Everyone needs a bit of inspiration now and then, particularly if you are a teacher and need to be a prolific choreographer week-after-week and year-after-year in your classes and stage performances. Many, I know, settle themselves in front of the computer and scour youtube for dance ideas but there are other ways to spark creativity. My wheels begin turning when I see or read about the work other artists (dance or otherwise) are doing. However, it doesn’t matter if I’m creating a recital number for preschoolers or a jazz combination for 15-year-old students, ideas can come from anywhere. Occasionally I like to turn my spotlight on stories, notions, images, etc. that I feel might serve as a jumping off point – similar to the one-sentence story starters creative writers use. I’m not offering a how-to or making suggestions for your next masterpiece (though I may sometimes offer possible applications). Mostly I just want to help get your own creative juices pumping. You can let me know if I’ve done so in the comments below!
Experiments with Improvisation, Chance, and Technology
In honor of contemporary dance trailblazer, Merce Cunningham, who recently passed away, I thought I’d present you with ways in which he (and others) have creatively used digital music devices to devise unique dance/movement experiences and performances.
The first example is a work that Cunningham made in 2006 while in his late 80s. In eyeSpace the musical score is loaded onto iPod Shuffles (which are provided for the audience). Using this device Cunningham, who consistently utilized principles of chance and randominity in his presentations, gave audience members an individualized listening experience as they watched the dancers perform. This article at the American Art Museum blog offers a nice description of the event from an audience member’s perspective as well as some insightful commentary on how people view art.
An organization called Improv Everywhere, which is based in New York City, has been doing a variety of innovative and fun group improvisations for several years. They specialize in “organized fun” and have made an annual event of their Mp3 Experiment. This particular mission involves participants downloading an mp3 online and uploading it to their personal mp3 player. A meeting time is arranged and watches are synchronized so that everyone presses play at the same moment. From here, the participants are led through a series of actions and tasks which may seem spontaneous to viewers. You can read more about the six Mp3 Experiments completed thus far, as well as the groups’s other missions, at the Improv Everywhere website.
Another example in dance was demonstrated by The Pillow Project in Pittsburgh last year. During Silent Saturday (part of their Second Saturday series) these dancers moved in apparent silence while listening to their own mp3 player. Audiences, encouraged but not required to bring their own, had the option to watch while listening to their own soundtrack. You can read more about the event at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website.
These are just a few examples that hopefully will spark your creativity. If you have other related examples, feel free to share them!
I know some of you are probably thinking “Cute, but how in the world would I apply that at my dance studio?” Though I doubt that many of you will be handing out iPod shuffles to each audience member at your next recital, I do think there are ways to adapt or embrace these concepts for both performance and in-class use.
- Dare to bring a bit of chance to a performance – consider creating a special number that might be danced to a handful of music selections. Your audience will be amazed and delighted that each performance of the dance may be different based on the surprise (even to the dancers) selection for the evening.
- Create sections of a dance that are then performed in a shuffled order unknown to the performers – for more advanced dancers this could be a great challenge encouraging sophisticated memory and performance skills.
- Consider an impromptu and interactive segment within your next presentation during which the audience is led through a series of movements or actions. I guarantee they’ll talk about it for years to come!
- Try shuffling through your own iPod, creating 32 counts of choreography based upon the music you’ve randomly selected, then put the counts together to form a new piece with completely different music.
- Have some students brainstorm their own “mp3 experiment” and allow other students and parents to take it to the public – could be a unique and memorable way to make your studio’s presence known in the community.
- Have your class members each select a song, download each song and load them into your player. Shuffle them and create your next class based upon their selections!
These are off the top of my head, what’s on top of yours now that you have been giving a jumping off point? These aren’t necessarily for teachers only. Students, parents… Get Creative!