Choreography from afar

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We’re facing a new challenge at the moment.  A challenge that would never have been conceivable in Isadora Duncans day.  I moved.  Across the country.  To Isadora Duncan’s birthplace.  But without the rest of isadoraNOW.  To complicate matters further, we are preparing for our newest season in February, which will feature all new work. So the challenge of the moment is how to choreograph a dance performance from thousands of miles away.  It’s a challenge that excites me in many ways as I’ve always been intrigued by the place where technology and art intersect.  What better way to explore that than through this situation that has been thrust upon us?

Our approach has been delicate and slow to develop.  But I have high hopes that it will evolve into a method that allows us to see the situation as a means for inspiration and innovation, rather than as a hindrance to the creative process.  We began with a rush of choreography.  Once it was definite that I would be moving, I tried to lay down as much movement as possible in a short amount of time.  With two works-in-progress performances, we were able to get feedback on that work right away.  I am always inspired by my dancers when I choreograph, but as I anticipated being far from them during much of this process, I drew much material from their natural movements and their interpretations of my choreography.  This gives them ownership of the movement and helps them to develop it further when I am away.

Raleigh and I speak often about every detail of the performance and the rehearsals.  We debate whether particular sections are too abstract or too literal.  We ask each other if the music we chose is appropriate.  We change music.  We move dancers around.  We change the sequence of various sections.  All via telephone, from thousands of miles apart.

Last week I attended a rehearsal in person for the first time in nearly four months.  I was nervous and anxious to see the progress that had been made.  As I watched the choreography unfold, I was amazed at the experience.  While I had seen video of every new section and every bit that had been adapted since I left, video is never the same as live performance.  I feared that the piece would seem foreign and unfamiliar, as if it was not my own choreography and my own ideas manifested.  It was not perfect.  It never is, even once it has premiered.  But it is still mine.  It is familiar and recognizable.  It addresses the questions I sought to answer from the start.  It expresses the emotions I was attempting to convey.

This company has always been a collaborative process, but never more than the past few months.  As I watched the dancers (one of whom I was even meeting for the first time!) in the studio last week, I was amazed at how much of me was there with them as they danced.  That is not to say that they are not hugely influenced by Raleigh, by how she has taught them over the past few months, and by the training they received before ever meeting me, but as they performed my work and my ideas, I was amazed at how much a person can influence a performance, even when they cannot be physically present during much of the process.

This week, as I participate in rehearsal through Skype, I cannot help but think about how technology has made the world a smaller place.  While on tour, Isadora spent months away from her students, without even being able to speak with them about their development.  The Isadorables performed her work in foreign lands and she could not participate in anything but creating the original choreography in the studio.  Today, I am able to speak with the dancers in isadoraNOW as frequently as I would like, analyze videos of new sections they are working on, and even interact with them, live, while they are in rehearsal.  Amazing.  As I anticipate the next few months of finalizing material for Eurydice, I will continue to be inspired by the marvelous technology that allows me to be part of this process from so far away.

-Elyssa



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