreographer?

PQ I am currently collaborating with Montréal Danse for the creation of a new piece. To spark the creative genesis of the piece, Artistic Director, Kathy Casey proposed a question to me – “How would you make a dance if you didn’t consider the audience?”. That flummoxed me, because for me, one of my hang ups is trying to gauge what an audience is going to relate to. But if you always try to make something an audience will like, soon you will end up only sitting in the audience with them.

We started out with an initial two week rehearsal period. We spent the better part of it figuring out different ways of connecting as a group of people, when I suddenly realized that what was most interesting about this collaboration was the bond that we had as a team. The idea became how to find a way to create a social connection with the audience: essentially, a “social experiment”.

Photograph by Jean-Matthieu Barraud.

                                  Photograph by Jean-Matthieu Barraud.

We are now building a durational production where the whole audience is animated the whole time through technology. They will be using their phone and their signals will be turned on. We are playing with people’s connection to their phones. We are seeing the phone as an extension of their bodies, as an extension of themselves. We are playing with the idea of how we can be drawn together through this immediate technology while not getting so disconnected from ourselves physically that it ceases to be dance.

KM An interesting paradox.

PQ Oh it’s been fantastic! We are finding ways of using the phones to show us our bodies and our movement in ways you can’t see in a normal performance. We are using video that is taken live, utilizing different perspectives to see parts of an image; using the settings on the phone to both create light or diminish what you see in an image. This is how we build “community” in this performance; and we risk in being brought close together with an audience in an artistic relationship, which is very exciting.

No one on our team has ever done a project like this. We are learning how to define what is happening without over defining things, because this choreography is not about steps. One of our dancers coined the phrase “aesthetic of the situation”.

I’m interested in revealing how artists think in spontaneous ways, how they make choices based on their knowledge of movement and performance; I’m curious about dancers themselves being the vulnerable material from which our experience emerges.”

The work with dancers I have in Montréal requires a sensitivity to an ever shifting relational dynamic – between the artist, their relationships to technology and the structure we have all defined as a group. In contrast with that process, I’ve gone off to work with very classical ballet companies setting choreography that is highly determinate of the music and relates closely to architectural structures in movement, which of course has to be very precise.

KM What are you currently creating with your company, Q Dance?

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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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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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Language And Motion: An Elegant Relationship

re|dance

RE|Dance Group, photo by Cole Witter

by Michael Estanich

As a dance artist I strive to build connections—between viewer and dancer, between music and action, between image and feeling. For me, moving is the purest way to do that, though its purity needn’t be exclusive. At RE|Dance Group, I develop work that explores the limitless range of human feeling. In order to accomplish this, I stack a variety of images atop each other in the hopes of crafting a multi-sensational experience for the audience. Because all of my senses so beautifully intertwine allowing me to feel deeply and experience life, I welcome all sensorial images into my work. I rely on the audience’s willingness to dispel tradition and embrace curiosity.

Text and visual design collide with movement in all of RE|Dance Group’s work. I create fully realized worlds where every action, sound, and visual carries important information in understanding the whole. I find that these multiple entry points invite the viewer to lean forward and feel.

I enjoy memories and remembering. There is visceral pleasure in retelling something from the past. To me, words and action are undeniably linked. I enjoy how memories translate in my body—through action and in words. I enjoy the process of connecting what I hear to what I see. It is remarkable how willingly the mind catches on and constructs truth and understanding when we engage with all of our senses.

RE|Dance Group, photo by Robert Roser

RE|Dance Group, photo by Robert Roser

There is comfort in language. We rely on it to let others know how we feel and what we need. To use language to share a part of myself seems so natural. To juxtapose language with motion excites me. Both together enrich the possibility to understand and to feel. This notion is important to me. I want the audience to know that we are complex, that we are moving, hearing, speaking, smelling, tasting, feeling beings and that they can recognize a part of themselves in a singular, special moment inside my work.

