Choreography Class, Week 4 and 5: Crunch Time

It’s getting down to the wire. My summer class has gone by so fast, and the sixth and last class is on Monday. My students perform in Central Park at the Harlem Meer on Tuesday, August 17 at 6:30p.m.


When putting together our short performance piece, I was challenged by the lack of classes. Six classes is nothing! I found it was much faster for me to frame the piece and have my students contribute. Though that was not my original plan—I wanted the dance to be totally their creation—my girls were content with my choices, and they seemed to crave direction rather than freedom.


Week 4: We watched segments of Martha Graham’s Night Journey, from the Martha Graham: Dance on Film (Criterion Collection) DVD. They were attracted to her angular movements, though didn’t sense as much of the drama that I told them framed her work. My oldest student was most interested; she said she was reading Oedipus Rex for school. Connections!


We worked on the opening of the piece. Which reminds me—I chose Zap Mama’s “W’Happy Mama” from the album A Ma Zone. It’s an upbeat, medium fast tempo with West African influences and hip-hop/R&B beats in some places. It has many layers, and since it’s sung in indistinguishable French, I have no worries of appropriateness. (I checked out the lyrics, they’re OK.) My students didn’t love it at first, but have warmed to it and leave class singing the melody.


Week 5: We started immediately on our performance piece, though the girls were very chatty and disruptive. Half way through class, one student realized there was only one more session before the performance. “We need to do this. I don’t want to look foolish and like a mess on stage,” she said suddenly. I didn’t prompt her at all, but it seemed to put a little performance pressure on her classmates. And for the rest of class, they really made an effort to pay attention and work quietly and quickly. I should have stressed them out earlier! Just kidding…


When framing sections of the piece, I asked both individual students and small groups to make up phrases that would either travel from points A to B, or stay in place. Then, I took the short phrases, morphed them if necessary, and created a collage-like dance, like a guided improv set into place. I created a score, and they filled in the notes. We developed our clear beginning from week 4, and week 6 we will create a strong ending. The entire piece will be about 2 minutes and 15 seconds.

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