In music, composers explore and arrange sound. Choreographers carry a similar responsibility in dance by intermingling body movements with music. The work of a composer is meaningless without musicians. Similarly, choreographers need dancers to bring arranged movements to life. How these arranged movements come to fruition can vary by choreographer, but in many cases the dancer can serve as a source of inspiration together with the music.
This was the topic explored last Friday evening during the Chicago Dancing Festival during the Muses program. Legendary dancers graced the stage at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art to explore the relationship between choreographers and dancers. In many ways, the evening gave us dance newbies a crash course in modern dance.
The evening consisted of Chicago dance historian and journalist Lucia Mauro interviewing Alejandro Cerrudo, Resident Choreographer of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Janet Eilber, former dancer and current Artistic Director of Martha Graham Dance Company, Betty de Jong, former dance and current Rehearsal Director of the Paul Taylor Dance Company, and Lar Lubovitch, Artistic Director of hisown company.
As each of the guests discussed their own personal experiences, it gave me insights about dance I hadn’t thought about and gave context about how to approach watching a dance. Round versus square, patterns created by moving on the dance floor and interpretation of the music were just a few things where I felt more enlightened.
For both Cerrudo and Lubovitch, choreography often begins with the music versus the idea for a dance. Both choreographers agreed it was very difficult to have an idea and then find music. Inspiration evolves from listening to the music. For Cerrudo, choreography is partnership and he has no problems incorporating ideas into a dance if he likes them. Cerrudo became a choreographer to become a good dancer, a combination that has served him well based on the results. He is both a member of the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago ensemble as well as the resident choreographer.
Once gestures are arranged, then dancers have to learn and internalize the movements. Dancers should “play the music on their body,” according to Lubovitch. The movement must become an emotional experience that projects to the audience. Eilber discussed how Martha Graham directed her “to talk to herself” as she danced. On the other hand, Paul Taylor found a way to harness de Jong’s anger without making it too visible.
It was also interesting to hear that dancers have to focus on technical proficiency before artistry and emotion. I think the opposite occurs in music. When a student begins learning an instrument, technique is necessary, but I think there reaches a point where other aspects of music making become more important.
I walked away from the evening thinking about how the relationship the relationship dancers, choreographers and music have on each other. Dance is process between personality chemistry vs. inspiration, physical abilities vs. emotion, and vision mixed with musical interpretation.