Deborah Colker: The Choreographer/Dancer relationship

by Donald Hutera

Does a choreographer’s relationship with dancers have anything to do with punishment and reward?

I believe the fundamental idea in the relation between a choreographer and a dancer is discipline. To me discipline is a form of freedom, not punishment. Discipline is a system of creative possibility. The responsibility for a work happens on two sides, the dancers’ and the choreographer’s. It can be a passionate relationship. I’m a choreographer who is moved and inspired by passion. There are periods when certain dancers don’t inspire me or provoke that passion, and it’s hard. I know they suffer, and so do I. But I have the discipline to pay attention to it, to understand what is happening to me and leave it for a period. If I am patient with this passion that sometimes gets cold, I can work on it so it comes back. We have to bear the responsibility of being aware of what’s happening and change it, and to have the fundamental understanding that when we deal with art, and with dance, we deal with discipline, technique, personality and creativity altogether at the same time.

Rehearsal What do you currently look for when hiring a dancer, and how has that changed since you began making work?

I’m becoming more demanding and strict regarding technique. The more technical command a dancer has, the more possibilities I’ll have to explore movements and ideas in and with that dancer. Of course a dancer’s personality, creativity and physical condition is also important. Even if you want someone just to walk on in a scene, later on you might need them to do millions of other things. So you’ve got to look for someone who can do millions of things, but who can also simply walk.

What does it feel like to have your work as a choreographer seen by a paying audience?

It doesn’t really matter to me if it’s a paying audience or not. I prepare my work thinking of the audience and with a responsibility towards them. Whether they pay or don’t pay, they have the same right to keep an interaction and a communication with what’s being said on stage.

The function of art is to promote discussion and change. As a choreographer I always think that there are various sorts of hunger in the world, a concrete hunger which makes people need to eat, an intellectual hunger which makes them seek knowledge, and a hunger that unites knowledge, emotion and the possibility of freedom, of being a human being that has an extraordinary life linked to beauty and strangeness. That’s the function of art. When we prepare a show and some individual ‘buys’ it, it creates a relationship between those who pay to watch it and us who are doing the work. That’s very nice. I like it that each of those who’ve paid have a right upon what they watch.

What does it feel like to dance on a stage in front of a paying audience?

I feel very well about it. It’s my job. It’s very good that someone recognises enough value in your work to pay to see it. Art has always had this functional aspect of a job. It’s important to keep this always possible.

‘Pleasure can have many layers. Its depth and capacity to be intense depends on the level of conscience behind it, and on a person’s capability to control things and the ability to understand and handle the knowledge that comes with it.
Deborah Colker