Choreographic Self-Discovery

By Olivia Hansberry

I am writing about my senior piece “The Sun’s in my Eyes” performed by the fabulous Janice Argo, Emme Gentile, Camryn Mentzer, Elizabeth Siani, and lastly, myself. Creating my first choreographic work was a roller coaster of a journey. The ups and downs, the satisfaction and doubts. Choreographing forced me to become someone I barely recognized, which I loved. 

Photo by Brian Mengini

I never felt good at communicating what I want. Even as a small child I would sit and think things over, rather than speak up about what I wanted. I realized after a few rehearsals, that is all choreographing is! It’s to clarify your vision for others, to grasp hold of, and transcend an idea by shaping it into the real world. I asked myself questions like “How do my dancers react to my movement?” “what do I value?” and “what can I do to make the audience feel a certain way?” The answers to these questions would guide me through the process. Picking music before the choreography hinders my process, and to be completely honest, I didn’t even have a general idea for the piece, only questions and answers. 

 I knew for my piece, I wanted to go beyond my inner circle of friends and work with new faces so I hung posters up in the studios for people to see. Everyone who auditioned I worked with, and I am extremely grateful for the dancers that I worked with. At first, it was hard for me to understand why these phrases that would spew out of me weren’t saying anything. Since I was out of practice in communicating what I want, working through the confusion that came with this would be tough for all of us, but in the end it would be extremely rewarding. During rehearsals, I found that my mind raced faster than usual. This would affect the communication between me and my dancers. It was harsh realizing that I wasn’t being understood because in my head I was already ten times ahead of myself, but patience and articulation in different ways went a long way. I had to remember I was not working with four “Olivia’s”, but four individuals all of different backgrounds and training. I also learned how freeing trial and error could be. There were so many phrases of different movement and sometimes even just walking phrases that I choreographed, and even though none of that was in the piece, it did help my dancers understand more of my movement style for themselves. More importantly, I saw joy and excitement in my dancers which was super essential to how the choreography would read on stage.

Photo by Brian Mengini

I value music a lot in my life but movement being interpreted for what-it-is, rather than being paired with a sound score is important to me too. This became a battle for me; “To music, or not to music?” The more time I spent sifting through tracks, the more I became dissatisfied with the mood the music would “hand” the audience. Using a metronome was a way for me to have a simple pulse in the air with meaning that could be wildly imagined by the audience. Also, even though I hate to admit it, I’m a bit of a control freak. So being the one controlling the metronome, faster or slower, sound or silence, I felt really free doing what I pleased in terms of messing with the metronome.

Eventually, music won my heart and I decided to use Aretha Franklin’s “One Step Ahead” to ease the audience in the beginning of the piece. I wanted to start with music so the space sounded even emptier with the metronome and even more so with silence. For example, getting into a lukewarm pool is rather uncomfortable and seems cold. But if you’re in a hot tub before you get into the pool, the water feels just about freezing. The Aretha Franklin song was the hot tub before the lukewarm water in the pool. This added contrast. The quietness of the space was quite jarring after the smooth melody of the song faded away.

I learned that I value unexpected behavior and welcome boredom. I almost wanted the audience to find moments of boredom so they could question “why am I bored right now?” If not this, the low stimuli boredom brings would make the “non-boring” moments even more exciting. Boredom I believe can be natural in life and actually really rare in a world with technology at our fingertips. So why not emphasize it with simple movement and silence. Many who saw the piece, remember the most unexpected moment being my introduction to the stage. I walked on during the final song, then there was a pause in the music followed by my voice singing a very loud and incoherent yell all in one breathe. The music then continued and I used improvisation. This was a way for me to use voice, often something I struggle using at times, to make an authentic sound. Voice is powerful.

For the future, I want to work towards creating more and working with different artists that stay true to themselves.

Olivia Hansberry, BFA in Dance Student

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