Welcome to a new lesson series called How I Like to Choreograph. Each RDT dancer will describe how they like to make dance choreography and provide a corresponding lesson to try out their methods. First up, Lauren Curley!
I have never felt like choreography is something that comes easy to me. I enjoy creating new works and seeing them brought to life on other dancers, but I always feel very self-conscious about the final product. Choreography is an expression of your own thoughts, ideas, dreams, and fears. Once you set it on other people you are no longer able to control it. I find that to be very freeing, but nerve wracking in a way that performing is not.
Whether I am choreographing a work on professional dancers, on a student dance company, or just choreographing technique phrases for class music is always the thing that comes first for me. As a dancer, I am drawn to the emotional experience a performer has in a piece. I feel that creating an authentic human experience in each and every movement is the most important thing to focus on, and in order to do that the music needs to invoke an emotional response within me. Once I have selected my piece of music it is easier for me to visualize the trajectory of the work. I oftentimes like to do “brain dancing” at home, not necessarily coming up with phrases but spending hours listening to the track over and over mapping out what types of movement I see happening where. I prefer to develop phrase material when I’m in the studio working with my dancers because most of the time I am not performing in my own work. It’s important to me to develop phrase work that not only is physically interesting, but that feels comfortable in my dancer’s bodies.
Collaboration between my performers and myself is very important to me. If I am working with a dancer who thrives with improvisation I may ask them to contribute a phrase or some transitions into the piece. Most of the time though, I generate the bulk of the material and might instead give them options: which transition feels better, A or B?
Oftentimes I can see if something feels good to a performer by the way it looks on their body, which is why it is important to me to wait until we are in the studio to develop phrases. Once we have developed the piece then I like to go back and look at the work as a whole. What makes sense? What no longer fits? How can I better curate the movement to get my point across? Going back and changing or adjusting details can answer all of these things. To avoid making this an incredibly tedious process for my performer(s) I will often film the work and do this nitpicking at home. Similar to my initial “brain dancing” to map the piece out, I will watch the piece over and over again at home and take notes about changes I would like to make.
Last in my process is often costuming, lighting, and title. Typically when the piece is “finished” it is easier for me to answer all of these more nuanced details. Very, very rarely at this point will I make any additional changes to the piece. I think it is important to have time at the end of the process for dancers to digest the material and emotional landscape, and I feel that last minute changes and corrections can distract them from investing in the work fully. At this point, the piece is no longer mine and belongs entirely to the performer(s) and the audience.
- Choose a piece of music that speaks to you.
- Cast your piece (decide who will be dancing and / or performing)
- Spend some time at home mapping out your piece. What are you trying to get across to the audience? Do you have an overall feeling or mood you want to convey? What type of spacing and formations do you see and how will the stage space be used? How will you begin your work?
- Work with your dancer(s) in the studio to create phrase material. I prefer to start at the beginning and then continue in sequence. Continue until you have created your “first draft”.
- Film your “first draft” and spend some time at home watching it. Are there any sections you would like to rework? Does your piece still express what you initially wanted it to, or has it evolved? Do the phrases fit well together, or are there any clunky transitions? Have you utilized your space well?
- Write any changes you would like to make down and spend some time in the studio with your dancers making any necessary adjustments.
- Allow at least one or two rehearsals for your dancers to adjust to the finished piece without making any additional big changes. Focus your feedback on performance quality and emotional investment, rather than steps.
- Decide on a costume, lighting, and title for your piece. Make sure that it fits with your concept and doesn’t detract from it.
- Sit back and watch your piece from the audience. Allow your dancers you take full ownership of the work and enjoy!
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Lauren began her training in Lowell, Massachusetts at Walker’s Dance. She was a scholarship recipient at the University of Hartford’s The Hartt School, graduating Summa Cum Laude with her BFA in Dance Performance. In her time at Hartt, Lauren furthered her training at the Jose Limon Dance Foundation, Martha Graham School, Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance, and Henny Jurrien Stichting (NL). Upon graduating she was offered a contract with Repertory Dance Theatre, where she has performed works by world-renowned choreographers such as Jose Limon, Elisa Monte, Donald McKayle, Danielle Agami, and Zvi Gotheiner. Lauren is a faculty member at Creative Arts Academy and teaches master classes at studios and University programs throughout the country. She has been a member of the company since 2014.