About two years ago, I received some harsh criticism about my work from someone in the field that I wanted to “impress.” Ouch. It happens. I try to take all feedback openly, and think it through. Some of what this guy said went straight into the trash, but there were a few gems, among them this:
He, who shall not be named, told me that the dance vocabulary I was using (ballet, mixed in with gestural nuances) didn’t really support the ideas I was attempting to communicate - that really what I could do to best serve my own work was to research a new dance vocabulary. Fair enough.
Once my eyes were opened to this problem, I started to notice that it’s actually a very common problem amongst dance choreographers. Lots of what you see doesn’t directly relate to the ideas being communicated. Rather, these choreographers present an idea, dance around some, present another idea with someone in a different type of costume, and dance around some more. And the question began to be obvious: If the dance hasn’t much to do with the central idea, why use dance as your medium? I’d wager that many a choreographer would be more successful creating tableaux vivants.
I took it upon myself to unhook from ballet. I stopped taking class, in an effort to figure out who I was choreographically. A tall philosophical order!
And after some time of participating in this exercise, I began to understand what my movement language was like, and how different it was from piece to piece. I started to understand that I’ve only ever created theatre (or should have been making dance film), really. And that to me, dance was a mechanism for conceptual/character/narrative delivery, but not as a THING unto itself.
But then a strange thing happened. I began to fear taking class. I’m a little bit older than your average dancer (34, thanks for asking), and every time I stepped into class, I began to judge myself against the dancer that I was at 22, 25, 31 and every stage in between. I felt a need to prove something to myself - which is odd, because we’re always being told that we are only comparing against ourselves, so you’d think it would work in my favor. But no.
And so, last week, after really missing ballet, I went back and took class. The bargain was this: I was not allowed to compare myself to a previous version. There would be no stakes, only the pleasure of this dance form that I had craved for a long time, right now. Ballet: it’s aristocratic, and beautiful, and I love it.
I won’t have a professional career in it, although I may yet make a ballet dance film. I adore the structure and the classicism. It was exhilarating and terrifying to talk myself through petit and grand allegro, because I knew that I’d be terrible at them. Discipline won the day, and I felt like a million bucks for the next two days.
I’ll be going back, every week. At least once a week is the bargain for the next year. And now the challenge will be to keep my choreographic voice without letting ballet seep back in unintentionally. I’m aware of the potential pitfalls. Back to class.