Choreographer

In Number 1 of our Who’s Who series we looked at the role of the artistic director within a dance company.  One of the key responsibilities highlighted was developing and controlling the company’s vision.  So, how does the role of the choreographer fit into the mix and how does their role differ from that of the artistic director?

The choreographer is, one might say, the implementer in achieving the artistic director’s goals, maintaining the standards and artistic integrity of the company and fulfilling the criteria to satisfy the overall aims of the company.

Choreographer Merce Cunningham at work

The craft of choreography itself involves devising sequences of movement and structuring this movement to create a dance work.  Some choreographers will work closely with their dancers in devising movement material, drawing on the dancers individual styles and creativity, whilst others may invent movements that are then taught to the dancers.  Choreographers will often be involved in the selection of dancers, choosing those that will fit in with the choreographic ideas in terms of movement ability and performance style.  A choreographer will usually have a clear idea of the type of work they wish to create and can select dancers to suit this.

Being in tune with the artistic vision of the company is crucial in order to bring this to life through the dance works created. Some choreographers are resident within a particular company and work very closely with the artistic director in creating work to fit in with a particular programme for a tour as well as the overall goals of the company.  Often the artistic director will also commission other freelance choreographers to create a work with the company.  In this instance, the choreographer is usually chosen by the artistic director because their choreographic style complements that of other repertory that may be programmed alongside or will help to take the company in a particular artistic direction.

Most choreographers will have been dancer previously and in the case of resident choreographers who have performed with the same company, they will already have a clear idea of the company’s identity and style.  Some students who train in dance will go on to be choreographers rather than professional dancers but it is very rare for a choreographer to have no dance training at all.  Choreographers often become known for their individual style, which they develop over time and may begin developing as they are training.  Their style may be reflected in the movement vocabulary, the music, the relationship between the movement and the music and other factors such as lighting, costume and stage design.

It is notable that choreography is not limited to dance companies and that many choreographers will work in other fields such as popular music videos and concerts, films, musical theatre productions and fashion shows.  In small dance companies, which may not have an artistic director the choreographer will work to develop the overall style of the company through their own vision.

Once a choreographer has their idea for a new dance work there is often a certain amount of research involved before beginning to work with the dancers.  This may involve historical research, musical research and movement research.  The background research carried out will inform their idea giving them direction and a clear approach when they do get into the studio with their dancers.  They may have the chance to carry out their movement research with their dancers who, as a result, will gain a deeper understanding of the thoughts behind the work from the beginning of the overall process.

Many of these factors are governed by funding and timing, which will have an impact on the decisions made by a choreographer.  In a professional dance company a choreographer may have anything from 3 months to 3 years to create a work.  In many cases a choreographer’s research is ongoing across projects and in an instance where they only have 3 months to create a work it is important that they have done the bulk of their research beforehand giving them the maximum number of hours in the studio with their dancers.

The competition for originality is ever increasing in the dance world and choreographers strive to come up with an original idea and create it in a new and exciting way to attract audiences.  Creativity is essential in choreography and it is a choreographer’s inspiration that will feed their creativity to produce new work and contribute to the continuing evolution of dance.