14 February 2016

Postlude: National Choreography Month

To recap: this past January I committed to choreographing a whole bunch of tap dances. I simply combed through my list of songs-that-I-want-to-choreograph-someday and picked out ten that I thought I could feasibly push my way through (see the pre-event list here). At the time, I knew ten songs was a lot to ask, but I figured the higher the bar was set, the more I would accomplish, even if I fell short of that exact goal. And that's exactly what happened.

I choreographed eight full dances this past month. While that alone is a feat in itself, what I'm really impressed with is how diverse these dances are. There were solos and a duo and a trio... and a piece for twenty-three. There were dances for elaborate stage sets and dances that were intended to be performed on very small platforms. There was sweet and adorable, there was dark and creepy, there was fun and ridiculous, there was tight and skilled, there was haunting and brooding. There were specific characters and there were stereotypes and there were simply dancers. I touched on most of these pieces throughout the month (read through the blog posts of January 2016), but I'll recap them here.

Surrender (ELO) - A story dance, the dark and creepy one. It's a story that has long since attracted my attention in dance, and this is the first time I've even been able to do a microcosmic version of it. I'm most excited about the use of 'extras' to set the scene. I haven't tried my hand at that very often, but here it was appropriate and I thought it turned out well. It really enriches the feel of the situation and frames the scene.

Love Divine (Phil Keaggy) - This was a duet, sweet and light. If Surrender was dark, bitter chocolate, this one was cotton candy, pink and cheery. My favourite part about it is how simple and joyful the song is, which in turn lent buoyancy to the dance itself.

Rattle Me, Shake Me (David Meece) - Easily the most ambitious choreographic project I've tackled to date. This one involved a myriad of specific characters as well as many extras, and each character needed to have their own specific style of tapping to differentiate them and bring life to the piece. I was also a lot more 'loose' in my approach to this -- it has a very big-band, musical-theatre feel to it.

On The Other Side (Michael W. Smith) - I'm not sure how I feel about this one. For years it's been in my head as a dance for six. I choreographed it as a solo this month. I've not yet come to terms with that. If I re-work any dance from this month, this might be it. However, I think pushing myself to think more outside the box with the choreography itself paid off.

Westminster Bridge (BBC National Orchestra) - This was a tight, fast dance, lots of synchronicity and lots of sharp canon. I'm very excited to see how this one actually looks on three real people at the same time.

Chase That (Ambition) (Lecrae) - I've always wanted to try my hand -- well, feet -- at choreographing a legitimate rap song and I finally the bit the bullet. It was difficult trying to decide whether or not to follow the rhythm of the beat or the rhythm of the lyrics or make a parallel rhythm to run alongside both. But I'm extremely happy with how the climax of the song turned out. This was choreographed as a solo and its travel footprint is small, to be performed on extremely small stages or platforms.

What Is The Measure Of Your Success? (Steve Taylor) - This almost didn't make it on the starting list, but I'm glad I put it on there. I think out of all the dances I choreographed this month, I'm most proud of this one. This one also touched my heart more than any of the others. It awoke exactly the kind of emotions in me that I hope it will awaken in the audience. It was choreographically very simple, but rich in food for thought and (I hope) in metaphor.

Independence Day (White Heart) - By this time I was starting to power out and you can see that, especially at the end. However, I was terrified to even start this dance, so slogging through it till the end is an accomplishment in itself. It's for six people, which is actually a really fun number to choreograph for because you can do a lot in terms of formations with six people. The transitions between formations were particularly fun. Also, this was one of the few this month that wasn't a story song (or at least clear-cut characters), and that seemed odd to me after writing so many different distinctive 'voices' this month.

The longtime reader will also notice that I managed to go for an entire month without choreographing something with Terry Scott Taylor's name on it. In fact, almost every one of the artists represented here were artists I choreographed for the first or maybe second time ever (David Meece and White Heart were the only artists I'd choreographed more than twice already and even White Heart had been a very long time ago). Perhaps that added to the diversity of the choreography itself -- I mean, Daniel Amos' work spans pretty much every genre ever by now, but even all that has the indelible DA style. Lecrae, obviously, does not have the DA style, which means his music and my choreography will interact differently. It forced me to figure out different approaches and plumb depths of my style that a steady diet of DA doesn't necessarily draw out.

In summary: It was good to do this again -- both because it helped me prove to myself that I'm not completely lacking in inspiration, I'm just lacking it in my typical avenues of creativity, and because when you do this much creative work in one genre (tap) in such a short time, you pretty much have no option but to improve. Last time I was able to participate in National Choreography Month (in 2013), I was working in softshoe disciplines (ballet and jazz), but I noticed that after that month the quality of my choreography in general jumped up exponentially -- simply because I did so much of it in such a short time. I learnt very quickly what worked and what didn't; what I liked and what I didn't like. Without giving myself permission to make a lot of potential crap and risk coming with with something workable or even half-decent for thirty days, it would have taken me years of plodding along at a 'normal' pace to gain the same experience that I did in one month. Plus, because during Nachmo you make time to choreograph every single day, not once a week (or whatever), the lessons you learnt yesterday are still fresh in your mind and you're better able to build on them. If it's a week between choreography sessions, you've probably forgotten that one observation you made and will therefore either have to relearn it or at least remember it -- both of which slow down the improvement process.

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