Powerful classical, neo-classical and contemporary performances rely on good choreography, a strong theme, and of course, a commanding piece of music. While on the face of it, choosing the right music to accompany your piece may seem simple, it can be a complicated process. Sometimes the music can be the impetus for the whole choreography, perhaps because I just happen to really love the sound of it. Other times, I carefully choose my music after considering the audience and the emotions that I want the performance to convey.
What to consider before choosing your music
Interestingly, up until the second half of the nineteenth century, music played something of a secondary role within a classical ballet performance. However, as the form developed and evolved, the music began to tell a story and inspire movements. Although not all choreographic pieces need to portray a narrative in the traditional sense, it’s fun to latch on to something within the music that speaks to you personally.
In the case of Face, Rudi Arapahoe’s music transported me back to my childhood spent at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The connection I felt in a very personal level proved to me I could choreograph something to his music.
Choosing the right musical accompaniment for your piece can be an abstract and personal process, as often it cannot be put into words. Instead, the music makes you want to move and ignites the spark of creativity from within.
While this can be an organic development that allows your ideas to germinate, there are certain elements to consider during the selection process, including the overall feel of the piece, what it means to the choreographer and what the choreographer intends to communicate to the audience. In this respect, there really are no rules! Often extremely exciting works are created not only by combining complementary dance styles and music, but also by contrasting them. I believe that, just so long as the choreographer is true to themselves, there are no wrong decisions when it comes to creativity.
Finding music that inspires your performance
With Kick, the song came before the routine, but the project was completed in just two weeks. “Kick your Teeth” by Cliff Martinez, from the film Drive, was powerful enough to inspire the movements – each movement was reactionary and spontaneous, creating what I believe to be a dynamic neo-classical piece.
Listening to, buying or downloading a film’s soundtrack can be a great way to expose yourself to previously unheard artists or musicians that you may not have considered before. Naturally this can also help inspire the choreography of a piece; sometimes the film to which the music is linked can work its way into the choreography somehow, other times the music may simply resonate with you completely separately to the film.
Listening to the radio, music stations on television, and reading culture sections online or in print publications are also good ways to keep on top of contemporary artists. Exposing yourself to a wide variety of musical genres will ultimately help with the creative process regarding choreography creation.
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Themes and styles within music
I find that having an eclectic taste in music can help to inspire your choreography in exciting and dynamic ways. While genres of music can be starkly different stylistically, they may share similar themes that will inspire movement.
Regardless of the genre, the pieces I enjoy watching the most use unusual musical themes that are, both evocative and immersive. A great example of this, and one of my favourite ballets, is Tree of Codes choreographed by Wayne McGregor. The music is by Jaimie xx and left me in awe of its musical diversity and energy.
Considering your audience
While choosing the right music for the performance, both on stage and on screen, can be a personal process, it’s important to select music that will connect with the audience. It’s also important to remember that the audience will be experiencing the performance differently to the artists involved with the project; the viewpoint is changed drastically on a stage or through a lens.
The music you select should ideally provoke thoughtfulness and emotion (of whatever sort is intended!) within the audience, sometimes allowing them to forget that they are in fact part of the audience.
I believe the key to finding the right music for your performance is through finding a song that motivates movement. Being open minded to new genres and seeking alternative sources for musical inspiration can help to generate innovative ballet choreography that hopefully will stay with your audience a long time after the performance has ended.