Mark Morris Dance Group - Choreographic elements to use in the classroom

Duration: 23:57

Discover what it means to fulfil a choreographer’s role, how to communicate creative ideas clearly and structuring those ideas for cohesion.

Teaching artists: Leslie Garrison and Billy Smith
Student dancers: NSW Public Schools Dance Ensembles, Northern Beaches Secondary College, Mackellar Girls Campus and Westfield Sports High School

MMDG 2 Choreographic elements to use in the classroom (DOCX 204.57 KB)

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Transcript – Mark Morris Dance Group - Choreographic elements to use in the classroom

[piano playing]

BILLY SMITH: For the second class, the main thing that we were trying to teach them is to-- how to fill a choreographer role. You can have the most creative ideas in the world, but if you don't know how to communicate them to your dancers, then it's futile. Right? That's such an important skill as a choreographer, is to be able to clearly communicate what you're trying to convey in your dance to your dancers.

LESLIE GARRISON: Even though the second half of the day was way more creative, you had to really take charge and take control. And it was up to one person to make decisions, which is a tall order. It's important to be able to take orders and give orders.

BILLY SMITH: Yes. So thank you all for a lovely class earlier. I really appreciated your hard work, and the energy that you're putting into focus and developing your technique. This class, we're going to focus more on being creative.

And this is a collaborative, loving environment. And don't be afraid to express your opinions, and exercise your vast creativity, and be as creative as you can possibly be. Don't be afraid to talk or express any opinion you might have.

What we're going to do now is there are 5 people in each group. And we have our phrase. You remember our phrase? 1, 2, 3, 4, dum, bum, bum. This phrase. We're going to focus on, I guess, 4 different elements of composition in choreography.

A lot of composition and choreography workshops focus on developing movement. Instead of developing movement, today, we're going to focus on structuring movement. So we already have given you the movement. And you, individually, are going to take turns each being the choreographer, one at a time, in your group.

And so you're going to have to direct your group and tell them what to do. And we're going to give you some specific guidelines for each element that we're doing. So you all get to be in the director's chair, one at a time. So don't be afraid to be assertive and just direct everyone on what to do.

LESLIE GARRISON: 1, 2, 3, 4. Stepping on the left, pushing up, pressing something away with the palm of your hand. 3, 2, 3, 4. From here, pique on your right foot, soutenu. This is the step, the pique soutenu, and you're going to have your right hand across your left cheek. And you're looking over your right shoulder.

So 3, 2, 3, 4. Step right and then left, and then scooping the arms down and up. 4, 2, 3, 4. So this is a curve. So your elbows are bent. It's like you're scooping the inside of a bowl. Scoop, rounding your back. Yeah, really feeling the inside of something.

So let me see that again. Bend. So if we want to create the illusion of something round, we have to bend our elbows, right? So we don't have that many places where we can bend-- you can come out of it now. We don't have that many places where we can bend our arms. Right?

So to make a curved shape out of our arms, you have to be slightly imaginative. Right? And you have to curve and bend the things that you know you can curve and bend. So use your imagination. You're actually brushing something curved and round.

Okay, so we have 1, 2, 3, 4. 2, 2, 3, 4. 3, 2, 3, 4. 4, 2, 3, 4. Then we go 5, 2, 3. So you step right, and then you can pique on your left, and then cross right. You flick over. That's 5, 2, 3, 4. Then we're going to roll 6, 2, 3, 4.

I'm off stage. We look back at where we came from. 7, the same sort of need in the attitude position. Twisting, reaching with your arms, we do 7, 2, step. 3, 4, step 8, 2, step 3, 4. Sorry, let me come back out here.

We're really pushing up with the heel of our hands, and we're seeing-- as we push up, we're seeing low, middle, high. So really see that. Right? Open yourself up all the way to the balcony. It's a little bit in front of you, too. Okay?

Everybody needs to think a little bit more. Your arms are actually connected to your whole body. They're not just arms. They're not a separate part of you. They're a part of your body. So think about them coming from your back a little bit more.

So what I'm getting at is this shape, they're coming directly out from my side. And then I tilt that over, so it's my torso moving that makes my arms move to the side. And that's the shape for this passe jump.

