The Emerging Choreographer – How to Kick-start your Chorographic Career
Australia’s dance industry boasts a number of very talented choreographers whose international reputation rate highly amongst the best dance makers in the world. The choreographer’s passion to communicate ideas and stories, coupled with the desire to use movement as a medium of expression drives many to create meaningful and relevant work for contemporary audiences. So what does it take to be a choreographer? And how can developing your interest in choreography help you to diversify your dance practice and contribute to an emerging culture of brave new dance work?
So how does a young dancer know if they have a hidden choreographic talent? Some of the following questions may help to identify whether or not you have an interest or inclination towards choreography:
- Firstly, do you have something to say? In other words, do you have ideas that you would like to express or communicate in ways other than the written word, or other forms of traditional communication?
- Do you visualise or imagine movement or theatrical concepts? For some choreographers, the inspiration to create choreographic work often originates from a single imagined idea or concept.
- Do you enjoy creating original movement or experimenting with new ways of putting movement together?
If you have answered yes to at least two of these questions, chances are you probably have some of the creative attributes of a choreographer. Developing your interest in choreography is something that you may like to consider as an addition to your creative skills-set as a dance artist.
Just having an interest in choreography however may not be enough to kick-start a choreographic career. Finding opportunities to experiment with your ideas is really important. Like any art form, we are not immediately expected to be masters of our craft. Developing your choreographic skills may take many years of play and experimentation. So if you are interested in choreography, the best place to start is in the classroom or rehearsal studio with your friends and peers in a supportive environment. If you know of other dancers who are interested in experimentation you may find a way of working together as a group where each person has an opportunity to experiment with some choreographic ideas on the rest of the group of dancers.
In these early stages of experimentation as an emerging choreographer, it is best to start with small-scale tests or exercises just honing in on single elements or concepts. For example, going back to basics and creating just a simple movement phrase that includes movements with a range of levels, directions and shapes is a great place to start. Creating a phrase (like a movement ‘sentence’) that encapsulates a simple but clear intention is a really important skill in choreography, so spending time on this aspect is really beneficial. Once you have become comfortable creating simple phrases, experiment with expanding these by introducing new movement concepts such as repetition, timing, spatial orientation and dynamics.
Also, experimenting with ways to work with your dancers in the choreographic process is important. Setting small tasks where the dancers generate their own movement to contribute to the phrase is a great way to approach the choreographic process in a collaborative way, this can also generate some very interesting results that enhance and enrich the movement language that you create together in the studio. There are many ways to establish a working practice with your dancers that can set up very specific dancer-choreographer relationships and rehearsal processes. It is worth experimenting with different approaches and being open to new possibilities.
Once you are at a stage where you are ready to share these small experiments with an informal audience you may need to find opportunities to test out your first creative works in front of small audiences. This is an important step in gaining the necessary experience and feedback that will be very useful in further developing your work as a choreographer. Getting feedback on your work might be as simple as inviting your peers into the rehearsal studio or asking other choreographers or people from outside the dance field who’s opinion you respect to watch your work. Try to think about whom you will invite. Share your work with people who you think might give you some honest constructive criticism that could help you look at your work from an outside perspective and give you insight as to how others relate to your ideas. In a low-pressure environment such as a rehearsal or informal performance, your audience will perhaps feel more comfortable talking about what they have experienced. It may be a good idea to have some questions ready to ask your audience. For example – Did they understand a particular aspect or idea that you were trying to convey in the work? Or what was their immediate response to the piece? Questions like this might help them to be specific and articulate their response to your work. There are opportunities available to take part in this kind of program in most Australian states. There are also funded programs such as residencies or assisted creative development platforms that offer choreographic opportunities to emerging choreographers. Becoming a member of The Australian Dance Council (Ausdance) www.ausdance.org.au in your state will enable you to find out about and access such opportunities.
Having invested time, energy and commitment into your choreographic development, you may then take the plunge into applying for professional choreographic commissions or writing your own grant applications to further your professional development or create an independent dance work. Thinking ‘outside the box’ and considering alternative performance venues or site-specific spaces to present your work may expand your practice outside the traditional theatre setting. Collaborating with other artists and practitioners from other disciplines will also increase your networks and provide new audiences for your work. Finding a mentor (a choreographer whom you look up to or whose work you admire), can be an extremely useful and rewarding experience for emerging choreographers. The mentor figure will be able to offer all sorts of practical advice for you as you begin to generate your own work.
In an increasingly competitive industry, it is important to have a diverse set of skills in order to ensure that you can find, make and create opportunities to work in your field. Dance, like many of the performing arts is experiencing a shift of creative ideals, where traditional notions of theatre are being put to the test through intense experimentation and questioning. In this climate a new wave of young Australian choreographers are emerging to claim this new space for highly innovative and interesting new work. Whether you are already a choreographer-in-the-making or yet to experiment in the world of choreography, there is a calling for your unique choreographic voice in the future of Australian dance.