By Michele Tobias
When your day job involves business clothes and a cubicle, you can’t dance at work… or at least, it’s not advisable. But that’s not to say you can’t review choreography. I map choreography both in my written notes as well as separately to help me remember choreography, and that’s something I can do on a break at my desk. Above, a sketch on a 1/4 sheet scratch paper shows my mental marks for “Blood, Reciprocity, & Kevin Bacon“. Director Pamela Trokanski advises her dancers that if you can’t verbalize the choreography as you dance it, you don’t really know it. For me, I also need to picture my locations. Being able to draw out each mark helps me review and remember transitions. I numbered the marks here just to help viewers references the sequence, but I could have written in the names of pieces instead or movements that we use to travel from place to place. Have I mentioned that I’m a geographer?
I use this process as a tool to learn choreography as well. I learned the choreography for a piece for this show set to music called “My Father’s Father” by the Civil Wars in one 2 hour session. (Maybe less? It definitely wasn’t more than that.) I left the studio with what my brain could hold, and copies of Pamela’s choreography notes. Over the next few days I marked up her notes with maps of steps and floor patterns (not pictured).
Some additional thoughts… What about stage space? If you subscribe to Doris Humphrey’s ideas of power spaces on the stage, you might wonder why some of the marks seem to be in non-powerful places. The diagram only shows one dancer’s marks, without the context of other dancers. It also doesn’t show the floor pattern of the transitions precisely; it’s more a list of places to get to at specific points in time.
Every dancer has their own mental tools for learning choreography. Show notes backstage vary from dancer to dancer. Some, like me, draw pictures, others write lists, and still others write detailed descriptions. Would you like to know more about how our dancers process and remember all the information necessary to produce a 75-90 minute show? Let us know!