Did you ever write an angsty poem? One you’d never show to anyone else because it wallowed in the overblown emotions? I suspect anyone who considers themselves a writer (and quite a few of us who don’t) have done this. We’ve used trite phrasing, we’ve waded through topics done to death, but hopefully we’ve learned from those creative bursts. Sometimes we need them. We have to spit out the crap to get to the interesting work. We throw away page after page of trite nonsense to get to one perfect sentence. I’ve spoken to musicians that do the same thing. I’ve roomed with an artist who swore the only good work came from the very bottom of any tube of paint – the rest was for painting the disasters.
I feel like choreographers don’t have that luxury. At least not ones on the kind of shoestring budget most of us have. We can’t read our words the next morning and trim away the junk, paint over the canvas, hear our composition and refine it. We have to have living bodies. Sure I can script movement all day, but 9 times out of 10 I go into the studio with an image that becomes something entirely new once the limitations of human form are applied. You’d be shocked how many times I mutter the phrase “this would work if only you didn’t have arms”. Bodies are messy. None of them move the same way. No two dancers move identically and I assure you none of them can fly no matter how often they do in my visions.
Sure, I can throw phrase after phrase of movement on them and toss it aside. But I’m wasting their time when I do that. I have to get it right in studio because the clock is always ticking. But its more than just trying to get the right movement every rehearsal. I have a lot of bad ideas. I want to set a piece for my mother. Its maudlin and personal and nothing worthy of an audience. But its something I need to work through. I need to set it so I can move through it – so I can find the essence of grief. When I can distill the emotion of grief from the personal experience of it – then I can set something powerful. But I don’t have the luxury of setting the overblown nonsense that has to come first. I want to play with modern music. That takes a unique skill. To capture the heart of a lyric’d piece without choreographing TO the lyrics, which comes across as trite and dull to most audiences. But again, that is a journey. Like any artform, you have to do the bad work to get to the good stuff.
But when the work you create has to see a stage to pay your instruments and muses? How do you evolve then? I have to wonder if this is why so many choreographers play it safe. Setting what has worked for them before again and again and again. Unfortunately until I become independently wealthy I have no choice personally but to keep pushing through. To put out what seems powerful at the time, only to cringe at it later when I see trivialities, the conventions, the points when I played it safe. Hopefully I’ll avoid getting panned so badly I lose the chance to learn from my mistakes and grow as an artist.
One of these days I’ll learn to draw images that can move across the page and don’t mind when I crumple them up and toss them aside.