Friday, October 16, 2015

Motif and development

Although none of my students have fully experienced all the elements of dance yet — last year we primarily focused on Space, with one Time unit (tempos) — I still wanted to jump my Dance Production class ahead into some work with forming before they take on creating full dance for the fall showcase. So for their first composition project, I tried them on motif and development. I had thought of giving them a strict theme-and-variations form, but decided against it because this is a pretty creative group and I wanted to give them the freedom to mix up their movements a bit (I do plan to give the Dance 2 class the strict theme-and-variations project later in the year, to set them up for further work if they continue on to Dance Production next year). They completed their projects with somewhat mixed results, but for the most part at least successfully enough to know that they did grasp the concept.

For lead up lessons, we began with each dancer creating a personal phrase using an accumulation process of seven elements, then editing them down to five (the seven elements were: 1. make a fabulous twisted shape; 2. look somewhere in the room and travel to it; 3. reach out, fold in; 4. your "signature movement"; 5. a turn; 6. a jump or spring; and 7. a variation on your fabulous twisted shape). The next day in the week was a short day, so we used it to play the Adverb game with an already-learned phrase from their lyrical dance. The next day we reviewed the personal phrases created the first day, then manipulated them with various choreographic devices (tempo, size, level, repetition, range, embellishments, retrograde...).

The project was: create a dance motif of eight distinct movements, then expand it into a dance three times as long using any of the devices we worked on — and you must show your motif in its original form, in unison, somewhere in the dance. I also required instrumental music, so as not to distract them from the movement variations and development. As mentioned, the projects were somewhat mixed, but overall pretty well – some came out beautifully, while even those that were a bit less successful in the extent of their motif development at least showed enough movement variation that I believe they did at least understand the concept well enough to use it in the future.

One trio began with quick, intricate arm gestures on a standing level, then ended on a seated level with their arm gestures huge and in super slow-motion. They chose to perform in silence rather than spend time choosing music (I loved that, it is so rare!) – if that happens again, I hope to have time in the showings to try the dance with a selection of different musical choices. Another trio essentially performed a strict theme and variations: they began with their motif phrase in unison, then each dancer performed it in turn with each solo growing progressively slower and bringing in each dancer’s personal movement style. One duet used repetition and canon form to develop their motif; a quartet began with their motif in call-and-response form, then ended the dance by repeating it in unison; and another quartet began with a walking pattern moving from a line into a diagonal, then ended by retrograding the walking pattern from the diagonal back to the line.

In general, I might have liked to see a bit more development of each motif, but for the first project of the year they did fairly well. I will be interested to see how this class progresses!

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