With that goal in my mind, I use whatever medium most potently communicates the idea—be it a sly, organic dancing trio, a cacophony of sound, a massive large-scale visual sculpture, or a simple connection through language. Each on their own is powerful art, but combined they produce a complex aural and visual landscape where, as an artist, I get lost in the beauty of my imagination.


See RE|Dance Group perform “It’s About Love Again This Year” at Links Hall, March 6-8 2015. Learn more about the company on the website.


Michael HeadshotMichael Estanich (Artistic Director, RE|Dance Group) is an Associate Professor of Dance at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He teaches modern dance, composition, dance pedagogy, movement analysis and dance history. He earned his MFA from The Ohio State University and his BFA from Denison University. His creative research currently examines ideas of space, architecture, landscape and habitation often resulting in dances supported by sculptural environments. He and Lucy formed RE|Dance Group in 2009 as a means to explore long distance collaboration. Michael’s performance credits include Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak, Cerulean Dance Theatre, Rebecca Rosen, Melanie Bales, Bebe Miller and a reconstruction of Mark Morris’ acclaimed choreography All Fours. He teaches annually at the Trollwood Performing Arts School in Moorhead, MN and at the American College Dance Association (ACDA). He is the North Central Regional Director of ACDA.

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The Bliss & Pitfalls Of Making The Ultimate Solo: A Group Therapy Session For Choreographers

by Jamie Benson

Lights come up on a lone figure, the one burdened with putting a trance over a packed house of smart phones. It’s a tall order to be sure. You don’t just have to dazzle, you have to captivate, ooze an indisputable it-factor that dares an audience of TV brains to look away, as if they could. The best/worst part is that you probably put yourself in the position to be this dance mystic. It’s your fault.

It’s your solo after all.

In an attempt to simplify my life as a choreographer (Ha!), I recently dove headfirst into the idea of making new solos. This was after previously doing a lot of ensemble pieces. It’s more freeing and more terrifying than ever. You’ve been there right? (Or will be.) Let’s have some group therapy real quick and see if we can come out the other end a little wiser, a little more capable of entrancing our next packed house. Game? Good.

JBenson1

Photo by Stacey Adams.

Potential Pitfall: How Does It “Read” (a.k.a Do I look nuts?)

It can be tricky to clearly represent the source of whatever emotion one is exploring as a soloist and harder to suss out how it might “read” to an innocent audience-goer. There’s a more immediate response when working with other performers. They laugh when it’s funny, look at you cross-eyed when it’s too complicated or unintentionally awkward, and so on and so forth. As audience members, we’ve all experienced that performance where a soloist goes from poised dancer to insane person in seconds flat. As choreographers we think we know how something looks from the outside because we feel it so deeply. But as an audience member, one can become perplexed and feel alienated really fast if there’s no immediate access point, such as a topical reference, a common emotional gesture, something. Even if we deliberately create space for the audience to make their own choices about what we’re doing, our job is still ultimately to communicate something through movement.

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Closer To The Edge Of Dance – Zephyr’s Michelle Kranicke

Michelle Kranicke. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Michelle Kranicke. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Assistant Editor Rachel Hellwig interviews Michelle Kranicke from Zephyr – a Chicago-area experimental dance company that has been around for over 20 years…

What inspired you to start Zephyr?

I was very young when I started Zephyr so the reasons behind why I founded the company don’t really resonate with Zephyr’s current aesthetic and mission.  What is more important to me right now is what inspires me to continue.  And that is my continued fascination with creating work, dance specifically, and trying to push beyond known ideas and preconceptions about what the art form can be.

 

What’s it like to be artistic director, choreographer, and performer all at once?

