“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
If there is one thing I’ve learned over my 15-ish years as a choreographer, it is that you can’t be is too precious about your work. My choreography mentor Sara Pearson once told me that you have to be a “ruthless editor” to succeed as a choreographer. It’s easy to get attached to every movement, moment, and musical choice, but that attachment can blind you to the fact that sometimes your first idea (or second or third or tenth…) isn’t your best. Don’t be afraid to get rid of what isn’t serving the dance at any given moment. You can always add it back it if you decide that it is truly needed.
Two top-line ideas to make you more comfortable with the practice of editing your choreography: First, journal often throughout the process. Working through your ideas on paper can allow new choreographic ideas to “reveal themselves” to you, and help you figure out why you might be overly attached to different parts of the work. Second, record and save every version of your work, that way you can always go back to material that was cut to add it back in or repurpose in another section.
Here are my ten favorite ways to edit your choreography throughout the creative process:
Consider Rudolf Laban’s Movement Principles: Body, Effort (Quality), Shape, Space. Be clear with these concepts both in your intention (the movement you are creating) and your/the dancer’s follow through (the performance of that movement). Where exactly is that arm reaching to? Should the a particular movement be sharper or smoother? Are the all dancers curving their torsos to the same degree? A little clarification can go a long way in helping a dance look polished.
Mind your transitions: What transitional moments can be deleted, embellished, added, softened, sped up, slowed down, etc.? These moments can often be overlooked, but can make all of the difference in the overall flow and look of the piece.
Don’t force too much technique: It is easy to get “stuck” in complex movement phrases and variations when choreographing. Don’t be afraid to pair down technical phrases to more basic pedestrian movement, or to add gesture, stillness, etc.
Unity, Variety, Contrast: Does the piece have a balance of the 3? Unity: theme and throughlines, Variety: variations on the theme (levels, tempos, qualities, facings, etc.), Contrast: Delightfully different moments that “pop” throughout the piece to keep the audience on their toes!
Making cuts: Often we include choreography because we like it, not because it serves the concept of the piece. Don’t be afraid to cut out movement phrases that are pretty but not connected to the theme, or to pare down large group sections to solos if it helps to tell the story, or to choose simple formations if they work best to get your message across. Helping the audience connect with the concept, theme, story, or message of the dance is more important than throwing in flashy moments just because you can.
Making additions: Sometimes, adding a “frame,” such as a large group of dancers moving quickly across the stage during another dancer’s solo, or a slow moving chorus around a duet, can enhance the movement you already have and help the audience see it in new ways.
Music: Don’t be afraid to edit or cut the music if it is too long for your vision. The audience should always be left wanting more!
Music, Part 2: It never hurts to try the piece to a different piece of music, at least in rehearsal. Sometimes it will bring out a new movement idea, performance quality, or perspective for performers and audience alike. You can stick with the new piece or apply what you gleaned from the experiment back to the old piece.
Spectacle: Are text, props, costumes, silence, music, etc. best serving the concept of the piece and enhancing the choreography? What would happen if you tried the movement without them? If you changed them? If you added something new?
Use of space: How does the piece move throughout the space? Are your choices for movement pathways, formations, transitions, entrances, and exits intentional, or habitual? Do they best serve the concept, theme, story, or message of your piece?
Deepen your choreography practice with The Holistic Guide to Journaling for Choreographers, a list of 52 prompts to help choreographers and dance composition students reflect holistically on their creative practice and growth as dance makers.
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