Process of Choreography

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The subject of this post has been incredibly elusive to me for many years. How do I choreograph? create from scratch? How do I ensure the movement is mine, and completely mine? How do I best portray what I have set out to portray? Will I be able to justify the chosen subject? Will it look pretentious? What will have a beginning, middle and end? Should there be a narrative? Should it be completely metaphorical?

These are questions I never have the answers to. Every time I set out to create something new, I get stuck at the content itself. It’s suffice to say that I do not have a defined, well carved out process. I have an idea, a feeling, a thought – and I begin to create movement around it. The idea is the core, and everything else extends from it. I have read and still continue to read many books on choreography, hoping that one of them will shed some light on my own process and enlighten me a little. Although they have been of great help in terms of learning and picking up new tools – my process hasn’t really changed much. It’s organic and inspired by gut. I could be lying in bed at night, trying to drift off to sleep, when an idea will strike and I will immediately start creating movement.

I try to keep creating and analyzing separate. When my mind is creating, I let it create. Where is it picking up the vocabulary?  Is the movement in sync with the idea? Will there be music? Am I falling into my comfort zone? Quite honestly, I don’t know. I dwell in the idea for a very, very long time before I decide to act on it. I have to feel as inspired and motivated to work on it as I was when it first struck me. If I don’t, I know that’s not going to be my next piece of work. A few years back, I would impulsively act on every single idea and try to materialize it into a full bodied piece. But now I have realized that every idea is not worth putting sweat and blood into. Sometimes its fleeting and lacks context, but can still feel powerful. So while my mind still creates movement and still tries to find a beginning, middle and end – I have learnt how to let it go.

What is extremely strange is that while my process is organic in my mind, I like to be quite prepared before I enter the studio to engage with dancers. I cannot proceed further if I don’t have a skeleton, an outline or prototype ready. When I allow myself to work on an idea, I let my mind wander as far and wide as possible, picking up things from various sources – people, objects, animals, sounds and feelings. Its like being a highly absorbent sponge – taking in information through all senses. Once I feel I have saturated my mind, the only filter I use to either keep or discard the material is – does it feel right?

Perhaps its not a very rational, scientific filter. A lot of choreographers have a logical, progressive set of questions to filter out material and finally to keep only that which works for the choreography. But for me, somehow this is the only way it works. If it feels right, if my gut says it works, I keep it. Once during a residency, I was asked why I decided to keep a particular movement, I said, “I don’t know. It felt right”

Imagery and visualization help me a lot to get engrossed in the world of the piece. I try to connect it with an image, sound or feeling. It has to be happening somewhere. It has to have a specific fabric. If I am creating a piece about anxiety, I have to put myself in places where it gets triggered most – whether mentally or physically. The fabric comes from soaking in all images that in some way, make the idea clearer. It’s like collage of pictures melting and merging to form one piece of art.

Most of the times when I begin to work on the piece with dancers, I have clarity. I know what I want, I know what I want it to look like. Perhaps that makes me inflexible, but that’s why I give myself enough time and bandwidth to inhabit the idea for so long before I begin work. I tried approaching of my pieces with uncertainty, letting improvisation take the forefront – and I wasn’t very happy. Maybe one needs to trust oneself enough to take that leap of faith, and I consider improvisation to be that leap of faith. Choreographers and artists throughout history who have used it to not just create, but create some of the most dynamic works, have been courageous, from Merce Cunningham to Trisha Brown. When I try to rely solely on improvisation, I fall flat on face because I cannot tap into any bank of vocabulary.

I still feel like I have a long way to go in terms of refining my process. Its still very raw and incomplete, but I can say that I try to learn everyday, not just in the studio but from everything and everyone. I am currently ready a book by Daniel Nagrin, in which he makes a brilliant point, one that I will retain for a very long time – “dance” is not just about danc”ing”, its about everything to which one can attach “ing”. Imagine how limitless the scope then becomes!


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