Dancer to Dancer

These Three Choreographers' Notebooks Are Fascinating

Sonya Tayeh's choreography journal (courtesy Sonya Tayeh)

A choreographer's notebook can be a very private thing. After all, it's where she crafts concepts, scribbles formations and documents her dancers' rehearsal processes before anything is ready to be seen by an audience. And while many artists use video cameras to record phrases and set movement on dancers, others choose to stick with good, old-fashioned pen and paper. Here, three choreographers give us a peek into their notebooks and explain just what their notes mean.


Sonya Tayeh

Company: Sonya Tayeh's freelance dancers & The Bengsons

Work: you'll still call me by name

Premiere: December 2016

Number of Performers: 10 dancers; 6 musicians

There's something about putting pen to paper that makes me feel present. For this particular piece, I used three notebooks, and I throw all of them in my backpack and carry them with me everywhere. By the end of the day, I tend to be a little disorganized. One journal, which was more like a diary, became homework for the musicians—some of the text was recorded and used as lyrics in the music.

I used a recorder, too—along with a GoPro, iPhone and iPad. I'd create a phrase on my dancers, and, while they were dancing, ask them to describe what they were doing physically—for instance, “I move my arms to the right, I stand, I wait," or “She drops, she drops." Sometimes, I'll write those phrases down in my notes so I remember which phrase goes with which musical cue.

The page with the stage directions is depicting a section I'm seeing as a heated conversation between two people. The broken lines represent one dancer's trajectory downstage; the arrow is the second person. The circles are other dancers, who are trying to step into the conversation to maybe diffuse the situation. It's pretty messy—I don't typically draw out stage directions. But I made this while I was watching the dancers in action, so I could show them their movements—I didn't want them to forget it. There's not usually much structure to the pages. I find that my journals often start neatly with great handwriting and devolve from there.

Courtesy Ana Lopez

Ana Lopez

Assistant to Alejandro Cerrudo

Company: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

Work: Extremely Close

Premiere: 2007

Number of Dancers: 8

These notes were for my first official assistantship. I was setting the piece on a company in Madrid, and I was traveling with Alejandro. I'd performed the piece already, so I knew the movement phrases, but there are also three walls that are crucial to the work. Various dancers move the walls throughout each section, and keeping track of which dancer is behind which wall can get pretty complex. So I had multiple notebook sections: one for the walls, and another for each dancer's choreography—those I wrote in Spanish. Typically it's just key words, like “arabesque, left leg," rather than each individual step in a phrase.

We show dancers learning the piece videos of the work, but it's impossible to see the behind-the-wall goings on. That's where the notes come in. I drew squares in pencil to represent the three walls. The red dots are the walls' trajectory, and the blue squares are their final position at the end of each section. Each square is numbered, which corresponds to the number on the back of the actual wall—some have bars at various heights on the back sides for specific choreography, so they have to be numbered.

I also made sure to write what's going on in terms of the choreography. For instance, “Andrew and Jessica's duet," or “Alice's Solo." Alice's Solo happens in front of wall #2, but since all the walls move during that specific section, it's helpful to have everything recorded to avoid collisions.

Courtesy Andrea Miller

Andrea Miller

Company: Gallim Dance

Work: W H A L E

Premiere: December 2015

Number of Dancers: 8

I have two different note-taking methods. The first is more concept- and idea-driven—the notes come from conversations about the piece I have with dancers and collaborators, or even just conversations in my own head. The second happens during runs of the work, where I jot down what's working or what's not. Sometimes I'll use smiley or frowning faces—but I have to tell dancers that if they see a frown next to their name, it's not that I don't like what they're doing. It's that the section needs more work.

The page that begins “W H A L E—Gallim 2015" is from early on in the process, when I was still plotting out the concept of the piece. I saw it as multiple film scenes, or vignettes, so each camera icon is my way of notating a scene. I often use little icons: the circle with squiggles, for example, is a lighting cue, in that case to dim the lights. For musical cues I draw little music notes.

Each word or phrase in a box, like “The Proposal," is a key to the narrative. In “Text," one of the dancers approaches an audience member in a flirtatious way to get his or her name, as if they were at a party. I don't do a lot of text in my work, so we needed to develop those skills. “Workshop conversation with audience" is a note to myself to invest time in the rehearsal process to work on that text and explore not only how the dancers could do it more comfortably, but also how it fit in with the larger piece.

I keep my notes organized so that during rehearsals, I can work loosely, stay present and be open to new ideas or changes. I don't normally notate any of the steps; my dancers are responsible for learning and remembering the movement. If they need to record it themselves, they can. Instead, I take notes about the meaning of the piece, and if the movement I've created is driving the emotional needs of a particular moment.

