Tag archive for » choreographer «

New Beginnings

Sunday, 25. August 2013 23:19

If you have an academic day job, as I have, you know that it is the beginning of the new school year.  It’s the time for meetings and planning and looking ahead. People have ideas about how to do it differently this time. They are certain that this year will be better and that more and better education will occur. Almost all of my academic colleagues are of the same mind. And even if you have a twelve-month gig, as I do, it’s still very like the New Year. Everyone has new resolutions, new approaches, new techniques that they are anxious to try. And the good news is that we also get a new year at the same time everyone else does, because—at least in most places—the New Year brings a new semester, and we get, yet again, to start over.

But academics are not quite as lucky as artists. As artists we get to have a new beginning every time we start a new project. Never mind that there are three projects in limbo and two others in progress, every new one offers a brand new beginning, so every time we have an idea that we decide to pursue, we have the opportunity to make it better than we ever have, adding new ideas and experiences to this newest piece of our work.

Actors get a fresh start with every new role. Each new production is a new beginning, even if they have played the role before. There are new things to learn, new approaches to the character, new techniques for communicating the new insights to the audience, and again, new life experiences and new ideas to bring to the stage or screen this time around.

As it is with actors, so it is with directors and choreographers: a new show means a new approach, a reevaluation of old ideas, a fresh canvas, a new opportunity. A new production means a new beginning, even if it’s an old problem, a work that has been done before repeatedly. And if it’s a new piece, that’s even better. Even if you’re working with the same actors or dancers or singers that you collaborated with on the last project, there is new opportunity that can only happen with new material. And that new material provides an even more exciting chance to try out new ideas, new methodologies.

So it is for painters, photographers, sculptors, print makers. Artists are fortunate. Unless they are remarkably imaginative, most non-artists are confined to one renewal a year—on January 1; academics often get two. Artists get to have a new opportunity every time a new project comes up, which, thankfully, is quite often. Even if it’s the same subject matter, or the same series, or the same technique, or the same philosophy, each new work presents the occasion to do something new, something different, something that will advance our art.

There are many advantages to being an artist, not the least of which is the structure of the work. Many jobs require continuing attention to an ongoing never-changing stream of data or sales or development or whatever. Art, on the other hand, while equally never-ending, divides itself conveniently into projects. And in that is salvation. As artists we are not confined to the treadmill of continuous mind- and soul-numbing repetitive work. Rather, we originate, develop, and complete a project, then move on to the next one. And each interval between provides a respite, and each new project provides a renewal, a freshness, a new beginning.

We are indeed fortunate to be in almost constant renewal. What other profession presents that possibility? So let’s take a moment to appreciate the structure of our work. Here’s to new beginnings.

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Stepping Into the Unknown

Monday, 24. June 2013 0:37

A recent Brain Pickings article by Maria Popova quotes a number of writers, including Rainer Maria Rilke, John Keats, Debbie Millman, and Anaïs Nin who encourage their readers to embrace the unknown, with Nin proclaiming “the vital importance of allowing for not-knowing in order to truly know the world in its fullest dimension, of using the unknown as a gateway to deeper presence and greater awareness.”

Whether stepping into the unknown is enriching or not, for many artists it is a necessary part of creativity. It’s an area we don’t much discuss. We often think about artists as working from an idea, from a preconception, of from a plan. And certainly some artists do that, but others don’t. Others just take the materials that they have and start fitting the pieces together, start playing, start improvising, and art happens. This is not to say that these artists are working blindly. Rather they are using their materials according to their training and aesthetic to make pieces that satisfy in some way; then they show them to the world, believing that someone will grasp some part of what is going on.

For example, Juri Koll had an opportunity to watch Herb Alpert (musician, painter, sculptor) work. Writing for Huffington Post Arts & Culture, Koll said “The beauty in watching him do it was the fact of allowing things to play out as the materials, surfaces and motions dictate. Nothing preconceived. ‘When I paint or sculpt,’ he [Alpert] says, ‘I don’t have anything in mind. I don’t have a goal in mind other than form. I’m looking for that form that touches me and when I find it I stop.’”

Alpert summarizes his approach on his web site: “Painting and sculpture is very much like music, in the sense that I’m looking for composition, I’m looking for harmony, I’m looking for transpositions. I want the canvas to swing.” His sculptures swing as well;” The Los Angeles Times says they are “like visual jazz.”

Many artists adopt a methodology similar to Alpert’s, although perhaps not so consciously. For some there is planning, and a preconceived notion. For instance, dancers work out the demands of the choreographer. But the choreographers work from a score—the product of a completely different discipline, which provides almost no guidance. Actors work at the suggestions of the director. And the directors work from a script, the equivalent to the choreographer’s score, but the interpretation of that script is unknown territory.

Even the actor, who we normally think of as doing directed work, has to face the unknown. He/she is given the words to say and perhaps some direction as to how to say them, but the real work of the actor, creating a complete human being in front of a camera or on the stage is really a step into the void. The script and the director provide hints, but the movement from self to character requires moving into uncharted space, into areas that are not only unknown but frightening.

No less frightening is sitting down at a computer to fill a blank page with words or create imagery, or leaning over a canvas, beginning a sculpture. And each shift in materials, subject matter, or methodology represents a step into the new and unfamiliar. But we all have to do it. If we are to be really creative and really make art, we must not “grasp for the security of our comfort zones, the affirmation of our areas of expertise, the assurance of our familiar patterns.” We must take a deep breath and step into the unknown.

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