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Take 5 for Your Career: Reeling It In
Choreographers need to be smart in how they showcase work.
A choreographer must be able to show work to presenters and competition judges in a portable format. But creating an effective reel can pose challenges, the biggest being that no single sampling is appropriate for all opportunities. Sometimes you must submit an entire piece, or a collection of excerpts that indicates your range. Sometimes the wording is vague: The American Dance Festival, for instance, simply requests a DVD of recent work.
Those who routinely vet footage urge choreographers to invest in their reels. Make sure you have the tools you need to shoot and edit good video—or hire those who do. “If you’re really serious about touring,” says Walter Jaffe, general manager of the White Bird Dance festival in Portland, Oregon, “you should put aside money to create video that shows off the work.” Here are five tips to keep in mind.
1. Represent your work honestly.
It can be tempting to pursue as many opportunities as you can, especially early on in your choreographic career. But if you edit a video to conform to someone else’s aesthetic, presenters will see through it, or will realize it after they give you a gig. Only pursue the opportunities that fit your particular style. Then, says choreographer Nathan Trice, “you want to ask the presenter what they prefer to see.”
2. Follow the rules.
Once you focus on an opportunity, dig into the details. Are you sending unsolicited work to a presenter? Or applying to a choreography competition? Each probably has specific requirements. Do they give a time limit on the excerpt? Do you only send a sampling of one work, snippets of several works or a complete piece?
Choreography competitions, such as the Joffrey Ballet’s Choreographers of Color Award, or Hubbard Street’s National Choreographic Competition, have detailed requirements. Ignoring guidelines can get your reel tossed without viewing.
3. Include credits and a description.
Don’t omit the details that will give a complete picture of the work. Each excerpt should include credits, date of creation/premiere, full length and contact information, including a web address where more content can be found. Sometimes, a written description (usually a page or less) may be required as well. “It should tie together what they’re seeing on the video,” says Trice. Make sure you edit your description as carefully as you put together your reel. You don’t want a presenter to stumble over it.
4. Don’t edit the reel yourself.
You know your work better than anyone, but that’s why you’re not the best person to edit it. “Have someone who’s not so close to the work make the selection, so they can give you perspective on what they see,” says Trice. “If anything, you want your editor to read your description and then go in and edit. He or she is going to have an outside eye.” Benoit-Swan Pouffer, choreographer and former artistic director of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, adds that dancers or choreographers who know you and care about your work can be ideal editors or, at a minimum, provide useful feedback.
5. Avoid clutter.
Resist the temptation to overedit, add special effects or otherwise clutter up the viewer’s experience of your work. Your reel shouldn’t feel choppy. Let passages develop, and try to achieve some kind of emotional or thematic arc. Says Trice, “A two- or three-minute clip should really be able to give you some feel of the beginning, middle and end. Make clear, clean, basic edits. No spinning, or sparkly stars—all that stuff is unnecessary.” Jaffe also cautions about superimposing music. “Sometimes you see reels with sound that has nothing to do with the movement being shown. That’s not helpful at all,” he says. Stick with music from the work or, in the case of a series of quick excerpts, use music that reflects your movement. Don’t forget the basics, either. Jaffe points out what should be painfully obvious—work that is darkly lit will not show up well on video.
Bottom line, your reel should help the work speak for itself in a way that piques interest. Says Pouffer, “I think the more simple a thing you have, the more truth that comes out. You see what this person is about and what they have to say.”
Lea Marshall is a writer and interim chair of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Dance & Choreography.
It can be hard to focus when Alice Sheppard dances.
Her recent sold-out run of DESCENT at New York Live Arts, for instance, offered a constellation of stimulation. Onstage was a large architectural ramp with an assortment of peaks and planes. There was an intricate lighting and projection design. There was a musical score that unfolded like an epic poem. There was a live score too: the sounds of Sheppard and fellow dancer Laurel Lawson's bodies interacting with the surfaces beneath them.
And there were wheelchairs. But if you think the wheelchairs are the center of this work, you're missing something vital about what Sheppard creates.
"I'm sorry, but I just can't possibly give you the amount of money you're asking for."
My heart sinks at my director's final response to my salary proposal. She insists it's not me or my work, there is just no money in the budget. My disappointment grows when handed the calendar for Grand Rapids Ballet's next season with five fewer weeks of work.
"It just...always looks better in my head."