What tends to happen, and I'm guilty of it, too, everyone in the dance world is guilty of it, is letting go of the arms-- letting go of the connection of the arms to the back, and just letting the arms fly away. That's what we want to avoid. We keep it connected to the back. Right?

So it's not just an arm move, it's a full-body move. Right? That's what we're getting at. We just don't want to do an arm moving a leg move. We want to do full-body movement.

Here we go, and 1, 2, 3, 4. 2, 2, 3, 4. 3, 2, 3, 4, 4. 5, 2, 3, 4. Roll, 2, 3, 4. 7, 2, 3, 4. 8, 2, 3, 4. I see already-- good, I didn't go into the 1, but you got it.

You guys are going to see the show, and you will notice that there's lots of live music, and we are dancing very specifically to it. That's a very big thing about our group. Might not be what you necessarily want to do in the future, might not be what you're interested in,

But it definitely is, as a dancer, something very useful to have in your pocket. Listening to the music, dancing to the music, having a sense of musicality. Right? So that takes knowing when you do each move, and knowing how much time that move has. Right?

So you have to be very specific about when you're moving, and hearing the music as a guide for that. Right? So we haven't really talked about that that much this class, which is kind of surprising, because that is a very huge part of what we do. So with that said, let's talk about this phrase a little bit more, and get really specific about when things happen.

And then once you have that specificity, when things happen, then you'll feel a lot-- you'll get a sense of freedom in the dance that you might not have when you're trying to think about how everything happens, right, or what comes next? What comes next? Then you'll have a sense of freedom in the musicality of it. Right?

We study dance, we have teachers, and they're there for us to help us with these things. But if you can learn how to push yourself on your own, you'll be even better. Right? So what I mean by that is once you hear something, once you get a correction, the next time you get an-- when you get a new correction, you don't just let go of the other one. Right? You stack it up. you build on that. Right? You just keep adding on so you have more information. Right?

BILLY SMITH: We're working with time and duration first. So we're going to do the phrase in unison. You're going to choreograph something in unison, but you're going to play with how long each move is and the duration of it. So it could take a whole two 4's, maybe. Or it could go 1, 2, up. Right?

So take-- just play with the time and duration of each move. And if something's really quick, it might be hard. Or if it's slow, it might be soft. Right? So just get with your group, and we can come around, and we'll help you play with these different elements of time and duration.

[piano playing 'What a Wonderful World']

[teachers chatting]

[students chattering]

If you're the choreographer, you might want to step out and watch your group do it. Just so you can see what it's looking like, and maybe then you can have a better perspective. That's great.

[interposed student voices giving instructions]

[piano playing 'Memory (Theme from 'Cats')']


LESLIE GARRISON: Nice. All right, very good. Third group. Next we are going to introduce levels and facings. So using the ground, using the middle range, and using the high range.

So the low range could be translating this motif to floor work. The high range could be translating this into a jump. Right? Any variation of the levels.

We have 360 degrees at our disposal. Right? So there's not only facing directly downstage. Right? There's not only facing directly upstage, or to the side. There's all of these gradations that you could choose to face.

You'll see how movement changes if you look at it from a different angle. If you change your perspective, if you face-- if the side is your front, the motif will look completely different from the audience. Yeah, so we have levels and facings. Does that make sense?


LESLIE GARRISON: Doesn't have to be completely unison at this point anymore. You can have one person on the floor doing the movement very slowly, while other people are facing a different direction. So now we're getting a little bit more complicated. Right? Here we go.

BILLY SMITH: Go for it.

[piano playing 'What a Wonderful World']

It's interesting nobody's using any diagonals.

[student counting]

And choreographer, feel free to direct them as they're running it. This isn't a show, this is just a workshop.

LESLIE GARRISON: I thought it was interesting when one person would separate themselves from the group, rather than 2 people, or 3 people. So there's a difference between one person standing alone, and then being in a pair with somebody. Right? I loved in that last group how this shape was different. There was someone in releve, there was someone really low. That was great.

BILLY SMITH: Isn't it interesting how you can do the same phrase and manipulate it, and it looks completely different, depending on what you do to it? So structure is just as important as the actual movement that you generate. I think that's the lesson that we're trying to teach here.


