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BWW Blog: Choreography in a Time of COVID, Part 1 - Still Making Moves

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I've been creating choreography for three different Covid-safe projects within the same week!

BWW Blog: Choreography in a Time of COVID, Part 1 - Still Making Moves
My friend and I have been experimenting
with socially-distant partnering
using a rope for an outdoor duet project.

It was my sophomore year of college, and it felt like my journey as a choreographer was really taking off. I had started school as primarily just a performer with an interest and a little background in musical theatre choreography, but after assisting on several productions during my freshman year, I found myself choreographing for a mainstage department production, student theatre, student film, and my tap dance company. I was so excited to take a whole class on musical theatre choreography in my spring quarter when, of course, school and the performing arts as we knew it came to a screeching halt with the coronavirus pandemic.

In that moment, I never would have guessed that almost 8 months later, still in the midst of a pandemic, I would find myself where I am today: creating choreography for three different Covid-safe projects within the same week! The last months have been an eye-opening exploration for me of just what choreography, especially for the theatre, can be -- even when aspects as essential as a stage or traditional dancer interaction have disappeared. Read on for what I discovered about all the dance there is still to be made in this moment, and stay tuned for a Part 2 about the many valuable, unique choreographic growth and learning opportunities this time can afford!

Use your space

With limited safe studio access, we've often been left dancing in our kitchens and living rooms. While this can be frustrating as we trip on pets and kick countertops, there is potential for exciting, generative storytelling when we embrace non-traditional spaces. What happens when you adapt choreography to be performed on a staircase? What does it mean to dance in the smallest room in your house? How does it feel to dance in the vast expanse of the outdoors after being trapped inside for what feels like forever? What emotional experiences does movement in these spaces bring up- freedom, disorientation, discovery, longing, isolation? And how can that be used to tell a character's story?

BWW Blog: Choreography in a Time of COVID, Part 1 - Still Making Moves
My "laundry room dance" surprised me
by turning out to be
one of my favorite pieces
I've made!

When, for a class assignment, I limited a piece I'd already made to the small space of my laundry room, I discovered the mundane space's poignancy: dancing with a rediscovered old t-shirt became a powerful meditation on missing loved ones we cannot hold. Choreographing Louise's opening solo from Carousel's act 2 Ballet in my backyard allowed me to viscerally feel and express the freedom and recklessness of the character and her experience in a piece written to be set outdoors.

Get Creative with Group Choreo

Obviously, dancing with others becomes more difficult when you cannot come within six feet of your dance partner(s), or even be in the same physical space at all. But that doesn't mean all dances must be solos! Instead, it can be another case of limitations serving as springboards for creativity.

BWW Blog: Choreography in a Time of COVID, Part 1 - Still Making Moves
A moment from a virtual duet
I choreographed
for two dancers
quarantining in different states

What is the storytelling significance of a duet in which two characters are across the country or the world from each other? What array of circumstances, relationships, and emotional experiences can be present and expressed within this premise? Explore these questions with movement, teach some choreography over zoom, stitch some videos side-by-side with iMovie, and you can create a powerful virtual duet.

Larger group choreography may be harder, but is not impossible. Even if traditional onstage formations are out of the question, the arrangement of dancer's videos can still to be played with. Do dancers in the outer border of Zoom boxes perform a step one way, the central boxes another, or perhaps in canon? Do we only see the video screens of certain dancers at a time? Do they wave or interact with the dancers in the boxes above or below them, Brady Bunch-style?

If you are lucky enough to have multiple dancers in-person, other questions can be asked: what kind of story, relationship, or emotional experience is conveyed when two dance partners cannot quite touch? In what ways can connection still be found? Can weight still be shared (perhaps using a props, as a friend and I have been exploring for a socially distant duet)?

BWW Blog: Choreography in a Time of COVID, Part 1 - Still Making Moves
After dancing in a cramped indoor space,
taking choreography outside,
as I did with a solo from Carousel,
can be extremely freeing!

Give Yourself Grace

The ridiculous stress and difficulty of our current moment might be leaving you uninspired - and if a world thrown into chaos means a pause in your artistic productivity, that's ok! But if you, like me, have found telling stories through movement to be a precious escape, way of processing, or source of joy right now, I'm here to tell you it can be done!

Watch out for Part 2, where I'll be writing about ways we can use this time to "do our homework" as choreographers!

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From This Author Student Blogger: Emily Brooks