Choreography 101: What makes a piece of choreography memorable?

December 6, 2009




After the Barnard Project at DTW Saturday night, two of the four pieces stuck in my mind, and the other two quickly faded from memory. Vicky Shick’s
Her Suites
and Brian Books’ Relay
each had a different mood and a distinctive sensibility. But more than that, they had vivid relationships in space. From the first moments of Her Suites, Shick’s separate intimate groups commanded you to look at how each group affected the whole space. Your attention went to how one girl’s face slid down the arm of another girl, or a hand turned a head. Or you looked at how a girl alone served as counterpoint to the group. Or how a certain duet was performed twice, first in isolation and the second time surrounded by two other duets. These moments, plus a sly selection of songs (Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel,” White Stripes’ “Listen to Your Mother”) brought out Vicky’s humor.


In Brian’s
18 people swarmed in a tight group, with one person sliding into or jutting out of the group with surprising timings. They eventually became boisterous, lifting each other with communal awareness. At all times, each individual’s relation to the group was clear. Liz Prince’s yellow, silver, and grey costumes, with occasional glittery garments, helped keep the unity. As with Shick, the clear relationships allowed for moments of humor.


In these two pieces you could see the relationships, partly because the dancers’ focus was clearly on each other. And this gave the choreography the social liveliness of real people gathering in space.


The two remaining works, one by Juliana May and the other by Kota Yamazaki, had isolated interesting movements, and even some infectious energy. But the space between the dancers was never very close or very far. No chances were taken in spatial arrangements or in focus, and there was little sense of real life. So it’s visually hard to call them into memory. I am sure that the Barnard students in these dances had just as much fun/learning/challenge as the students in Vicky’s and Brian’s work. I am only talking about what the audience takes away (and only one audience member at that).


Now I admit, I know Vicky Shick and have danced with her. But I do not know Brian Brooks. I am hoping that my remarks could be a little lesson in how to imprint your choreograph on the mind’s eye. And yet there is no sure-fire way to make this happen. These lessons must be learned on one’s own, in your own individual way—and maybe your goal is not to imprint. But I feel that each choreographer has to keep pushing through to a place where the formations are visually something instead of visually nothing. Granted, that’s hard to do with limited time and space. But it’s worth working toward.