Collaborative Choreo: How to Make Work with Another Choreographer
Choreographing a dance means standing alone at the front of the studio…right? Not necessarily! Many choreographers prefer making work with a partner. Two heads can definitely be better than one, but creating collaboratively does come with some strings attached. Whether you're working in a duo or group by choice or you've been assigned to develop a piece with someone else, try these tips to foster a positive process.
Brainstorming in advance can start your project off on the right foot. For Audrey Lane Ellis and Sarah Capua, contemporary dancers who choreograph jointly as a+s works, the creation of a new piece starts long before they enter the studio. "Our process often begins with a tiny seed—like a quote or an image—that sparks a dialogue," Ellis says. They'll continue talking and sending snippets of inspiration back and forth until rehearsals actually begin. Then, Ellis explains, "studio time becomes playtime for how those elements we've discussed can be expressed through movement."
Preparation can also help you avoid unnecessary conflict during rehearsals. "Once dancers are in the room with you, it's a higher-stress environment," says Elizabeth Petrin, who choreographs commercial projects with Mandy Korpinen; the two have had routines featured on the last two seasons of "So You Think You Can Dance." "It's better to hash things out beforehand, if you can."
One of the best parts of collaborating? "Bouncing ideas off each other," says Korpinen. "When one of us gets stuck, the other is there to help out." You won't be able to take full advantage of this perk unless you approach the entire process with an open mind.
Most collaborations are launched because you share a movement style, an artistic philosophy, or a personal relationship. But even with those commonalities, things won't always click in the studio. You might have to resort to a bit of trial and error to merge your individual voices into something fresh.
Marko Germar (left) and Koine Iwasaki in You're The Last Thing On My Mind, choreographed by Mandy Korpinen and Elizabeth Petrin, on "So You Think You Can Dance" (photo by Adam Rose, courtesy Fox)
Sara Hook, who teaches composition at the University of Illinois, offers a few exercises that might help. "For duos," she says, "have one person perform a phrase, while the other tries to interfere." Or you might assign each other to make a sequence with specific limitations: "Say you have to touch the whole time, or travel in ways that don't include running or walking," Hook says. As you explore possibilities together, don't be afraid of what Ellis calls "productive failure." Sometimes you have to push past what isn't going to work in order to reach what's right.
Play to Your Strengths
Think about how you and your collaborator complement each other. For example, Ellis says she tends to rely on Capua to find the right music for their work, while Capua praises Ellis' ability to distill many ideas into a cohesive vision. Petrin says that she's a bit more conceptual, while her partner Korpinen has stronger musicality.
Keep in mind that if you collaborate long-term, the dynamic might shift from project to project. Brothers Rich and Tone Talauega, of Rich + Tone Productions, who have choreographed together since they were teenagers, have a client roster that includes Madonna, Pink, and Jennifer Lopez. Rich says that Tone often gets the ball rolling, and then he develops the concept further, but "sometimes it's vice versa. It all depends on who comes in with the strongest idea at the start—that person usually takes the lead." Know what you each have to offer, but be flexible, too.
Trust the Process
In a true collaboration, everyone's voice gets heard. "When you're working in this way, it's not about you," Capua says. "If your partner has a different vision, you can't take it personally. There's never a reason not to give something a try. You're choosing to value process as much as product."
"When you're working with a partner, you have to stay humble," agrees Rich Talauega. "Ego will only get in the way."
Of course, it's easier to feel comfortable—and to let yourself be vulnerable—when you've known each other a long time. But that doesn't mean you can't build a strong bond with someone new. Hook's co-choreographers have included David Parker and Paul Matteson, both artists whose work she admired, but whom she didn't know well prior to teaming up.
Ready to leap into your first choreographic collaboration? Look for someone you feel in sync with, artistically and/or personally, but be ready to take risks—and to disagree. Bring your own ideas to the table, but find compromises when you can. Above all, enjoy having another person on this creative journey with you. If you're lucky, you'll find someone you want by your side in the studio for years to come.
A version of this story appeared in the May/June 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Collaborative Choreo."
Dancing kween Jennifer Lopez is preparing us for the second season of "World of Dance" by dropping an insane World of Dance promo that has her slaying the dance floor like we've never seen before. If America wasn't on the edge of their seats for the May 29th premiere they are now—wondering how the contestants of "World of Dance" could possibly outdo such a performance—but there's no doubt they will. This season's roster of dancers really takes the show's name to heart cause it's out of this world, with each dancer as ferociously talented as the rest! (We don't envy J. Lo's job of having to pick just one.) We've rounded up 7 young dancers you won't want to miss.
The Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center is the 54,000 square foot home of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, one of the largest facilities dedicated to dance on a private university campus. Designed for their innovative new curriculum, that supports a range of dance styles, the school's staff designated Harlequin to provide wall-to-wall flooring for the large 3,500 square foot Performance Studio as well as five dance studios in their new state-of-the-art building.
When watching Megan Skalla dance, several things are immediately obvious. She has legs for days and the archy feet to match. Her core is rock-solid, and her sweet smile is contagious. But the longer you spend with her, the more something else becomes clear: Megan’s got sass. Whether it’s a sharp shoulder roll during a hip-hop class or an intense stare during a sky-high développé, there’s a certain something extra that makes this 16-year-old pop. And her steadfast devotion to dance means she’s only getting better.
