Re: choreographer collaborations

Nick Rothwell (
6 Jan 1998 14:05:08 -0000

> We sometimes play music while we choreograph, but when we make the
> decisi= on=20 to commission a score we sure don't expect it sound
> anything like the stu= ff=20 we have become used to. I mean no. We
> certainly do not have clear ideas= =20 what the music "should" sound
> like. That is part of the fun. =20

OK - and I agree - and yet you presumably base your judgement on who
would be good to collaborate with, and who would not, on some
perception of what the final work might look like? Or perhaps it's
just an appreciation for the other person's work and enough trust
that something good can result, whatever it might be?

(I think my take is: some of each, as you say.)

> Another question: how much influence or feedback or back and forth=20
> is there in such a process? =20

In my experience, I think the answer is: not enough. I don't mean in
terms of attempts I might make to influence the choreography (and,
usually, if I have comments or suggestions there seems to be no
problem). I mean in terms of trying to grasp what a choreographer is
after in terms of musical material or specific events; often there is
quite a wide gap in vocabularies and working methods.

(This is not necessarily a bad thing - differences in perspective are
often fruitful - but effective communication is important too.)

A couple of other brief points come to mind from the comments of
yesterday, now I've had time to think. The first is aimed in Sarah's
direction, although anyone should feel free to comment:

> Choreographers are artists as well, with their own ideas. We tend to
> see collaborations as opportunities to develop new ideas with other
> artists, to allow ideas to rub up against each other and, hopefully,
> produce something new that would not have been produced by only one of
> the artists concerned. We do not really like being used merely as
> tools to realise someone else's, obviously very clear, dance ideas
> (and then slated because we don't produce what that person wants.)

So the thought occurred to me: if it is not acceptable for (let us
say) a musician to be very prescriptive about choreography when
seeking a collaborator, what makes it acceptable for choreographers to
be so prescriptive when working with dancers? Are dancers to be viewed
as "technicians" rather than as artists in their own right?

That's not a rhetorical or intentionally aggressive question: I'm
curious to hear replies. Choreographers are always keenly observant of
the qualities of different dancers and which dancers are best upon
which to make a particular work: and yet they are usually highly
prescriptive about the outcome. With this as a tradition, what makes
it wrong for a musician, or a visual designer, or a film director, to
be prescriptive to a choreographer?

Second question: why is it so common for choreographers to commission
composers to collaborate with, and so rare for composers to commission
choreographers? In the former case, is it because the dance is more
important than the music? Can true, equal, collaborations ever emerge
from commissions?

(I think I might have a third question in the same vein, once I've
thought about Darren Kelly's article in more detail.)

         Nick Rothwell, CASSIEL        contemporary dance projects        music synthesis and control

"...but you? You've got a monkey on your back: dedication."