Looking "In Medias Res" (or How a Dance Comes to Be)
It’s September! As I turn the calendar to face prospects of chilly temperatures, yellowing leaves and even yellower school buses, one thought leaps to mind: hardly three months remain before the first show of our 2014 season.
Even though it’s technically our “off”-season, the reality is we dancers don’t really have such a thing. Along with our daily training, there is a steady flow of new dances to learn, review, and perfect. And don’t forget the costume fittings, hairpiece checking, and rehearsals with orchestra. This is the time of year when we’re in the midst of what you could call our “first draft,” with everyone working to pull all the pieces together for the full program.
Creating a dance seems straightforward enough. A choreographer comes up with an idea, finds a composer, and creates physical poetry to match the music. Then a group of dancers rehearses the piece to a MIDI recording, while the orchestra learns the score. Meanwhile, our costume department hand-makes a set of identical outfits while our projection specialists design the matching backdrop.
Yet rarely does a dance travel untouched from imagination to reality. Even when it does, sometimes elements can clash when everything comes together—maybe the costume gets in the way of the movements, or a storyline needs more clarification, or the music lacks panache. In any case, this inevitably leads to a stop, rinse, and repeat on the part of our choreographers, composers, costume designers and/or projection team.
Dancers are kept on their toes by redoing formations, replacing new movements with (even) newer combinations and switching positions at a whim. It’s a situation that could easily descend into chaos if not for the cooperation of everyone involved. We take it all in stride, though, because every step—forwards or backwards—adds another layer of polish to the jewel that makes a Shen Yun dance. And I can promise you that next year’s show will always be different from the last.
Now, onwards and upwards!
September 11, 2013