Elements: The Choreographic Process

By Hailey Arindaeng (’18)

As a dance minor and president of Orchesis Modern Dance Company, I am excited to be in the process of choreographing the finale piece for Orchesis’ student choreographed show, An Evening of Dance. Entitled Elements, my finale piece explores the four natural elements of life. The finale features all 22 members of Orchesis who were divided into four groups: fire, earth, water, and air. The dancers were assigned their elements based on movement aesthetic preferences as well as practical logistics such as providing a variety of class years for mentorship as well as height considerations. The movement will explore the organic interactions that arise between these elements. I was inspired by how nature can coexist in such a breathtaking, peaceful manner that one can observe while hiking a mountain or venturing into a forest ecosystem. However, the elements can also cause unpredictable and alarming natural disasters in the form of devastating hurricanes and monsoons to name a few examples. The overarching movement quality will leverage my personal movement aesthetic of powerful, more angular movement with jazzier undertones. However, the movement and accompanying motifs will also reflect the qualities of each element. Water and air, for instance, will have more sustained and ethereal qualities, while fire and earth will be more percussive and grounded.

Evening of Dance will take place in PBK Theatre March 22-25. In the meantime, I and my fellow company members have been spending many hours in the Adair studio working hard to prepare for the 11 student choreographed pieces.  Our choreographic process is highly collaborative. As student choreographers, we attempt to leverage the unique strengths and styles of each dancer in the piece while also conveying our own personal movement aesthetics. For example, I come from a contemporary and jazz dance training background, and my favorite style of modern is inspired by dance pioneer, Lester Horton. Yet, I seek to feature and highlight each of my dancer’s strengths such as a classical ballet background or lyrical background. In addition to creating a dialogue in rehearsals with our dancers, as student choreographers we are mentored by the Dance Department faculty. We have bi-weekly viewings in which our professors provide feedback as to whether our concepts are coming across to the audience and provide guidance on various choreographic tools to experiment with going forward.  This mentorship allows us to continuously grow and learn as artists who are discovering and refining our artistic voices.

In addition to creating movement for the piece, the choreographic process also includes carefully planning the supportive elements of the piece – the stage lighting and costuming. I recently met with my lighting designer, a 2017 alumna of the College. We discussed my vision for the piece and how I hoped the audience to feel. I conveyed to my designer that I wanted the piece to feel majestic, powerful, and earthy. With her extensive theatre and production knowledge, she is designing the colors, timing, and special effects of the lighting to invite the audience to experience my intended vision.

Extensive thought and planning also goes into selecting costumes for the dancers. The grant from the Charles Center has been used to purchase the costumes for this piece. When selecting the costumes, I kept several considerations in mind. First and foremost, I wanted to choose a style and material that would allow my dancers to feel confident and comfortable while performing. Next, I wanted the colors to reflect each group’s elements – burgundy (fire), olive (earth), white (air), royal (water). Differentiating the colors allows the audience to see the movement quality distinctions between the various elements. Lastly, I considered movement suitability. I have chosen light-weight, mesh, floor-length, fitted tunics. The airy nature of the fabric adds to the majestic aura of the piece, while the form-fitting torso allows the audience to see the sharp, accented shapes throughout the piece.

This will be my third year choreographing for Evening of Dance. However, my first two years I choreographed for 5-6 dancers. Choreographing for the entire company of 22 dancers has been both rewarding and challenging. I have learned that with more dancers, comes many more considerations. The process has challenged me to expand my personal movement aesthetic and choreographic style to suit a company of 22 dancers. My vision continuously evolves and is molded by my dancers’ unique styles. It is exciting to see a ten-minute piece come to life that celebrates the diversity of dance backgrounds in our company. We invite you to see the piece on stage in PBK Theatre in a few short weeks!