This Belongs To You Now

“The product will always belong to the choreographer. But you have the honor of bringing it to life and enhancing it. You can mold it to be the absolute best it can be. It belongs to you now. But what will you do with it?”

As a choreographer, how can you be sure that the very essence of yourself is going to be correctly represented? Honestly, you can’t be one hundred percent sure of what will happen “out there”. When you have created a product and it is ready to be given to an audience, it has its one fleeting chance (after countless hours of thought, creation, preparation, and rehearsal) to be perfect. Most dances live to see the light of day over and over again, but unless you’re a phenom in the choreography world, this might be your work’s first premier and its final showing. You pour your soul into movement, musicality, spacial formations, partnering, level changes, and juxtaposition of feeling, and for what? Your small reward is the chance for it to be seen by an audience of unknown size, hopefully filmed and recorded, and praised or critiqued by said audience for a few subsequent hours. Choreography is unforgiving and, potentially, fruitless.

Like any other art form, it will either succeed or fail. There is also the possibility that it falls somewhere in the gray area in between (complimented but not nearly as much of a success as you wished for). However, that gray area can tend to feel more like failure sometimes. Maybe everyone’s just being polite about it. You may never know.

Three of my dancers from my Hartt School senior choreography project "Embrace" Premiered Fall 2010; Photo Credit Stephanie Crandall
Three of my dancers from my Hartt School senior choreography project “Embrace”, Premiered Fall 2010; Photo Credit Stephanie Crandall

My thoughts for this blog stem again from the Charlottesville Ballet’s student showcase this past weekend. As a professional dancer, standing in the wings dressed in civilian clothes and high heels, watching my dancers, is a surreal experience. Although I have taught for many years now, the dancer in me screams to be out there performing. There is a pressing feeling that I have to be participating or that I’ve potentially missed a cue or entrance. But I’m not needed. It is out of my hands and in theirs instead.

There is a very different dynamic in passing on choreography to young students because it is not about the movement. It is about them being out on their own and showcasing everything they have absorbed. It is still their task to succeed, but the weight of the situation is much less. As a student develops, the job of making the work shine becomes their own. It is not a burden necessarily, but an expectation. With the right tools of precision and artistry, you must give everything of yourself. When you hit the stage after rehearsing ‘til the cows came home, cleaning the choreography with a toothbrush, and clarifying every aspect like combing through tangles with a fine tooth comb, it’s your responsibility. The product will always belong to the choreographer. But you have the honor of bringing it to life and enhancing it. You can mold it to be the absolute best it can be. It belongs to you now. But what will you do with it?

As a dancer, I think about all of this come performance time. I think of all the run throughs, the successes, the failures, the corrections I’ve received, and the compliments I’ve been given. I hope with every shred of being that I can pull it all together to create perfection for just one moment. I don’t care how much it might take out of me. I give it everything and leave it on the stage. It’s about now, and it’s on me. Choreographers trust us with their very selves. They gamble on us because they see something in us. And if they stand backstage and smile (and maybe cry) and wish they were out there too, then maybe we’ve done something right.

Pedro Szalay & his Charlottesville Ballet cast of "She.Lapse.He" Performed Fall 2014
Pedro Szalay & his Charlottesville Ballet cast of “She.Lapse.He” Premiered October 2014
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One thought on “This Belongs To You Now

  1. […] I have experienced extreme emotion many times onstage. I make a point of bringing it to the table always (J.O.D. – it’s a no-brainer, you can’t be without it), but I think I can recall two or three times in my life when the emotion onstage was so omnipresent and so discernible that I nearly cried (performing in the ensemble of Dark Elegies in college; my senior solo project for college entitled After This, choreographed by Jennifer Hart; and during the final scene of Swan Lake in the swan corps). And I’m talking close to potential weeping, not just a glistening tear sparkling in the stage lights. I wanted to cry because I had nested myself deeply into my role. The culmination of the work and the ability to enjoy the experience had led me to a place of deep un…. […]

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