Tuesday, December 23, 2014

pre-winter break creative work

This past week we worked on a few different (though related) concepts. We started out on Monday with the map activity — a tried-and-true lesson I learned at a workshop many years ago and have been using successfully ever since. This time we began the same as usual — draw a beginning and ending point; connect them with a pathway including straight lines, curved lines, and a zig zag; try various locomotor movements on your pathway — but when we came to adding the stopping places for still shapes and axial movements, I introduced the LOD (Language of Dance) symbols for turn, spring, and still shape. It worked well, and we had just enough time to show the resulting solos in three groups each class.

On Tuesday, we focused more on the LOD notation. I started them off with a freeze dance emphasizing traveling, turning, and a lot of variations on opening / closing, expanding / contracting, folding in / reaching out, etc. to give them a handle on what is meant by extension and flexion. I then explained to them about various forms of notation and LOD in particular, gave them the symbols for traveling, flexion, and extension to add to the three we had learned the day before (I had all 6 symbols taped to the mirror), and showed on the whiteboard how to arrange the symbols into a timeline. On backs of the maps from the day before (to save paper), students created a timeline using at least one of each of the six symbols, then took a few minutes to turn their notation into movement. They showed their solos to one partner, who followed along with the notation, and then discussed what they noticed.

Wednesday and Thursday, because of exit exam diagnostic testing (always with the testing!), we were missing all of the sophomores — about half the population of all of my dance classes — so I wanted to do a two-day project just for the juniors and seniors (and the few freshmen I have this year). I wanted to try something that we might get to next year in higher-level classes (which the seniors would miss out on), and I also wanted to do something with pairs; so I looked through my notes and found an accumulate-a-duet lesson, which I was able to adapt for my beginners... Here's how it went:

On Wednesday, we warmed up with a brief freeze dance, again using reaching, folding, turning, traveling, jumping, and still shapes. We then began a sequence of seven elements — we tried each element in multiple ways before adding it to the sequence, repeating the entire sequence with each addition. The seven elements were:
1. make a fabulous shape
2. look somewhere in the room and travel to it
3. reach out, then fold in
4. do a signature movement (your favorite move, the one you would do forever if you could only do one!)
5. a turn
6. a spring or jump (any air movement)
7. a variation of your fabulous shape
After practicing the sequence until it was settled, we then did some editing: remove any two of your seven elements, but keep the other five in the same order ("when you write an essay, you do a rough draft first then edit out all the fluff — dances need to be edited, too!"). This being  a short Wednesday, we didn't have much time for showing — the homework was to remember the edited five-element phrase for the next day.

On Thursday, we started with a very brief recap, for students to remember their phrases (and for any who were absent to catch up). Then they got into pairs, and the assignment was to combine their two five-element phrases  into one duet phrase no longer than the originals (or not much longer — I did give them the leeway to have from five to seven elements). I asked them to practice their phrases until they were really "in their bodies," because we would be fooling around with them further. We showed the duets two or three at a time, then I asked the pairs to separate (go across the room from your partner so you're not tempted to worry about shat s/he's doing").

With the partners on their own, I gave them a few choreographic devices to manipulate the phrases: size ("do it tiny... do it humongous"); tempo ("do it as fast as you can safely... start slow-motion and speed up to hyperspeed"); level ("as best you can, do it sitting down... on your tiptoes or jumping"); with different energies ("do it as if you've gone to the moon and you only weigh 20 pounds... now as if you weigh 600 pounds"); retrograde ("do it in reverse order"); and embellishment ("do it with fancy arms..."). I gave them a couple of minutes to revise their phrase using the devices they had just tried, then they showed them to their partners and discussed what surprised them in their different choices.

In general, the students did pretty well with all of the lessons. My fifth-period class in particular did some beautifully uninhibited work on Wednesday (when there were just the few juniors and seniors in class) — when we tried on a few fabulous shapes, many of them did low-level shapes without being asked (something I don't see much with beginning classes), and then continued the pattern with the traveling, crawling, rolling and spiderwalking across the floor. All in all, it felt good to be able to get a few days of creative work into them before winter break, and I hope we will be able to continue some of these concepts as we go along.

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