[piano playing]

BILLY SMITH: So the next element that we're going to introduce is symmetry and depth. Okay? So you all know your directions of the stage, right? This is stage right, stage left, downstage, upstage. So as a choreographer or a director, you need to know these directions to give your cues to your dancers.

What we're going to do with this exercise is let's make it so that at least one couple in what you're creating has to be symmetrical. So that can be symmetrical from centre, like this, or it could be symmetrical up and down, like this. Does that make sense? Does everyone understand symmetry?


BILLY SMITH: So can we just do the beginning of the phrase? Can you do it going that way?


BILLY SMITH: So this is like perfect symmetry like this. So (singing) bum, bum, bum, ba, dum, bum, bum. Does that make sense?


BILLY SMITH: That's the prime example of symmetry. But take that as you will. You could even have someone on their knees, centre, just doing the arms, but symmetrical. Right? So they would never actually look left or right. It would only go forward, and it would be perfectly symmetrical that way.

LESLIE GARRISON: Yeah. If you do something on-centre it gets really tricky, because you can't actually go from right to left. You would have to change a little bit. Right? Because if we went that way, it wouldn't be symmetrical. It would have to be both arms moving in the exact same way, so it would have to be this. Right? You would have to change the choreography a little bit, if you wanted to.

BILLY SMITH: So it should be perfectly symmetrical what you create. So let's choose a new choreographer. This is a hard one.

[piano playing 'What a Wonderful World']



LESLIE GARRISON: So as a reminder, we can use everything we've learned so far.

BILLY SMITH: Everything that we've done so far.

LESLIE GARRISON: You don't have to stick only to the new task. You can incorporate everything else we've learned.

BILLY SMITH: The only thing is it has to be symmetrical. It seems to me like this group is doing radial symmetry.

LESLIE GARRISON: I think so, yeah.

BILLY SMITH: Yeah, it looks, like, circular.

LESLIE GARRISON: They're a really creative group, though.


All right, I feel like we should--

LESLIE GARRISON: All right, yeah. All right, we're going to wrap it up.

[piano playing]




Go for it.

BILLY SMITH: Cool. There was a moment there where you were in a circle, and that's actually radial symmetry what you did, which is interesting. Can you go to that moment? So there's not only like folding a piece of paper symmetry, but there's also circular symmetry. So you'd all did this turn together. Can you do that? I think it was this one.


BILLY SMITH: Can you do that right now?

Bom, and they do it all on the same side, but traveling in a circle. That's radially symmetrical. So every blade of the circle is doing the same motion and traveling in the same direction in the circle. That's radial symmetry.

So that's an interesting example. I don't even know if you meant to do that, whoever the choreographer was. Good job. [laughs] Can we just go through the whole thing slowly from the beginning?


BILLY SMITH: You got it. So this beginning looks very symmetrical to me. Right? So let's do it slowly. And a 1, 2, 3, 4. And up, 2, 3, stop. You can put your foot down if you want, but keep your arms up. So these are all diagonal facings.

This isn't radially symmetrical yet because they're on different legs. If they were all on the same leg, it would be a perfect circular symmetry. But they're on different legs, so it's not. Good, and do the turn now.

Bom. They all do the turn the same way. That's radial symmetry. Now, keep going. Bum, bum. Good, now this is perfectly symmetrical. Keep going. Bum. You, there.


It's okay.



--which way is she supposed to face?

STUDENT CHOREOGRAPHER: She starts right here--

LESLIE GARRISON: Face out, so you guys would be facing out too. Yeah, great.

BILLY SMITH: Great. Keep going. Okay, so here, we broke the symmetry a little bit. Right? And can anyone tell me why?

STUDENT: Because we're not side-by-side--

LESLIE GARRISON: Exactly, exactly. Good.

BILLY SMITH: Exactly. Whenever you change the depth and you move it like this, when you cross into centre, it breaks the symmetry. In order for it to stay symmetrical, they would run into each other. Does that make sense?


BILLY SMITH: Great. While it's interesting, It's not symmetrical.

LESLIE GARRISON: So interesting. It's all really good.

