Honest Creativity at Work, Needed. Recycling the Old, Not Welcomed.

As a youngin you dream to choreograph any dance you want, write whatever story you want to tell, play whatever notes come to your fingers, create whatever business you dream up.  Adult reality:  if someone is not listening on the other side, your brilliant idea that everyone in the world is going to need and love will only go as far as being pleasantly accepted by your cat in your living room.  In our history, most jobs typically ask people to be confidently assured and “right.”  This goes against everything a creative venture needs to be throughout its lifespan.  Gratefully, the requirement to be “right” is slowly dissipating from work culture and greater emphasis is starting to be placed on cultivating more open, fluctuating operations for optimum growth.  Key emphasis on starting.  We, particularly us in dance and creative companies (which most companies are now striving to be), need to run full throttle in the direction of eliminating the need to be “right” as that is what precisely gets in the way of being fabulously “wrong,” “different,” and my most tragically familiar heard utterance (from 2011 from my director) “just not it.”

(Seemingly harmless, but after hearing it’s “just not it” for close to the 20th time in one two-week process in an attempt to create a 32-count duet, someone just might come to rehearsal with a chainsaw.  And that someone may have been me on that tragic day based on my level of frustration).

Bottom line, it is in the “wrong” that lies the solution to the problem at hand – choreographic concept or not.

(Why was this so hard to agree to? I kept throwing myself in the shitter for not pleasing my director.  I quickly learned what it wasn’t but in my self-loathing funk, the solution, a.k.a. discovering an applauded movement, could not even enter the equation.  My brain was preoccupied with uselessly shoving myself under a bus.)

This is precisely the mindset that stagnates creativity and production. 

This minor frustration was a telling and complicated moment at the end of the creativity-production food chain.  I have worked for dance companies that relied on the success of a creative work to stay alive and subsequently, if they were still afloat after the creation, thrive.  Damn.  That is a ton of pressure to get it “right!”  And that pressure comes from all angles on a choreographer (boss) – the press, financial backers, their wallet, ego, livelihood, friends, dancers (employees), etcetera, etcetera.   And it makes perfect sense.

Take the financial backer; they want to assure money is well spent.  Yet to stop this top down stagnation, maybe what is getting managed needs to shift.  Focus between director and financial backer should be on larger concepts and ideas, and their honest and trusting relationship. Yet, when other people’s interest, and henceforth money keep a concept alive, it is not exactly a breeding ground for venerability, creativity’s fore-bearer.  All this leads to are choreographers whipping up a product to show in a cookie-cutter way to financial backers who come to see a mid-process studio showing.  Choreographers politely package their work that should actually be in the middle of creative-chaos, just to prove work is getting accomplished, regardless of whether that work has any value to it.  And furthermore under these zero-room-for-failure circumstances, I have worked for choreographers who have had varying degrees of inspiration and desire to create – shocking!  Half the time, the pressure nipped the inspiration right out from underneath them.  The answer will never lie in trying to satisfy those pressures.  But in true showbiz fashion, the show must go on!  Phenomenal piece, decent piece, or crap piece – and best you believe, I have been on stage in front of audiences at large doing more than one of each of those.  (You know – the see-through unitard, a score that makes dogs weep, and this isn’t even touching those gems with the cheese factor…)

Cheese-factor and earsplitting music aside, one problem I have readily run-in to as an artist in the studio under the pressured throws of creating the next success, is a choreographer who wants to micromanage the material.  Now I don’t mean this in overly-managed communicated direction, but more so in the unrelenting control over the shape of movement.  It makes perfect sense.  Directors are typically types who have an unwavering vision to create a company.  They wouldn’t own a company if they didn’t have a very clear intention and supreme control over their branding and product to get the success they clearly achieved.  All very necessary, except when in the studio for the thousandth time, under the need to create something original.  The desire to have a brand and choreographic stamp over movement essentially creates a regurgitation of same but slightly altered movements to new music, lights, and costumes.  Choreographers sometimes are too afraid to lose their voice, that they micromanage their dancers out of their fresh creative potential.  Instead, dancers are forced to be creative on a concept within a very particular vocabulary.  Well hell, if the vocabulary is already so dictated, then how is anything fresh going to come about?!  It won’t.  We need to start seeing choreographers’ voices as something more abstract and deep-rooted.  Choreographers should trust that their stamp will come out on their work regardless.  It would be impossible for it not to;  it is coming from their gut and soul.

If both choreographer and dancer are focused on the growth of the concept at large rather than a specific vocabulary, then perhaps more fruitful productions will happen;  particularly for choreographers and companies that have been working together for longer spans of time, where generally expectations are high and venerability diffidently thwarted.  There is fear that people, at all levels of the process, expect a certain product.  However, once expectation enters the brains of those in the studio creating, the creation is stifled and disingenuous.

And it ain’t all on those choreographers (bosses).  Dancers (employees) need to all dare to be a bit more vulnerable.  Us dancers can tend to have our creative potential merely drip like a leak out of a hose rather than blow the top off and let our minds and bodies teleport to new realms while in the studio working in front of our head honcho.  We can be concerned about what the big boss will like rather than what could serve the larger concept.  Maybe we foolishly hold onto our need of approval to insure we keep our few-and-far-between gig to begin with.  But in that, we hold being on a director’s good side and feeding our egos over our own artistic satiety.  Screw that.  I definitely at times have fallen victim, but I truly wish I danced to the beat of my own drum.  If I was struggling to create something that was desired, I was preoccupied with the thought that I couldn’t figure out what was liked and tied my moves not being liked to not being a valuable asset in the company.  Those mental distractions prohibited me from seeing clearly in the moment, maybe it was the size of my gestures or the dynamics of them that were being shunned; observations of my movement, applied strategically, would have brought clarity rather than frustration.  Odds are, if you dance around like you don’t care who the hell sees and hold the piece’s intention in your mind’s eye or riff off of a phrase work found within the process in some corner of the studio, you will working tirelessly yet self-enthusiastically.  Then it is only a matter of time before the eyes in the front of the room take note of your internal bliss, and eventually see something that sparks their vision.  Voila! All parties involved win!

It is not until choreographers, artists, financial supporters, and the public at large can be truly vulnerable in a creative process, that these future creative ventures will fly.  So the micromanaging needs to be stopped.  Financial backers need to not micromanage what a vision needs to be full-fledged.  Directors need to not micromanage dancers in a particular vocabulary.  Artists need to not be concerned with what other people think and dive head on into the anything that might be imprudently labeled weird, stupid, wrong, and universally put as so “not it.”  So fellow artists, let’s instead look at our movement and have what’s “not right” inform our next decisions.  Let’s do the opposite and see what happens.  Let’s not get all upset, pissed, and discouraged that we can’t even make an unemotional movement decision.  And lastly, let’s grant permission to ourselves to be vulnerable and dance around like an ass – it’s only a matter of time before something sticks.  Last time I checked, feeling an ass didn’t feel all that bad.

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