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The expert choreographers of the future have to start somewhere, so it makes sense that not every choreographic work along the way will be a success. Though there is no formula for brilliance when it comes to dance choreography, there are some easy ways to separate the good from the bad.

My “Bad dance” series will highlights some common choreographic pitfalls, and offers suggestions for choreographers about how to shake up their work. Today I’ll explain and examine “onstage chaos.”

Onstage Chaos

Modern dance composition teachers and choreographers often ask dancers to build phrases that stem from a given idea or movement theme. When the dancers have completed their phrases, it is safe to assume that many differences will naturally exist among them. But because the functionality of each phrase is similar, it is also safe to assume that the different dancers’ phrases will have a natural relationship with one another.

For example, two phrases that embody “aggression” may each contain violent or thrashing movements, but those movements may not occur at the same time during the time progression of each phrase. Choreographers may choose to juxtapose two dancers with related phrases onstage in an effort to emphasize a spatial or emotional relationship between dancers, or simply to create a visual contrast through the ebb and flow of individual gestures occurring simultaneously.

The problem here occurs when young choreographers are not mindful in selecting phrase pairings or groupings; such students pair phrases together onstage and cross their fingers that the results will be “edgy” or “interesting.” For the same reason that a cook does not just throw 17 spices into a sauce, a choreographer should use discretion and careful selection in choosing what phrases, or ingredients, make it into his or her final piece.

Choreographers should also note that increasing the amount of individual movement language (phrasework) onstage at a given time may overwhelm audience members. This may, in turn, cause audience members to have trouble making personal connections to the piece.

INSTEAD: Choreographers should take their time in selecting what phrasework actually ends up on the stage. Though it may sound like an obvious concept, many student choreographers find themselves rushed to finish their theses by a certain deadline; the same can be true of professional choreographers who are submitting work to a show or festival. If this is the case, choreographers should try filming individual dancers performing their phrases, and then working on a computer at home to mix and match phrases, and to experiment with timing and musical accompaniment. This technique will save time in the studio, and also allows the choreographer to get outside feedback if he or she so desires.

The main thing to keep in mind here is that it is okay to have multiple things happening onstage at once, as long as everything has a purpose in the context of the choreographic work as a whole. Cut the extraneous material to get to the essence of the thing.

Check out Bad Dance Part 1, if you haven’t already, and stay tuned for Part 3, which will focus on facial expressions.