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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 performance gimmicks.

Performance gimmicks 

A good dance performance is the perfect marriage of many elements – a combination that includes the choreography, costuming, lighting design, setting and overall theme of the performance. And if a choreographer so desires, additional technologies can manipulate physical variables to interact with and alter one another. With so many variables to consider, and with the constant pressure to create something unique/memorable/audience-pleasing/etc., it is no wonder that choreographers sometimes fall victim to performance gimmicks.

It can be tempting to include flashy costumes, large props, “cool” technological elements and/or controversial subject matter in a piece of choreography just to give it an edge. But if done carelessly, such additions can ultimately depreciate the lasting impact of the work

INSTEAD: It is important to consider the purposefulness of each aspect individually. In accordance with the literary technique Chekov’s gun, choreographer-technician teams must be wary of including unnecessary elements in their collaboration for the sake of added glitz. Similarly, a choreographer must be sure that if he or she includes controversial subject matter in his or her work, the choice must play a critical role in advancing choreographic intent.

At this point I will also emphasize my opinion that choreography should be able to stand on its own – without music, lighting, costuming, etc. – before any additional elements are considered. By this, I simply mean that a dance should not rely on something outside of its choreography to evoke a certain feeling or response from its audience members.

This particular issue takes us back in time to the fifth season of So You Think You Can Dance, when Tyce Diorio premiered his “Breast Cancer Dance”.

Though many viewers, including SYTYCD Emmy-winning choreographer Mia Michaels, were moved to tears after seeing it performed, I do not see the magic in the duet’s choreography. Though the dance was well-executed in performance, I wonder how many viewers were smitten by it purely due to its sensitive subject matter. Would the audience’s reaction have been equally tender had the choreography been completely different? Try watching the piece below with no sound to see where you stand.

Diorio’s duet borderlines classification as “victim art,” a term coined by famed dance critic Arlene Croce (of The New Yorker). Croce used the term in a 1994 article entitled, “Discussing the Undiscussable,” in which she  deemed choreographer Bill T. Jones’ Still/Here to be “unreviewable.” Jones’ work centered on AIDS and HIV and featured video testimonies by young to elderly people living with the disease. Croce found that the loaded emotional and social content of the work took it out of the realm of critique. Though Diorio did not feature a victim of breast cancer in his piece, he did give an emotional monologue about a friend living with the disease during the televised duet’s introduction. Without such a dramatic set-up, the piece, though beautiful, may have gleaned a more lackluster review from the public.

What do you think? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Check out Bad Dance Part 1Part 2 and Part 3 for more tips!