Blogging Ballet: Being a choreographer Part 1

cho·re·og·ra·phy

noun \ˌkr-ē-ˈä-grə-fē\

1 : the art of symbolically representing dancing
2 a : the composition and arrangement of dances especially for ballet 
  b : a composition created by this art

Merriam-Webster Dictionary (c) 2013

The question I've gotten a lot lately is "How do I become a choreographer?" Before I get to that answer, however, it seemed necessary to explain what makes a good choreographer. Because dance requires so much talent and passion, it's really important to understand that a career as a choreographer is not the same as becoming (for instance) an Accountant. Don't get me wrong: Accountants are talented, too, (more talented, in fact, than I am when it comes to numbers) but you can read books to learn to be an Accountant. Being successful in creating art, on the other hand, relies as much upon your natural tendencies and passions as it does upon training.

 And that brings me to my first point about choreography: It has to be something you are genuinely passionate about. George Balanchine once said "I don't want people who want to dance, I want people who have to dance." Ballet (or dance in general) isn't like other jobs in the respect that you can't fake good dance. Either you're really invested in the dance emotionally and physically to the point where it's a part of your very essence or it's pretty much a flop. No one wants to see dance that was just slapped together like a sandwich or that boring report you wrote on The Grapes of Wrath the night before it was due.

While passion is a crucial ingredient, a choreographer must also know their craft. This means that the best choreographers are dancers themselves (though not all dancers are good choreographers). They have studied for years (maybe nearly all their lives) and know the technique backwards and forwards in addition to what is physically possible and what it feels like to dance the steps. As I stated above, faking won't cut it. You need to know your stuff.

A big part of knowing the craft is also doing research. Choreographers know the history of the craft as well as what is currently going on in the dance world. Watching performances created by other  choreographers past and present serves to get the creative juices flowing. It also reinforces the major concept of what constitutes good dance. Because dance is so visual, watching good dance is critical. The important thing to remember here is to be inspired and to learn but not to copy another choreographer's work.

A choreographer must be a a good communicator. Being able to create dance is one thing but being able to tell as well as show your dancers what you want done and how you would like it executed also takes talent. This also applies to setting a piece with the technical crew (i.e. lighting, scene changes, sound cues); and working with donors. Communicating your vision in order to make it a reality is an integral part of creating dance.

Lastly, it helps to be flexible. Sometimes the lighting you wanted won't be available or is impossible for the venue. Sometimes your dancers won't be able to pull of quadruple a la seconde turns into a double pirouette. More often than you would like to admit, your brilliant idea will turn out to look absolutely ridiculous and/or the powers that be (namely an employer or patron) will absolutely hate it. So, it pays to be flexible when it comes to creating dance.

Okay, so now you know what makes a good choreographer. Look for Part 2 soon where we'll talk about getting started and actually working as a choreographer.






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