Re: choreographer collaborations

Sarah Rubidge (
Mon, 12 Jan 1998 09:47:01 +0000

>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?

Interesting question. I guess it is because, traditionally, the
choreographer/composer/etc and the dancer/actor/musician are, as artists,
different in kind. The latter more often than not take the role of
interpretive artists, the former generates the ideas from which the work is
derived and that guides the nuance of expression which is sought. (The
director/conductor take a more intermediate role. Interestingly we have
very few 'dance directors' in modern dance. It has taken me a couple of
years to find someone to direct one of my pieces. Most reconstruct the
original production. I wanted someone to re-interpret the work. I have
finally found someone to do this. It will be interesting to see what the
result is of someone else's mind working on my ideas.)

But to continue: During the choreographic process most choreographers
incorporate ideas offered by dancers into the work, indeed many work in
such a way that the dancers provide much of the movement material from
which the dance is formed. That said, it is usually the choreographer who
is responsible for forming that material into a dance - again, often in
collaboration with the dancers. The choreographer has the outside eye -
and the develops the framework which becomes the work.

>Are dancers to be viewed as "technicians" rather than as artists in their
>own >right?

Categorically NO - but in many works dancers are taking the role of
interpretive artists (if they didn't they would be taking the role of
choreographer) - and most submit to being directed so that the quality and
shaping of their movement is clear. (The way a movement looks from the
outside and the way it feels from the inside are not necessarily the same.)
With many choreographers a lot of the prescription is to do with helping
the dancers to achieve that clarity of articulation. Subtle nuances of
expression are achieved in this way. (Actors and musicians undergo the
same kind of rehearsal process for similar reasons.) There comes a point,
however, when the choreographer must let go - for Siobhan Davies this is at
the point of performance - she frequently says just before the lights go
down - 'it's their dance now'. That said - she still gives 'notes' -
again to ensure clarity of movement expression.

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.

See above.

>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?

This only works if the choreographer is fully aware that their role is that
of interpreter. (I am in discussion about such a project with a visual
artist at th moment) However, most expect to work as an equal partner with
collaborators. This is the result of the history of practice in modern
dance upon which our understanding of our role is built and thus our
expectations. Unless poeple commissioning choreogrpahers uderstand that
there are likely to be difficulties.