As I mentioned in my last post, one of our latest assignments is to create two pieces of ballet choreography, each about a minute long, using classical music. One piece is for ages 8 to 9; the other for ages 11 to 12.
We've spent the past week observing the choreography created by our peers and then getting a public critique on it by our instructor Raymond Lukens. Actually, it's not quite accurate to say that we get to observe the choreography--many times, we are cast as dancers in the pieces, so we get to experience what various movement choices would feel like for little legs, arms, and bodies.
I haven't shown my pieces yet, but here’s the way the process works: I will need eight dancers for my younger piece, and four for my older piece. I will have about 15 minutes to set one piece, while another choreographer sets one of her pieces in another studio. We then come back to the main studio, have a mini showing, and then start all over again. With 20 students in the program, we'll end up seeing 40 different pieces.
This exercise has not only been a unique way to channel the inner child, but also to learn about creative music and choreography choices. We’re using ABT's National Training Curriculum as a guideline for what steps to use, and it was strongly suggested that we tailor the movements a level below what the students are currently dancing, so they always look their best on stage.
At first I was alarmed at the 15-minute timeframe to set an entire piece, but it turns out that some of the best pieces are those that use steps that would already be in the dancers’ vocabulary along with simple basic patterns and counts. Lukens said that when he owned a private studio, he never spent more than two weeks rehearsing a piece for a demonstration. So, if the timer starts to run over the 15 minutes, the instructor has an indication that perhaps the choreography (or the way it is presented) might need a second consideration.
Here are some additional tips and thoughts from Lukens about this process:
- Always, always, always showcase the children in the best possible light. They should feel special on stage and the parents, of course, want to see them looking beautiful as well. For example, in a class where all the students had weak arms, he choreographed an ice skating scene and all the dancers wore muffs.
- Music choices, especially for young children, should have a clear, easy-to-follow beat or rhythm.
- Children love props, such as baby dolls, stuffed animals, Spanish fans, etc.
- Make the best use of the performance space. Avoid segmenting dancers into groups on either side of the stage as this will cause a tennis match effect on the audience.
- Remember that running in patterns and using clean movements can look gorgeous. Think of some of the elements of Balanchine's Serenade.