Megan started dancing when she was 3 at a small ballet studio near her hometown of Draper, UT, and was hooked immediately. At 7, she switched to a new studio, Pulse 31, and started to compete, but she still wasn’t dancing as much as she wanted. Finally, she came to The Dance Club in Orem, where she currently trains. She takes ballet, jazz, tap, hip hop, contemporary and lyrical, and sometimes supplements her training with private ballet classes at nearby Barlow Arts Conservatory. “I’ve always loved ballet,” says Megan, who has attended summer intensives at Pacific Northwest Ballet School on scholarship for the past two years. “It’s the foundation for everything, and it makes me a stronger dancer in other genres.”
Though she dances from morning until night, Megan admits to boogying through her kitchen when she gets home, and would still do more if she could. “There’s a dance company that’s a big deal at my high school, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do both,” she says. Devoting her time to The Dance Club, she says, is more conducive to her goal of dancing professionally. The studio is full of mega-talented dancers, and Megan shines among them. Her secret? “In class, some dancers will avoid going across the floor with someone they think is better than they are,” she says. “But I like to go across the floor with the best dancer in class. That way, I can push myself to come up to her level.”
Megan’s strategy is working. She won the Teen High Score Solo award at New York City Dance Alliance regionals and was a Top 10 Outstanding Dancer finalist at NYCDA Nationals. She has performed as Clara in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and was one of four Capezio NYCDA Model Search winners. As for the future, Megan knows one thing for sure: She’s going to keep dancing. “I want to go to college for dance, maybe to Brigham Young University, Marymount Manhattan or Juilliard,” she says. “But I still have a while to decide.” Until then, she’ll stick to her busy schedule. “It’s a lot of late nights and early mornings,” she says. “But it’s worth it. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.”
Birthday: March 6, 1996
Favorite food: Pasta
Most-played on her iPod: “I Won’t Give Up” by Jason Mraz
Dream dance role: “It would be really fun to be a Rockette. I want to do the Rockette summer intensive this year.”
Three words that describe her dancing: “Soft, passionate, aggressive”
Dream dance company: Complexions Contemporary Ballet
Favorite dance movie: Step Up
Who would play her in a movie: Nina Dobrev from “The Vampire Diaries”
First thing she does in the morning: “Hit the snooze button so I can sleep for 10 more minutes.”
Favorite dancers of all time: Travis Wall and Joey Dowling
Hidden talent: “I like to sing, but I’m only OK. I’d like to take voice lessons.”
Performer she’d die to work with: Celine Dion
Must-see TV shows: “Pretty Little Liars” and “The Lying Game”
Allison Thornton, Megan’s teacher at The Dance Club: “Megan has the body that every dancer dreams of: long legs, beautiful feet, great extension. But the best thing about Megan is that she knows how to use it all. She works really hard, and as good as she is in rehearsal, she’s even better onstage. Megan is very humble. She always has a smile on her face, she gets along with the other girls and she’s easy to work with. She’s a good person who has been blessed with great talent.”
Joanna Numata, street jazz instructor at Broadway Dance Center: “The first thing I noticed about Megan were her beautiful lines. She also had a really good, positive energy during class. She took direction and corrections well, which is so important.”
For more on choosing whether to compete or not, click here.
I started dance classes at a young age. By the time I was 3, I was training at The Dance Club, and I grew up there. I started with the basics—ballet and jazz—and eventually added tap, tumbling, contemporary, and hip hop.
Early on, I did compete. I remember my first time: I did a trio at a small local competition, and it got first place. The trophy was as tall as I was, and I loved it. I attended conventions as a mini, and had the opportunity to take classes from Travis Wall, Sonya Tayeh, Andy Pellick, and Joey Dowling-Fakhrieh. There was so much variety—I was in awe.
Considering we practically live in our dance clothes, there's really no such thing as having too many leotards, tights or leggings (no matter what our mom or friends say!). That's why we treat every sale as an opportunity to stock up. And thanks to the holiday weekend, you can shop all of your dancewear go-tos or try something totally new for as much as 50% less than the usual price.
Here are the eight sales we're most excited about—from online options to in-store retailers that will help you find the perfect fit. Happy Memorial Day (and shopping)!
DancerPalooza, America's Largest Dance Festival, is moving to sunny SAN DIEGO, California from July 24-29, 2018.
Check out all of the NEW Intensives DancerPalooza has to offer this year!
Kyle Van Newkirk is a tap dancer you probably remember from the premiere season of NBC's World of Dance. In case you missed it, he is also one of Showstopper's incredible convention teachers. What makes Kyle stand apart from some of today's other incredible tappers? He isn't afraid to change what tap means to his audience and even himself. This modern view of tap dancing is important because it shows us that tap dancers are just as versatile and dynamic as dancers of any other genre. We sat down with Kyle to get his advice on bringing tap dancing into the 21st century.
In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email email@example.com for a chance to be featured!
Paige Fraser has performed on world-class stages and in a video with Beyoncé—yet some of her most meaningful dance moments happened in tiny classrooms on a small island 1,000 miles from America. This past spring, Fraser, who's danced with Ailey II and is a founding member of Visceral Dance Chicago, teamed up with the non-profit Milk Carton on a String to bring dance to underprivileged children in Haiti. Fraser taught daily ballet and modern dance classes and used YouTube videos and social media to introduce the students to other aspects of dance they hadn't been exposed to.
Now, Fraser plans to continue to use dance to give back through her own newly-funded non-profit, The Paige Fraser Foundation. But instead of traveling outside the country, Fraser will be helping kids in her childhood home: the Bronx. She wants her foundation to assist aspiring dancers no matter their color or abilities.
Read our interview with the dancer and do-gooder—and discover the life-changing diagnosis that inspired her to help other dancers achieve their dreams.