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.
Teach first, clean later
Photo courtesy of Colorado Ballet
When Travaglia sets a corps piece, she teaches it quickly but with precision, so dancers have an idea of the big picture. "Maybe it's not perfect, but if they know the steps, they can see the end in sight," she says. "Or else they think the piece will never end, and they get frustrated or overwhelmed." She also makes sure the floor is clearly taped with eighth, quarter and center marks to help prevent confusion or vagueness. "The space has to be clear," says Travaglia, "and then you drill choreography and counts. Repetition is really good."