5 Strategies To Help You Adapt to Any Choreographic Process
One choreographer wants to explore ideas through improvisation; another demands quick pickup of specific steps. One might demonstrate ideas physically; another may rely on language and gestures imbued with feeling. Puzzling out how to thrive in ever-changing creative environments is an ongoing practice, but a little preparation and the right mindset can go a long way.
Yusha-Marie Sorzano. Photo by Chris Cameron
Demote Inner Critics
Moving past internal expectations and fantasies of instant perfection expands your ability to participate in generating work. "It's okay if you don't get it at first," says Yusha-Marie Sorzano, who dances with Camille A. Brown. Repeating phrases over time, or even getting some distance from them, can help material start to feel natural, Sorzano says. Letting go of expectations can take some anxiety out of the learning experience.
Build the Right Warm-Up
Finding an individualized pre-rehearsal routine is key. "If I were talking to my college-age self, I'd tell her to solidify a personal warm-up much sooner," says Megan Wright, a dancer with Stephen Petronio Company. Before every rehearsal, Wright works through what she calls a "nondenominational" series of exercises ranging from push-ups to tendus. Taking as little as 20 minutes to make her own movement choices and ready her mind and body to move outside the pathways of any one technique is especially helpful in an unfamiliar process, she says.
Megan Wright, Photo by Marica Kolcheva
Do Your Homework
Ballet Hispanico dancer Jenna Marie Graves found out early in her career that she needed to spend time after rehearsal writing notes from the day, repeating phrases and reviewing video. "The harder I worked at home," she says, "the easier and less stressful it was in rehearsal." Once the choreographer had finished making new material, that extra work gave her more freedom. "I had a chance to really investigate and grow through the movement without thinking of what the next step was."
Weigh the Trade-Offs
Having a firm idea of what you want from an experience can help take the sting out of otherwise frustrating aspects of a choreographer's work style. "I get really headstrong and resistant when I feel like the room is tipping into a nondemocratic place," says Wright. "I've had to remind myself: What are the larger reasons I'm here?" It might be as transactional as good pay or international travel. Or it might be a desire to work alongside dancers who help you grow, or a strong belief in a choreographer's product, if not her process.
Nathan B. Makolandra. Photo by Morgan Lugo, Courtesy LADP
Know Your Power
"You only have so much control, and sometimes you have to go along for the ride," Sorzano says. That doesn't leave you powerless, however. Nathan B. Makolandra, a dancer with L.A. Dance Project, recalls a time at The Juilliard School when he struggled with partnering in a new work. Physical pain from the proposed choreography led him to resist the vocabulary of the piece altogether. "I internalized the frustration I was feeling until I was too angry to participate," he says. Now, Makolandra has a more empowered mindset. Choosing to be less attached to material generated early on and striving to keep his mind open to choreographers' different practices allows him to continuously work on being a more generous collaborator.
In the end, a difficult process can make performing that much more rewarding, Wright says. "Dancers have all the agency in the world once that curtain goes up."
Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.
But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.