BILLY SMITH: But it's really interesting. It's amazing that you guys can come up with these things. It's so cool.

[piano playing]

LESLIE GARRISON: A canon is using the same motif in different sequences of time. At different intervals of time. A succ-- sorry. A succession of different intervals of time. Have you guys heard of a canon before? I'm sure you have. Yeah? You were using that the first exercise.

So we'll try doing a canon in your group with your choreographer. But you can also use the facings, the rhythm, time, duration, levels. You can incorporate all of these ideas. You don't have to if you don't want to. You can do a canon.

Think about the space. It doesn't have to be completely symmetrical, thank God. Right? We're not going to make you do that anymore. So using all of the things that we've talked about, and thinking about a canon for the next exercise. Is that clear?


LESLIE GARRISON: Okay, great. So spread out in space.

BILLY SMITH: I encourage you to play with facings. Because right now, to me, it looks like everyone's doing a canon facing the same direction. So you could actually have certain people facing different ways and still do a canon.

[piano playing]

You don't have to, but if you want to, you can play with that.

[student choreographer counting]

[students chattering]

BOY: If you stop, it's going to go into a straight line, and then it's going to go out.

GIRL: Yeah, that's what it's meant to be. Isn't it?

BOY: I thought--

[students chattering]

BILLY SMITH: So go through one more time what you're going to do, and then we'll do our show-and-tell.

[piano playing]




LESLIE GARRISON: All right, I think that's the first diagonal we've seen all day. That was really neat, because it kept moving between a diagonal, and then a vertical line, and then a diagonal. That was really cool. It sort of creeped across stage. And also, you guys went from canon to unison, canon to unison. That's really good, yeah.

BILLY SMITH: It was also very well-rehearsed, so the choreographer did a good job of specifying what they wanted. Right?


BILLY SMITH: Did you? I don't know.



BILLY SMITH: Props to you. That was good.

[piano playing]

So we're going to incorporate all or as many of these ideas that we've been working with today as you want. So we have levels and facings. We have duration and time. We have symmetry.

You can choose to have some things that are symmetrical, or not. You can ignore that. You don't have to do symmetry. And we also have a canon. Okay? So you can play with all of these things in whatever way you want, in whatever way you think is interesting. All right?

LESLIE GARRISON: I encourage you guys to go back to the very first exercise that we did that had different qualities and different timings, and trying to vary the motif again in that way. So not forgetting about time and duration as we incorporate facings and everything you want. So you get to pick and choose. It's a grab bag. It's your own thing. Right?

[piano playing 'All of Me']

[piano playing 'Saving All My Love for You']

Thank you so much for coming and being here. We had a blast, especially this afternoon. I hope you guys got a sense of all the little, tiny parts of making a dance. You know, sometimes, actually the simplest idea can take you very far. Actually, that's what I noticed watching you guys.

Actually, that first exercise we did with time and duration, even though it was the smallest thought, it went so far, and there was a huge variety of what happened. So there's a lot that goes into making a dance. There's a lot of different ways to go about it.

These are just a few little tools that you can keep and use if you ever want to think about choreography or make a dance. I'm very impressed with how all of you guys took charge and took the lead. It was great, and I hope you guys had fun.

BILLY SMITH: Yeah, it's really good for you to be able to fill every role. Right? As a director, or as a dancer. There are 2 different hats that you have to wear if you want to be in this business. So I'm very proud of you all for really stepping up and being able to listen, and also being able to direct and talk at the same time. Those are both very important things to be able to do.

LESLIE GARRISON: Yeah. It was a very exciting day. It was nice to be able to have the group for a long period of time, to have 2 different sessions with them. It was enough time to be able to see progress, and to see them sort of open up and get excited. It was very fun.

BILLY SMITH: Even the shy ones came out of their shell. That was the reward for me, is seeing everyone being able to open up and express themselves.

LESLIE GARRISON: And it's great that they get to see the show tonight and actually get a taste for where we're coming from. So I think it's a very full, exciting day for us, and hopefully for them.


Totally good. Keep dancing, keep working hard, keep taking risks, all of that stuff.

[piano playing 'Saving All My Love for You']

End of transcript