Dan Higgins: Sit back, Observe, and Listen

Dan Higgins: Sit back, Observe, and Listen

As I look back on the past five years of work with Repertory Dance Theater, I find one of the most interesting aspects of being a company member is the immense detail and full investment of artist and dancer during a choreographic process. Throughout each residency, a choreographer comes prepared in a way that is different and unique to them as a movement specialist. It is our job, as performing artists and humans, to absorb the task at hand; analyze it, explore it, and bring it to life.

Excerpt from Donald McKayle’s “Rainbow Round My Shoulder”

My personal approach when choreography is being set on RDT is to sit back, observe, and listen to all the voices in the room. I prefer to try to understand a situation through attention to detail — both body language and verbal articulation. The time I allow myself to listen to what ideas are being presented gives me a strong grasp on what the artist is seeking and how they want to go about creating their new work.

Excerpt from Dan Higgin’s “Masc”

In each process there is an ongoing conversation between the guest, the choreographer, and the dancers. I find the most beneficial questions that spur discussions are from active listening in all parties. The challenge here is to not assume. It is easy to watch an idea being developed in the room and presume it will take a more traditional course, however we as artists know that the unexpected creates some of the most beautiful moments.

As a historical repertory company we perform works that span the last century and into the modern era. We succeed in that endeavor through appropriate and accurate questioning of what we see and feel. One detail that is often overlooked of artists is their background and the experiences they have that inform their choice making. I think the focus of observers and audience members is the “now,” the images that are presented to us immediately, but we are doing the artist and ourselves a disservice if we do not seek some context and deeper information to understand more fully.

Exerpt from Bill Evan’s “Crippled Up Blues”

Perhaps one of the most exciting parts of creating is to ride out these spontaneous spurts of chance. Recently, I have really been enjoying how Bebe Miller continues to challenge herself inside these moments. I felt similarly while observing choreographer Bill T. Jones work with the students of the University Of Wyoming in college. He was as likely to put an image of himself holding his chin thinking or scratching his hip whilst standing in the studio inside a piece of movement as he was to put a dynamic grande jeté. These impulsive choices allow an opportunity for the audience to use their own imaginations to engage.

Excerpt Zvi Gotheiner’s “Dabke”

Even when RDT is restaging a work from fifty years ago, we have to delve deeply into the mind and surroundings of that artist. Who were they? What were their beliefs/values? What was the social climate? Do they work through a specific technique, or some kind of fusion of many styles? Often times we are asking these questions to ourselves but in the event that we have a new guest setting work, we find joy in the privilege of asking them directly.


Dan Higgins, Bay Area native, began dancing at the age of eighteen after a long history with organized sports. The physicality and athleticism directly translated into his love for dance. Dan received his training from the University of Wyoming, obtaining his B.F.A. in Dance Performance. Dan is a performer, teacher and choreographer who is currently interested in the mergence of semantic expression and body composition as they relate to the human condition. 

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