Last month, I asked choreographers to teach QCA about their discipline. Given that we just started a new program serving performing artists, we wanted to hear more about their documentation process: how they preserve their work for themselves, for future performances, and for posterity.
This preservation component is key for the Artist Commissioning Program (ACP), as part of its mission is to instigate works in Queens that fill gaps in American culture. Of course, this requires going far beyond one performance. We want this commission to instigate the works’ long and significant cultural life.
For the other two disciplines associated with ACP, documentation was clear: Playwrights will be expected to produce a script, and Composers will create a musical score. These objects—these cultural artifacts—will enable others to replicate the work in the future. Yet for choreographers, this process is not so simple, hence our question.
So we asked, and we received. The responses helped us conceptualize what this commission looks like for a choreographer. We’ll use them to help ensure that the choreographic works created will have a life well beyond their world premieres.
So how do choreographers document their work? Two Queens-based choreographers share their stories:
Gierre J. Godley—Artistic Director, Project 44 Dance
Gierre J. Godley, Artistic Director of Project 44 Dance, prefers video for documenting his choreography. Sure to record every rehearsal and performance, he says this process “not only helps me keep the initial intent of the work by also allows me to continue to investigate… I try to honor the fact that as an artist and a man, I am continuing to change while developing my artistic voice. The work should do the same.” Because he often works with the same dancers, Gierre also finds it valuable to capture their initial reactions to the choreography. During the restaging process, he can then play back their history with the movement. “Their memories of sight, sound, and touch adds an additional layer when reconstructing a work,” he says.
Dancers Zachary Denison and Collin Ranf rehearse a duet from the work in its original form and intent. Once the duet reached the stage, it was performed in two pairs. Gierre keeps the original duet video to understand the mechanics and direction, while the video from the final performance helps him “understand the staging, lighting, and other stage cues.”
Follow Gierre's dance company, Project44dance at project44dance.org or on social media at Project44dance and #project44dance.
Jacqueline Dugal—Choreographer, Dancer, Educator, Dugal Dance Projects
"The beautiful reality of live performance like dance is that it is never truly repeatable," says Jacqui.
Dugal Dance Projects / Jacqueline Dugal
“Dance notation is a funny thing,” says Jacqui Dugal. When asked about the relevance of this language—if it’s helpful, if anyone uses it—she explains that, while the language exists, “college dance programs usually make students aware of it without teaching [students] how to read or write it.” With dance notation no longer particularly useful, dance-makers select their own methods of preservation, which Jacqui says typically includes “some form of video documentation, note taking, and passing down in person from choreographer to company members.” Choreographers and/or established company members can also teach new company members from memory.
As far as recreation is concerned, Jacqui says the ideal scenario is to have: “the full video of the work, thorough notes from the original creation process, and the original choreographer and/or cast members to pass on a work.”
During the creation process, journals are her “best friend.” “I have dozens of notebooks where I reflect on concepts relating to a choreographic work, log rehearsal agendas, improvisational activities, the feelings associated with movement phrases that may not be clear on video, and details of the movement such as initiations and internal mechanisms that video cannot always capture effectively.” Yet even with this robust documentation process, her and her dancers end up reminding each other of “the essence of movements and the subtle details when working through the work in the studio.”
When the piece gets to the rehearsal stage, video becomes “a huge part” of her process. “I videotape rehearsals and review them to prepare for the following rehearsal.” Saving all her videos, she revisits the materials to re-learn previous choreography.
Yet despite all these valiant efforts to document, in a sense we are trying to preserve the unpreservable. “The beautiful reality of live performance like dance is that it is never truly repeatable,” says Jacqui. “Each live performance is unique in its own existence because conditions are different every time and humans are flawed beings. I think the beauty of live performance is that it does change and evolve with the next set of variables: the next cast, a new performance space, a change in costume, etc., and this keeps performance engaging for me. Documentation of movement work holds onto the idea and foundation of a work but it's up to the next performers and director to bring it back to life and fill in the gaps and color the details with their backgrounds, experiences, and energies.”
Follow Jacqui's dance company, Dugal Dance Projects, at dugaldance.com, on Facebook at Jacqui Dugal or on instagram at @jacquelinedugal.