10 May 2014

Unofficial Choreography Month - Day 10

Unofficial Choreography Month this year kind of snuck up on me. During finals at college (the second and third weeks of April) it was right at the front of my brain: Study for the next final, and then work on the choreography setlist. But then when I came back to Alberta, I forget about Unofficial Choreography Month completely. Until 11.30pm on 29 April when I suddenly realised I had no setlist and uttered a hearty and resounding "Oh crap!" Since the 30th was already booked almost solid, I didn't actually come up with a setlist until I made a rather rushed one in my head on the way to work on the morning of 1 May.

That setlist was as follows:
The Twist (live Daniel Amos version from 2011)
Come Away Reprise (Don Francisco)
Crushing Hand (Lost Dogs)

However, there was a bit of a wrinkle already. Usually, in the lead-in to a choreography month, I finish off any outstanding projects so I have a clean slate for the first of the month. But since I had completely forgotten about it, I was smack dab in the middle of a classical ballet for eleven and there was no way it was going to be done before May.

I'll tell you a little about it because I'm quite happy with how it turned out. See, the day after Loyd Boldman passed away, I was listening to Prodigal, partly in his honour/memory, and partly just because I wanted to. Specifically, I was listening to the song Neon.

Neon is more of a spoken word track than a song. Loyd's spoken vocals in the verses are a near whisper, layered lightly over a few simple keyboard measures that are repeated throughout the entire five-minute song. Then it soars up into a soft, almost ethereal chorus, a cry of the heart, genuine and yearning, with a fuzzed-out keyboard to keep things grounded. There are the sounds of urban traffic in the back of the mix, somewhere behind the vocal but weaving over and under the keyboards. And then at the end, it goes into this terrific drumming sequence -- one minute and forty five seconds' worth of hard strong steady drumming, enough time to let the listener really ponder what they've just heard.

Due to the sparse instrumentation, the spoken vocal, the subject matter, and the drumming bit at the end, this dance has 'modern ballet' written all over it. Which would be perfect, except that I pretty much loathe modern ballet -- as far as I'm concerned, if you're going to say you're doing ballet, do actual ballet, not just contemporary in pointe shoes. It looks awful and gives real ballet a terrible name. I have always wanted to choreograph Neon because the lyrics were so poetic and let's face it, the drumming section is the bomb, but I outright refuse to choreograph anything that could be taken as 'modern ballet.' If I'm choreographing ballet, I'm choreographing ballet, dang it, real ballet, that requires skill and heart and soul and sweat and strength and practice and is not just a contest to see how fast we can turn in/turn out one leg or the other.

So anyway, I'm listening to Neon and in my mind's eye I saw ballonnés. Hm... good. Anything else? Posé pirouettes. Well, that looks nice... then what? A rounde de jambe/coru section for the chorus... some corps-work for a group of nine in the second verse... and a wonderful moment of suspension just before the drumming kicks in. Within half an hour or so, possibly forty-five minutes, I had most of the dance figured out in my mind's eye. So I sketched it out on notepaper lest I forget the ideas and began notating. This is what I was still notating at the beginning of May. I spent the first full weekend finishing the notation of Neon, then I proceeded to choreograph the entire dance to Crushing Hand in basically twenty-four hours. Mind you, it was only a ballet for two, and the song itself is only two minutes long. But no matter -- it still counts as a dance done and for that I'm very grateful. It gives me quite a bit of time to work on Come Away (a ballet solo) and The Twist (ballet for two), and if I've got the time, I'd like to choreograph a fourth this month or maybe even bump it up to five.

Right now I have a few notes on Come Away, but I'm actively working on The Twist. It's over half-done. I have nearly the entire thing figured out in my head, it's just actually writing it and notating it that still need to be done. It's quite a task trying to get a bead on the characterisation for it though. What's the first dancer's mood? What are they trying to communicate? When does the tone change into a challenge? Is there still love mingled in with the implied challenge? What's the second dancer's reaction? How do I convey it? When does the mood change, and how abruptly? How can I convey it without relying too heavily on the lyric and without resorting to modern-dance-hyper-exaggerated-mime? What is the second character's mood here anyway? (The song is ambiguous in that it's never stated what the listener's reaction is, and I sort of want to keep it that way -- it makes people think if you don't spell out all the answers for them.)

I hope to get notating The Twist sometime tomorrow, maybe even finish it tomorrow or Monday. Then hopefully I can complete Come Away this week and then have some time left to write two or three more dances before the end of May.