Sunday, November 9, 2014

Shapes and levels

Now that Hallowe'en and Thriller are over, we're back to creative work and choreography. This time we're taking up shapes and levels, which is a project that I've been using since I first started teaching, which I actually got from Susan Brown, one of my master teachers when I was student teaching. I'm not sure how it gels with creative dance teaching theory, since it focuses on two different dance elements — but I do like the way it gets beginning choreographers out of the "cute steps to favorite songs" rut right off the bat.

Over the years, I have done some refining of my creative work lessons leading up to the project. We began the week with a lesson on Level, starting with a basic freeze dance, focusing on shapes in various levels and shape copying ("make a high twisted shape… change it by changing one arm… one knee… look at E___'s shape and copy it… make your shape turn, make your shape jump, make your shape travel… Drop your shape and make a low, wide shape…"). We then took up the Erosion Game partner activity — one partner takes a high shape, the other partner molds him/her into a lower shape then copies it to be molded in turn… After four or five changes from high level to low level, the composition is all the shapes performed in unison, eroding to the ground. Simple but effective (and students always enjoy working with partners).

The second day, we worked on shapes and shape transitions. After a very brief recap freeze dance, we built on the previous day's work with shape copying for some Shape Tag — half the class freezes in a still shape while the other half dances around and through them, "tagging" a still dancer by copying her shape — with lots of giggles from the dancers as they found shapes to copy; then we worked on transitioning into and out of shapes. This is important to get dancers out of just dropping a shape and taking up the next one — so we did a lot of explorations with specific transitions: "melt out of your shape, glide to a new spot, and wiggle back into it… explode out of shape #1, gallop to a new spot and then stretch into shape #2…"

The third day we worked specifically with symmetry (and asymmetry) — we started by looking at some photos of symmetrical shapes in dance, then tried some of the "Man-on-a-stick" improv from Blom and Chaplin's book The Intimate Act of Choreography (what would we ever do without Blom and Chaplin?). Then we worked in pairs with some mirroring and trying a few symmetrical and asymmetrical shapes; and then each pair joined with one or two others to try a few group shapes.

After the three days of exploration, the group project began on Thursday: Create a dance that includes at least six group still shapes (at least three symmetrical and three asymmetrical) plus transitions between shapes, using a variety of levels. I always caution the students that we will be practicing these to amorphous instrumentals without a strong beat, as the starting point for the dance should be the shapes and not steps to music. I usually get a fair amount of whining about that part, but this time only a couple of groups asked about being able to use particular music (I just told them "let's get your dance set first, then think about it"), and for the most part all groups have dived in and gotten off to a good start. We hope to be finished the end of this coming week (though not sure, since it's only a three-day week) — I'm anxious to see how their dances come out!

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