Dancers at the University of Arizona recently performed Jerome Robbins' Antique Epigraphs, an ensemble piece for eight women that requires intricate linear formations and walking in unison. "It was super-challenging for us," says dance professor Melissa Lowe. "Students needed a heightened sense of awareness, or it wasn't going to happen." Lowe asked dancers to use their intuition and aural sensibilities to help determine where they needed to be, when they should be there and how to get to those places—together.
Teaching dancers to work in unison, whether as a large corps de ballet or small ensemble group, is an integral part of their training. It requires teamwork, attention to detail and thoughtful preparation for a successful group effort. Teachers need to provide the right steps and counts to ensure cohesiveness, of course. But how you set the material will also encourage dancers to be in line and in sync—while still allowing them to be individuals.
Photo courtesy of CPYB
"We address the value of being in the corps at the very earliest stages," says Hineline, who is director of artistic programming. "It's how they stand in class and situate themselves in the spaces between each other. The sooner teachers can build spatial awareness, the better."
When setting a corps or ensemble piece, teachers should be as clear and specific as possible to avoid confusion. "Your preparation is really important," says Travaglia. "Have good notes and know exactly where each person stands and moves to, and the pathways for changing formations." Travaglia likes to have counts written down for reference, so the group understands at least one set way of hearing the music. "They all have to count the same way, especially if the rhythm is irregular," she says.