I am mentoring students in choreography workshops at the Universidad Espiritu Santo for three weeks. The classes are design to explore the choreographic process using exercises to help students develop their own choreographic voices.
The university students are most accustomed to the rigors of Cuban Ballet methodology, and many of my exercises seem foreign to them. We discussed that it’s because unlike ballet, there’s no right or wrong when it comes to choreography. In ballet class, it’s easy to tell if a pirouette is off-balance or turned in, but critiquing a peer’s work or assessing your own process is so free, and sometimes scary. So, I usually give my students a prompt for each exercise or improvisation (though I do give them complete freedom within the set confines).
After three days of 4-hour sessions, I felt my dancers were ready to tackle their first major assignment: to create a solo performed to a poem of their choice. I was surprised in my students’ broad range of selected poetry—they found works both in English and Spanish, written by poets including Edgar Allen Poe, Pablo Neruda and Bob Dylan.
Here is the breakdown of the assignment:
1. Choose a poem that holds personal meaning.
2. Underline specific words or phrases that will act as movement accents. (During performance, these underlined words or phrases will also serve as audio and choreographic landmarks, as a classmate will read the poem aloud.)
3. Transform the poem into a rhythmic composition by adding pauses in the form of ticks or vertical lines either between words or stanzas. These pauses can be used for dramatic effect, or to add time for longer movement phrases. For example, one line might look like this: Gone //// far away // into the silent // land //
4. Working with a group, introduce and read each poem—first as originally written and secondly as your own composition with pauses and rests. (Notice that when the poem is read with students’ rhythmic interpretations it takes on a more emotional and personal feel.)
5. Now the dancing: Layer movement over the poem using the composed pauses, also paying special attention to the underlined words or stanzas that initially stood out.
6. Show and share—perform one solo at a time then discuss and critique.