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By Neil Nisbet
Several years ago a documentary on William Forsythe showed the American dance maker creating a solo with one of his dancers from Ballet Frankfurt. The two were engaged in a one on one creative battle to squeeze every ounce of precision out of a sequence of movement, the position of a hand, the transition from standing to floor all discussed and practiced in minute detail.
It's the kind of choreographic back and forth you imagine goes on in the studios occupied by almost all choreographers the world over.
Combine that kind of depth in creating specific movement with top notch rehearsal direction and you have, as a result, the kind of final performance that, whether you enjoy the work or not, exudes nothing but professionalism and above all, a love for creating movement.
Over the past several months many performances and events viewed by this writer have appeared to lack the cutting edge polish you really want to see when watching a professional dance performance. In many instances the art of creating movement is giving way to high concept ideas that involve very little in the way of dance. When watching some of this work it is hard to imagine that there has been anything in the way of intense development on the movement material.
There also seems to be a reluctance to deploy some of the most basic choreographic concepts which are either missing or deemed unimportant to communicate the dance maker's intent to their audience. Overall, a lot of recent work has lacked attention to detail in structure, spacing, movement quality and timing.
New choreographers face a particularly daunting challenge making work in todays creative environment. Many dance pieces made for one day festivals or platforms are put together with fragments of rehearsal time here and there spread out over many weeks with little time for class much less the kind of in-depth choreographic study that needs to take place to really pull together a piece of choreography with multiple dancers.
At the other end of the creative spectrum; solo works require a tremendous amount of time to pull the work from the lows of self indulgence to the highs of engaging artistic work.
No Time To Waste
In addition to the time issue there is little or no rehearsal direction available to new dance makers to take mere movement and turn it into a performance. The assessment of an outside observer is perhaps one of the most critical stages in preparing work for public viewing. Rehearsal directors come to the studio with a fresh pair of eyes and, the good ones at least, can spot inconsistencies, dodgy unison or half hearted movement in seconds and get to work fixing the nuts and bolts of a particular piece.
This invaluable outside eye brings consistency to a piece of choreography by asking fundamental questions about every aspect of the work and demands that the dancers answer those questions with their performance.
A rehearsal director's job is not to alter the fundamental idea of a piece of choreography but to ensure that every element of the work is executed to the highest possible standard and every element is able to fully realise the ambitions of the choreographer.
National Dance Agencies (NDA) should take the lead in making sure that new dance makers, and some of the experienced ones, have access to a full time, professional, rehearsal director to provide the highest level of support to their creative community. The concept of a resident artist is nothing new so the concept of a resident rehearsal director should not be to hard to grasp and turn into a reality.
In addition to running rehearsals for small companies and individual artists they could also provide workshops for professionals on how to run a rehearsal, deconstructing and rebuilding movement, stage craft and much more.
NDA's and other state funded dance agencies may already provide these services to a limited degree, if at all, but the provision needs to be more concrete and it needs to be made available to those that need it most and a resident practitioner is the best way to provide these services.
The provision needs to come from the NDA network because a choreographer on an R&D budget certainly can't afford to employ someone to do the job. Placing a full time, resident rehearsal director in each NDA in England would cost approximately £250,000 per year. Considering the vast array of service each individual could provide it's a very small price to pay.
More effort also needs to be made to ensure rehearsal periods are not fragmented and therefore enable dance makers and their dancers to spend the time needed to make mistakes, refine their overall idea and move on. Demands on rehearsal space may be overwhelming but organisations need to prioritise in favour of professional development. After all, it's the professionals that make this industry tick is it not?
Getting To The Show
Dance makers also need to take it upon themselves to really think through their ideas and ask themselves how they move their own work from the experimental phase into the public performance phase.
After leaving the relatively safe confines of the dance school those dancers that choose to branch into choreography can become lost without the steadying hand and experienced eye of an established professional.
Resident rehearsal director's could quickly become the 'goto person' for fledgling companies to provide honest, critical, expert opinion on their work and bring the weight of their creative experience to the table and guide the dance maker in the right direction.
The dance profession also needs to take into account that the specific skills involved in rehearsal direction need to be passed on from one generation to the next. If they are never taught they will never be learned.
It may seem ludicrous to point this out but creative movement and the execution of that movement is at the forefront of what this profession is all about. Some great ideas are suffering because of a lack of time and a critical outside eye demanding the most from those ideas before the public is let through the door.