I have been all three for so long I guess I am not sure what it is like to not be artistic director, choreographer and performer all at once.  I think the roles of director, choreographer, and performer are linked, each having their own specific requirements and priorities.  For example, in my role as director I try to make sure that both Zephyr’s productions and its education work are an extension of the company’s mission.  To that end I try to make sure company class is structured so that dancers are not only learning technique, but also developing an innate understanding of Zephyr’s aesthetic so that when I am working as a choreographer the performers I am working with have all the tools they need. Regarding Zephyr’s long history of arts integrated education programming, working with schools and students using movement and the creative process to access knowledge and understanding, Zephyr trains its teaching artists in the same clear detailed manner with which its aesthetic is presented.  As far as my performer self, that is often the most straightforward role, and one where I am deeply connected.

 

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Process Focused Thinking In The Dance Classroom

PSM V26 D768 Brain of gauss
by Janet Rothwell

As a choreographer and dance educator, process is very important to me. It is through my creative process that I problem solve and create various products. My process can vary depending on the task at hand or even on how I feel in the moment. Any changes in my process are usually reflected in the product outcome as well. One example of how changing my process can be helpful is when I am choreographing a work and I do not want it to look or feel like the last piece I created. Changing my process can help me to create new movement and fresh ideas.

In order to teach my students about the value of process I give them many assignments where they have built in time to explore and play. I also have them reflect on their process answering questions like: How did you go about learning a movement sequence? How did you work within your group on a project? How did you approach the creation of your movement?

I often have students work in small groups on various choreography assignments. The most recent project I gave them was to create a short choreographic study based on initiating movement from certain bones in their body. The main goals were for students to learn the names of the bones, where they were located, and how it feels to move from those bones in their body.

The assignment included a rubric which required students to use specific choreography tools and a required length of counts for the whole dance. Often time when I give an assignment like this with a clear rubric of expectations, students look at the list of what the dance must include and work towards this end goal first instead of taking the time to experiment and play with movement ideas. I have to remind them that I’m giving them many days to work on the project to include the process of discovering the movement they want to use and they have time to change their minds and let the dance evolve. I use many analogies like when you create movement and choreography with your group you are writing in pencil not pen so as you go on if you don’t like something simply erase it and make a change.

The majority of the classes that my high school students take are very product focused and students can either be right or wrong with their product. It can be very challenging for students to shift their perspective in my class and linger in the process focused perspective as a means to create and problem solve. In dance class with a creative assignment there is not one way to do anything right so there are many right answers and what I try to teach my students is that I want them to discover what they feel is the best and right answer for them. They discover this through their process.

Having an emphasis on the process rather than the product does not mean that I do not care about the end product. On the contrary, I think that when the process is more fulfilled the end product is also more likely to be fulfilled and realized in a deeper way. The way we go about getting to an end product is through various paths and that we honor the paths we try out and discover what each one has to offer. Students edit and revise more while focusing on process in order to create the product.

As students embrace this mind set I see a shift in the quality of their work and their work ethic. In a world of instant gratification and product focused thinking it is becoming more and more important that we teach young people to value the process, the how we get to an end goal. Teaching students to be process focused can have great implications in many areas of their lives and help them to problem solve in creative ways. I hope to help my students become creative problem solvers and leaders in the world they live in.


dancer posing upside down

Janet Neidhardt

Contributor Janet Rothwell has been a dance educator for 10 years. She has taught modern, ballet, and jazz at various studios and schools on Chicago’s North Shore. She received her MA in Dance with an emphasis in Choreography from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and her BA in Communications with a Dance Minor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Throughout her time in graduate school, Janet performed with Sidelong Dance Company based in Winston-Salem, NC.

Currently, Janet teaches dance at Loyola Academy High School in Wilmette, IL. She is the Director of Loyola Academy Dance Company B and the Brother Small Arts Guild, and choreographs for the Spring Dance Concert and school musical each year. Janet is very active within the Loyola Academy community leading student retreats and summer service trips. She regularly seeks out professional development opportunities to continue her own artistic growth. Recently, Janet performed with Keigwin and Company in the Chicago Dancing Festival 2012 and attended the Bates Dance Festival.

When she isn’t dancing, Janet enjoys teaching Pilates, practicing yoga, and running races around the city of Chicago.

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