While that might not be something any of us would want to hear from a choreographer, it's a brilliant introduction to "Off Kilter" and the odd, insecure character at its center, Milton Frank. The ballet mockumentary (think "The Office" or "Parks and Recreation," but with pointe shoes) follows Frank (dancer-turned-filmmaker Alejandro Alvarez Cadilla) as he comes back to the studio to try his hand at choreographing for the first time since a plagiarism scandal derailed his fledgling career back in the '90s.
We've been pretty excited about the series for a while, and now the wait is finally over. The first episode of the show, "The Denial," went live earlier today, and it's every bit as awkward, hilarious and relatable as we hoped.
A Jellicle Ball is coming to the big screen, with the unlikeliest of dancemakers on tap to choreograph.
We'll give you some hints: His choreography can aptly be described as "animalistic," though Jellicle cats have never come to mind specifically when watching his hyper-physical work. He's worked on movies before—even one about Beasts. And though contemporary ballet is his genre of choice, his choreography is certainly theatrical enough to lend itself to a musical.
What is the right flooring system for us?
So many choices, companies, claims, endorsements, and recommendations to consider. The more you look, the more confusing it gets. Here is what you need to do. Here is what you need to know to get the flooring system suited to your needs.
These days, everyone tells you how important it is to be versatile. But what if you're convinced there's just one style that's right for you? It can be tough to balance a deep interest in a single specialty and still meet many choreographers' expectations. Luckily, you don't have to choose between all in or all over the place, as long as you follow your interests thoughtfully.
So far, the fervor to create diversity in ballet has primarily focused on dancers. Less attention has been paid to the work that they'll encounter once they arrive.
Yet the cultivation of ballet choreographers of color (specifically black choreographers) through traditional pathways of choreographic training grounds remains virtually impossible. No matter how you slice it, we end up at the basic issues that plague the pipeline to the stage: access and privilege.
Christopher Wheeldon is going to be giving Michael Jackson some new moves: The Royal Ballet artistic associate is bringing the King of Pop to Broadway.
The unlikely pairing was announced today by Jackson's estate. Wheeldon will serve as both director and choreographer for the new musical inspired by Michael Jackson's life, which is aiming for a 2020 Broadway opening. This will be Wheeldon's second time directing and choreographing, following 2015's Tony Award-winning An American in Paris.
Wheeldon is a surprising choice, to say the least. There are many top choreographers who worked with Jackson directly, like Wade Robson and Brian Friedman, who could have been tapped for the project. Or the production could have even hired someone who actually choreographed on Jackson when he was alive, like Buddha Stretch.
Broadway musicals have been on my mind for more than half a century. I discovered them in grade school, not in a theater but electronically. On the radio, every weeknight an otherwise boring local station would play a cast album in its entirety; on television, periodically Ed Sullivan's Sunday night variety show would feature an excerpt from the latest hit—numbers from Bye Bye Birdie, West Side Story, Camelot, Flower Drum Song.
But theater lives in the here and now, and I was in middle school when I attended my first Broadway musical, Gypsy—based, of all things, on the early life of the famed burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee. I didn't know who Jerome Robbins was, but I recognized genius when I saw it—kids morphing into adults as a dance number progresses, hilarious stripping routines, a pas de deux giving concrete shape to the romantic yearnings of an ugly duckling. It proved the birth of a lifelong habit, indulged for the last 18 years in the pages of this magazine. But all long runs eventually end, and it's time to say good-bye to the "On Broadway" column. It's not the last of our Broadway coverage—there's too much great work being created and performed, and you can count on hearing from me in print and online.
Let's start with the obvious: Over the weekend, Beyoncé and Jay-Z released a joint album, Everything Is Love. Bey and Jay also dropped a video for the album's lead track, which they filmed inside the actual Louvre museum in Paris (as one does, when one is a member of the Carter family). And the vid features not only thought-provoking commentary on the Western art tradition, but also some really incredible dancing.
So, who choreographed this epic? And who are the dancers bringing it to life in those already-iconic bodystockings?
Travis Wall draws inspiration from dancers Tate McCrae, Timmy Blankenship and more.
One often-overlooked relationship that exists in dance is the relationship between choreographer and muse. Recently two-time Emmy Award Winner Travis Wall opened up about his experience working with dancers he considers to be his muses.
"My muses in choreography have evolved over the years," says Wall. "When I'm creating on Shaping Sound, our company members, my friends, are my muses. But at this current stage of my career, I'm definitely inspired by new, fresh talent."
Wall adds, "I'm so inspired by this new generation of dancers. Their teachers have done such incredible jobs, and I've seen these kids grown up. For many of them, I've had a hand in their exposure to choreography."
This week, New York City's Joyce Theater presents two companies addressing LGBTQ+ issues.