This past Saturday I spoke on a panel, a collaboration between Dancebreak and Lincoln Center Theater's Directors Lab, about the relationship between the director and the choreographer. The panel, lead by Stas Kmec, was myself, Peter Pucci (chor), Dan Fish (dir),Matt Williams (chor) and Melinda Atwell (founder Dancebreak). It was great to hear about what goes into a good working relationship. Here are a few of the thoughts that were presented. And if you are a choreographer or director I highly recommend both programs.
- The number one essential element that came up , and was then evidenced in the workshop presentations that followed, was communication between the director and the choreographer. Seems obvious, and yet it can be very difficult to achieve. By communication I mean more than just talking. The director must be able to express their thoughts on how movement/choreography should be integrated into the production. The choreographer must be able to actively listen and then interpret the ideas and actualize them. (A useful technic to achieve true listening is to repeat back to the person you are speaking with, what they have just said to you. I.e. "What I hear you saying is.....Is that correct?") Good communication also involves the exchange of ideas, not just a one way flow, as well as the ability to challenge another's ideas and accept someone else's.
- I believe that when movement/choreography is needed for any production, the choreographer should be brought into the creative team as early in the process as possible. Most often, choreographers are brought on at the last minute and asked to insert dances or movement into a production. The cause is always budgetary. It is unfortunate. The thing about choreographers is they are extraordinarily creative and can help directors come up with innovative staging and ideas for any production. So you directors out there, bring a choreographer on early in the development process and reap the benefits.
- Directors should be aware that inhabiting movement takes time. To learn dance steps, movements or gestures and make them natural is not always easy for actors/dancers. It takes different people varied amounts of time to learn movement so the directors must factor that into their production timelines.
- Choreographers need to be able to make their needs known by the director as well as the production team including the producers. This refers back to communication. And it brings up another point, expectations.
- Through thorough discussion, the director and choreographer should be bale to set their expectations realistically. The director should be able to express what they expect from the choreographer. The choreographer must then, realistically, tell the director what he/she feels can be delivered in the allotted time and request adjustments to the schedule or work load if necessary.
After the panel, the directors in the lab, in teams, participated in staging a 5 different scenes from Aristophanes' The Birds. There was one director and one choreographer for each scene using the other directors in the program as actors/dancers. The presentation highlighted the points I mention above. In just 45 minutes, the successful teams, not all faired well, shared good communication and delegation of work and time. There were some terrific presentations and a successful event.
Today there are several director/choreographers working in the commercial theater. It is interesting to note that some of the best Dir/Chor, Tommy Tune, Bob Fosse, Gene Kelly, decided to become Dir/Chor because of bad experiences with directors who didn't understand the value of choreography in their productions. Hopefully events like this one at the Lab and another to take place in October by Dancebreak can help both the directors and choreographers create better relationships as they work together.
If you have any further thoughts, please share them in the comments.