Finding Meaning in Choreography

The finale of Orchesis’ Evening of Dance was composed of four sections, which, altogether, chronicled the trajectory of global technological innovation.  Choreographic phrases reflected degrees of technological change, from stability to rapid modernization. I faced both the challenge of conveying industrial progress and idyllic peace to the audience, and also explaining to the dancers how these movements represented my vision. In this blog post I will discuss the inspiration behind three phrases, the way the music informed the movement, and the way I explained the meaning to the dancers. 

The first phrase of the first section of the piece was characterized by soft pliés, and fluid upper body movement in order to articulate the harmony and beauty of untouched nature.  I also played around with action and reaction–when one part of the body initiates a movement, which causes a reaction from another body part. When I was formulating the phrase, I described this kind of movement as “call and response” and I found that it communicated a message of balance and peace.  In this way, I asked the dancers to move with great care, as if they held in their hands a rare and fragile pearl that they had to preserve for as long as possible. This direction gave the dancers an observable kinesthetic awareness. Their bodies seemed lighter and they looked at their hands and arms with wonder.  The music, a steady instrumental hum, offered very few movement cues, which, in turn, offered me more freedom to create whimsical choreographic patterns.  

“Progress, in Memory” also featured a number of hand-centric phrases. In the third section, in what I called the “Assembly Line,” eight dancers sat on the floor in two lines of four and used their hands to simulate industrial actions.  I was inspired by images of rows and rows of women using sewing machines during the industrial revolution and wanted to recreate the feeling of precision and control. Sitting cross-legged, the dancers puckered their fingers as if to hold a needle and rested their hands on an invisible cloth as if to insert it into a machine.  Once I elaborated on the sewing machine imagery to the dancers, they seemed to perform the movement with more energy and clarity. In contrast with the first phrase, these movements corresponded exactly with the beats of the music. The mechanistic movements matched the layered rhythm of the synthetic beats.

The “Robot” phrase appeared in the final section, and presented a futuristic reality in which robots are ubiquitous.  I generated the movement almost exclusively by listening to the uniquely synthetic droid-like music. Whereas in the previously mentioned phrase I attached movement to beats, in this phrase, every single sound had a corresponding movement.  In this way, it seemed that the dancers’ bodies generated the sound, rather than the other way around.  This phrase was more obviously mechanistic and required less explaining than previous phrases. The challenge here was more technical–getting the dancers to move as one, and with complete accuracy. 

In sum, by basing movement on describable imagery, explaining such images to the dancers, and taking cues from the rhythm and flow of the music,  I was able to communicate the meaning behind ideas of technological innovation to the audience.