Friday, April 01, 2011

The Value of Musicality in Choreography

I had the privilege the other night of attending the Ballet. It has been a really long time since I have gone to see a ballet and I left feeling generally inspired and suitably cultured. The dancers' technique was impeccable and the visual presentation of the piece on the whole was stunning, but I have to admit that I was occasionally slightly disappointed with one thing: the musicality of the the choreography.

Working with the swing performance group that I both organise and am a part of, I have also had a series of conversations lately about the importance of creating pieces that are highly musical and which use the whole song as an arc to present one coherent entity: the combination of music, dance, and performance.

Now, most people will think that what I am saying is a fairly logical thing. Of course the music should be reflected in the choreography, right? I guess, the issue is, to what extent?

We all hear different things in music: different accents, different highlights, and even sometimes different melodic tracks. And most songs have a lot of these things layered within them. When social dancing, strong dancers do their best to anticipate the music and utilise these layers of interest. Breaks, accents, and musical qualities that are used in the social 'choreography' show that the dancers are thinking about more than just which step they can think of to do next. But when doing a piece of set choreography, how many levels are enough?

Obviously, because set choreography is not impulsive it is expected to have a better understanding of the music it is using. But at what point do you have to stop dissecting the music and just allow the dance to happen?

I find myself caught in the middle at  the moment. I was disappointed that the Ballet I viewed didn't use the amazing music as well as it could have. Accents were missed or subverted and sometimes beautiful choreography was being done to music that just didn't seem to fit. And yet, when choreographing myself, I pick out the main highlights I hear and want to emphasise and then can sometimes neglect (purposefully or not) to hear the other lines around those. I don't think that every line can be played to within choreography, and attempting to do so can sometimes lessen the impact of really hitting an accent or musical element. But how much is enough... and where do you draw the line?

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