Your spring show is three months away, Regionals are around the corner, and you have dozens of numbers to choreograph. But you're stuck. If this sounds familiar, don't worry—you are not alone. Some of today's most high-profile dancemakers are no strangers to choreographer's block. Next time, try these strategies to get yourself back on track.
This year, take your show under the sea. Preballet students make adorable octopi. Tap students can be clams. Cast older dancers as mermaids in a lyrical number, or choose some jazzy tunes for a group of starfish. You'll find that the ocean is full of fresh ideas.
Set the scene: — Standard under-the-sea fare can include a treasure chest brimming with gold bullion, an anchor, fishnets, starfish, coral and seaweed. Visit local prop and theatrical supply stores for an array of items for rent. Regional and even national companies also may have items available to ship. If you enjoy a sizable budget (and stage), commission a prop shop to create a sunken ship to substitute for a backdrop.
— You can build props yourself with papier-mâché. Enlist the help of your dancers and remind everyone to wear clothes that can get ruined. You’ll need newspaper, warm water, white glue and buckets. Mix one part water with two parts glue. Rip up the paper and saturate the pieces in the mixture. (They may shrink slightly after drying.) If you are making rocks, there will be no need to paint since the color will look like granite from the stage.
— An alternative to papier-mâché is multicolor fabric that drapes well, such as georgette. Lay the fabric over chairs or stools of varying heights along the back of the stage to create an uneven ocean floor and then pin or tape it down. — Prom and party supply stores are untapped resources for stage accessories. According to Scott Snyder, a prom business unit leader at Anderson’s Prom, it is not rare for dance companies or studios to order decorations, such as pink coral kits or sea castles. Many products are designed for prom photography, so they are large enough for stage.
— To add bubbles to your set, for instance, Anderson’s offers assemble-yourself balloon kits. Fill the clear or light blue balloons with helium, tie off and cut small holes through the balloon knots. String three or four balloons together by running a five-foot piece of fishing wire through the holes. Place them upstage or along the sides and anchor.
— Or, for the real deal, invest in a bubble machine, which you can cover with papier-mâché or fabric. Just be careful not to overuse or to place in an area of the stage where students will be dancing, as the floor may become slick. If you’re daring, point it toward the audience.
Tune in: From familiar tunes to grand orchestral pieces, a few hours at your local music store will stir creativity. Here are some suggestions:
— For your ballerinas, check out “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship” from Scheherazade by Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov, “La Mer” by Claude Debussy and “Une Barque sur l’Ocean” by Maurice Ravel.
— Create a comical corps of hungry sharks to the theme from Jaws. The catchy “Under the Sea” tune from Disney’s The Little Mermaid makes a great finale. Other recognizable movie soundtracks include The Abyss, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Finding Nemo.
— “Ghosts of Cape Horn” by Gordon Lightfoot is a folksy throwback for a sailor number.
— “La Mer” by Charles Trenet makes a lovely pas de deux. You can also use the English version, “Beyond the Sea” by Jack Lawrence.
Note: As with any recorded music, be sure you have the appropriate music license to avoid copyright infringement.