Does Choreography Need to Have Momentum?

December 19, 2009

I just saw a performance that had everything going for it except one thing. It had interesting movement, a sense of humor, terrific music (on tape), a fascinating diversity of dancers, a beautiful visual setting (with hundreds of sparkling bottles of water), amazing lighting, and a strong cultural concept (the similarities between the Mississippi and Congo Rivers). The missing ingredient? Momentum. Every time a little dancing started, whether it was a duet, a solo, or group sequence, I thought, “Now something will happen.” But the something never happened.


I’m talking about
The Good Dance—Dakar/Brooklyn,
a collaboration between Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group and Andréya Ouamba from the Republic of Congo, which just finished up at BAM this weekend. Part of the problem was that the first few minutes were invigorating both in the dancing and the structure of presenting the dancing. But after Reggie Wilson came on to tell us about the piece, the physical energy dissipated. Wilson has a laid-back charm as a speaker onstage, and he modestly limited his own dancing to mostly shadowing others. But for me, the moment-to-moment excitement of the beginning never returned.


The seven other dancers were fabulous. It was hard to tell which of them were Wilson’s and which were Ouamba’s group, Compagnie 1er Temps. Each dancer had something wonderful about them. But I kept thinking that each little bit of movement was going to build into a real phrase, or a real group section. I was waiting for the kinetic sparks to fly again. 


In painting, when something doesn’t have enough visual solidity, they say it doesn’t have “mass.” I think in dance, the equivalent would be momentum. Since the basic building block of choreography is human energy, you wait for that energy to hit its stride. I don’t need something to burst into choreographic flames, but I need to feel some sort of accumulation.


Even quiet pieces or small pieces can have momentum. I guess I’m just talking about something that draws you in and holds your attention for a while, something that fulfills its promise.


The soundtrack of
The Good Dance
(songs from the African diaspora including Aretha Franklin) was worth listening to, and I think it roused the audience and helped them give the evening a very warm response.


Maybe it’s just my own need to experience something that “clicks” in either a kinetic or a theatrical way. I like to think that I arrive at a performance with a clean slate, open to whatever the choreographer is showing. But last night I realized that I do have at least one expectation, and that is momentum.