Show Comments ()
Dance News
Sofia Wylie (photo by Dave Brewer, courtesy Disney Channel)

Last week Disney Channel star Sofia Wylie released a behind-the-scenes look at the making of her YouTube dance series. Along with some stellar dancing, the video shows the dance community featured in her "4k Dance Series" and the things they've learned from being a part of the dance project. And though the project features dance, we love that it also emphasizes supporting and building up fellow dancers.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Showstopper's National Finals Opening Number Performance

Showstopper has been making its impact on the dance world since 1978. Before then, dancers didn't have a stage to perform on, the opportunity to learn from peers, or a competitive outlet like most sports. Debbie Roberts recognized this missing piece in the dance community and that is how America's first and longest running dance competition, Showstopper, was born. Debbie taught dance for over 26 years and owned and operated her own dance studio for 20 years. She is now the owner and National Director of Showstopper, along side her husband, Dave Roberts. Dancer, teacher, business owner, author, and mother, Debbie has made dance her life's career.

Keep reading... Show less
Oh, hi, EVERYBODY. (Screenshots via YouTube)

Sometimes, you hear talk about an upcoming class video and it sounds too good to be real. Wait: Todrick Hall made a track featuring RuPaul, and then Todrick personally asked Brian Friedman to choreograph it, and then Brian got Maddie and Charlize and Jade and Kaycee and Sean and Gabe and Larsen and Bailey to come out for the class? I just...that can't be right. Can it?

It is right, friends. It is SO RIGHT.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
A-DAM RIP-PON [clap, clap, clap clap clap] (with his equally gorgeous partner Jenna Johnson; Craig Sjodin/ABC)

Team USA is totally taking over "Dancing with the Stars" this season! Casting for the upcoming athletes-only "DWTS" cycle, which kicks off April 30, was just announced. And the roster includes a whole bunch of Olympic favorites—including not one, not two, but three figure-skating standouts.

Keep reading... Show less
All of the claps for Brianna Bundick-Kelly.

Her name is Briyoncé, and she came to SLAY.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular

Winter is drawing to a close and you know what that means -- It's time to really kick this year into gear! Move U has done the research so you can find your best match, look good, and feel great this season with a twist unique to your team! Here are five looks to put your performance on the map in 2018.

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story
Photo by Lucas Chilczuk

With several Shaping Sound tours and TV credits like "So You Think You Can Dance," "Dancing with the Stars," and "Boardwalk Empire" to her name, you wouldn't expect Kate Harpootlian to be refreshingly down-to-earth. But that's exactly how she is: As soon as you start talking to the gifted dancer and choreographer, it becomes clear that she doesn't take herself too seriously. And she's happy to tell hilarious stories to prove it. (Ask her about the time she did a Mr. Peanut impression when Mia Michaels asked her to improvise, or the time she starred in a Japanese makeup commercial and had to do grand pliés wearing one pointe shoe and one flat shoe.)

That mixture of humor and grace is evident in Harpootlian's growing body of choreographic work. Her one-act show Better Late Than Never, for example, which premiered last summer, has a jazzy, West Side Story vibe, offsetting heavier moments with touches of whimsy. "There's always a balance in my work," Harpootlian says. "I want to use humor to balance out the darker aspects. It's like one of my friends once said: 'You make me laugh, and then you make me feel bad for laughing.' "

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Photo by Travis Kelley, courtesy Kathryn Morg

In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email dearkatie@dancespirit.com for a chance to be featured!

Dear Katie,

I grip my quads, and I don't know how to stop. I'm totally overdeveloping my quad muscles. How can I retrain myself so I use my legs correctly? Help!

Lily

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Justin Boccitto relies on a grounded plié to create a smooth landing out of a turn. (photo by James Jin Photography, courtesy Boccitto)

You know that pirouette dream, when your placement is so perfect you can keep turning forever? That dream is the reality for highly technical tappers, who benefit from the decreased friction of their shoes. Get the placement right and, with a strong spot, they can pirouette for days.

But turning in tap shoes isn't all easy. In fact, those delightfully friction-free shoes bring their own set of challenges, and dancers can easily fall into the spinning-top trap by letting the turn control them, rather than the other way around. Here's how to harness your tap-turning potential.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
Dewan getting emotional in "A Little Dance" (via YouTube)

Given that we're still processing our own sadness about the recent dissolution of the couple formerly known as #TeamTatum, we can only imagine how many feelings Jenna Dewan must be feeling. But like all dancers, Dewan knows the best way to deal with big emotions is to dance through them.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Want to Be on Our Cover?

covermodelsearch-image

Video

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored