As Choreographer Challenge II gets under way this coming week I wanted to do a brief article about choreographic intention in tap dance. As defined by Webster intention is the thing that you plan to do or achieve : an aim or purpose. In tap dance the choreographic intention that is almost always the driving force is the music and how this musicality informs the dancing. This happens so often, and for very good reason. We hear a rhythm, a groove, a melody, phrasing, dynamic choices, and stylizations of music that inspires us to use certain vocabulary in our dancing to blend with the choices of the musicians. So this begs the question does this make us a choreographer or a musical arranger? What other forms can intention take in tap choreography and can another intention ever take precedence over the musical intention? What flow or order does your intention take? I think that these are complicated questions, that deserve pause and thought by all of the choreographers who are thinking of entering into this challenge. Here are some other points of intention to think about when you are creating your new work as I share some examples of my process in choreography.
HISTORY FOLLOWED BY MUSIC
Another way to inspire your work is tap dance's rich and bold history. Choosing to frame your dance in the work or style of one of tap dance's great artists will allow for you to give your work context and also pay homage to the great dancers of our history. For my piece that I choreographed on SYTYCD last year I decided that I wanted to make the dance an homage to the great dancers of Hollywood Film. I used influences, pieces of vocabulary, concepts, props, and performance qualities of several dancers to make this piece. Influences included Bill Robinson, The Nicholas Brothers, The Miller Brothers and Lois, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, and Eleanor Powell. These decisions made all prior to picking out the music and the dancers studied these dancers meticulously in rehearsal. The result was one of the stronger dances I have created for this show and this was all because I allowed the history before the musical choices.
MUSIC FOLLOWED BY HISTORY
In the short film that Ayodele and I made last year The Text, we followed this example. In the actual choreographing of the steps we made this piece just based solely off of the beautiful music of Oscar Peterson. Ayodele and I spent over a year in the studio tinkering with the melodies, phrasing, and sophistication of Oscar’s arrangement of Cheek to Cheek. We decided that we wanted to make the dance into a short film but we didn’t know how we would do it. Upon much reflection and collaboration we arrived at a “historical” conclusion. Both of us were inspired to start tap dancing by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, we would select a era specific ballroom to shoot the dance in, shoot the dance in one take and aspect ratio of those films, and stylize the look of the film to match a Fred and Ginger movie of the 1930’s RKO Studios. The dancing and steps are totally and absolutely “music driven” however the sentiment and stylization is historical. Which one comes first in your process matters and will arrive you at a different conclusion.
EMOTION FOLLOWED BY MUSIC
I am currently working on a new short dance film that is titled, the inneR piecE. This piece is being made for film but is being discovered through improvisation in live performance. I have currently performed the live version at Soul to Sole Tap Festival and 25 LIVE at Dancerpalooza. This particular piece was born out of my need to deal with some deeply personal issues. I was struggling with them in my life and for me the best therapy is to set the struggles I have down in the dances that I make. This led me to two beautiful pieces of music, Maria by: Oscar Peterson and Threnody by: Goldmund. The music spoke to the nature of my emotion and in live performance I gear the scope of my intention as an improviser based on these specifics emotional thoughts. How they manifest themselves in movement and in sound is the surprise element of the piece. I am hoping to use the recordings of both of these performances to create the choreography that surrounds this short film. I am excited for this project because I am allowing my intention to flow in an order it ordinarily would not flow. Typically I would allow the music to dictate what steps I choose and how I phrase them. What steps and phrasing I choose would dictate my emotional feeling. In this case, I already feel what emotion the piece requires me to feel, and I allow this to filter through the musical choice and steps that I am choosing. I can’t wait to film this in December and share it with you all next year. It might be terrible and it might be the worst thing I have ever made. The prospect of changing the scope, order, and nature of my process excites me. Remember this in those moments when you feel stuck in your own choreography. Try something in a different order, with a different approach, or something you wouldn’t ordinarily do. You will be so excited by the results even if they are not the greatest and most likely you will no longer be stuck and find a route to an exciting piece of choreography!
LINK TO PERFORMANCE FROM DANCERPALOOZA!
So what is your intention behind the choreography that you create? What flow or order does your intention take? Contribute to the conversation on our Facebook page and try your hand out in Choreographer Challenge II…If you have a thought, if you have an urge, or if you have the desire to be a creative person…you should act on that today and not wait for anyone to tell or give you the permission to be creative. It is your right as a human being and as an artist! Go Forth with Intention and Create! -AM