Throughout my training and upon starting work as a professional dancer, I’ve learned that choreography inspiration comes from many sources. The arts can influence or lend itself to the story behind a well-choreographed performance. Nature can inspire organic limitations, while the hustle and bustle of everyday life can motivate the most passionate routines in unlikely ways. Different styles of dancing can also influence classical dance, with more contemporary techniques, adding new dimensions to the form in exciting new ways.
Other sources of inspiration for classical dance choreography are musical and thematic. Identifying a strong theme and absorbing the atmosphere for the piece, generated by the music, can speed up the creative process regarding strong choreography for a classical ballet performance. In recent years, I’ve become extremely interested in choreographing my own pieces. I’m hoping this article gives some insight into how I approach the choreography process, and give you a few ideas if it’s something you’re currently battling with.
Thematic and artistic influences
The idea for the choreography for my neo-classical piece Kick arose from the opportunity to work with an experienced director, Martin Scanlan. Once I’d secured the chance to work with Martin, the various components of the choreography fell together quite spontaneously. With its dramatic background, the historical stately home of Wentworth Woodhouse was the perfect location for this bold yet organic performance.
The choreography for Kick was inspired by the music; a song from the film Drive entitled, “Kick Your Teeth” by Cliff Martinez . The movements are completely reactionary, and as such, the choreography only took two weeks to design. This really indicated to me how quickly the creative process can be generated once you have a strong thematic idea and the correct music to guide a performance.
Knowing the music well ensured I was able to draw upon a fluid, natural creative process which helped me design the choreography. Kick is a piece driven purely by movement, featuring impulsive gestures in response to the ebb and flow of Martinez’s music. I found that my ideas could just be left to germinate organically from the mood provided by the rhythm and the way in which it often changed, which resonated in me in a truly natural way.
This approach was very specific to Kick. I aim to create different pieces through different processes, meaning the way in which I pulled Kick together was the opposite of the long, heavily researched Face.
Face is set to a piece of music by Rudi Arapahoe. Rudi’s whole album is based on the work of Robert Laing who wrote a lot about schizophrenia in his 1960 book “The Divided Self’. He also lends from “The Face of Another”, a 1964 novel by Kōbō Abe. I read this novel too and was particularly struck by one of the quotes – which is the quote at the start of the film of Face.
Most significantly, for me, was that, my initial response to the album, before I read Rudi’s notes, directed me back to memories of time spent in my favourite place, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, specifically an installation by Greyworld called Playground that has been there ever since my really early visits.
So, I felt a very personal attachment to “False Self” and picked one of the pieces from the album with most musical rise and fall, and so lending itself to classical dance more easily. I am planning further collaborations with Rudi.
Literature and genre
Another way I find of generating choreography ideas for classical dance is through literature that has a strong narrative. Strong narratives make for a powerful and impactful performance. Reading books and immersing yourself in literature can help generate and inspire new ideas for _ choreography as it can open dancers and artists up to different ways of thinking. The ability to approach a routine with fresh ideas borrowed from authors and poets, old and new, can enhance the choreography within a ballet performance in exciting ways.
I also find that works of fiction aren’t the only source for inspiration regarding ideas for classical choreography. While newspapers and lifestyle sections in magazines may seem like unlikely sources of inspiration, I find that articles that have a strong focus on culture can guide dancers towards interesting websites and artists that may have otherwise remained undiscovered. This really opens the door to new _ choreography ideas. This can be really exciting. It’s also highly important to me to remain up to date with current affairs and the different opinions, perspectives that are being passed about in such subjects- not only classical, but any form of dance, is at its most interesting when it is speaking about something we as people, living right now, can relate to.
The evolution of classical dance throughout history has adapted through collaborations with contemporary dancers and artists. Societal influences upon modern dancing styles have also seen ballet adapt in response, with stylised steps appearing onstage within classical choreography.
I find that keeping up with dance trends and reviews through specialist publications and media, such as Dancing Times and Dance Europe, as well as regularly attending ballet and other stage performances can help to generate new ideas for ballet choreography.
Being exposed to new concepts and collaborations from artists with diverse backgrounds are obvious influences for new ideas. A performance that really resonates with me is Sylvie Guillem and Akram Khan’s Sacred Monsters which is astonishing in its artistry, despite by dancers being trained in distinctly contrasting dance styles. The stark contrast of Guillem’s extremely classical facility and Khan’s visceral isolations compliment each other in a sensuous display of storytelling_. I believe that brings no together different dance and even art forms creates the most exciting works.
I feel it’s really important to be open to the works of dancers, artists and choreographers from a range of nationalities and cultures, as this can have an influence on dancing styles and concepts. Choreographer Mats Ek is a fantastic example of an artist who finds inspiration for powerful routines from the mundane everyday; Appartement highlights commanding routines born out of basic domestic environments and themes.
Alternatively, taking part in a different dance class, such as salsa, can help to inspire classical choreography ideas. I always find that trying a contemporary style can help to free the mind and get the creative juices flowing.
Finally, think outside the box
Thinking outside the box and looking for inspiration for classical choreography ideas can allow for performances to adapt and develop in exciting new ways, creating beautiful and powerful routines that will truly connect with the audience.
If you are currently starting out on your own choreography journey, I hope this has given you some inspiration and direction.