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.
Give them context
Dancers can sometimes lose morale if they feel their role is to simply form lines. "You don't want them to think it's mindless and unartistic work," says Lowe. "There's room for small bits of personality, within reason and at the discretion of the répétiteur."
Talk to students about what the choreography is trying to communicate, says Hineline. (For example, why all Wilis in Giselle have to look the same.) "How is the group architecture working to support the ballet?" he says. "It's important for them to understand the greater good."