"Reflection/s", Ch. Roman Novitzky Tänzer: Henrik Erikson, Ensemble © Stuttgarter Ballett



As the season is slowly getting to its end and most of the company dancers got the chance to experience both new creations and revivals of repertoire ballets, it is time to recollect a few thoughts about the time spent in the studio creating or restaging works that have been performed in the last months.

Dance and ballet companies usually work on a repertoire/new creations model, which means that each season is usually filled up both with works previously staged, and new creations that are going to be premiered for the first time.

The purpose of this article is to shed light on how dancers perceive their contribution to stage a dance piece, and on how exciting and challenging is the creation and rehearsal time, whether it is an existing or a new work.

A considerable part of a dancer’s life is spent inside a studio trying to perfect and give meaning to movements that later on will take shape on stage. During most of the season, dancers are indeed required to learn and re-learn steps and roles that are newly modeled on them, or that were created on someone else and need to be restaged.

This article has been written starting from the personal opinions of several dancers that have been lucky enough to experience and be part of new world premières and to revival existing works from their company repertoire. Feelings and thoughts about this topic are very different, as they depend on the dancer’s stage experience, artistic maturity, preferred style and a series of psychological aspects and personality traits unique for each dancer. However, there are also some common points of view and impressions about the way dancers are taken into account to make dance happening.

A large part of the interviewed dancers declared that being part of a world première is undoubtedly exciting. Nonetheless, this excitement is strictly linked to the artist’s perception of being an active part in the creative process. In the case of a frontal choreographic work mainly based on learning steps and counts, without any further deepening of movement intentions and reason behind it, the dancers find it much less challenging or interesting, defining it as a process almost comparable to learning an existing choreography from video.

Instead, if the creation requires an intimate and real collaboration between choreographer and dancer (i.e. working on improvisation or tasks), this is perceived as artistically challenging and as an enriching learning experience, as the dancers feel largely involved and taken into consideration for their approach to the dance creation, and are willing to support the choreographers in their creative journey.

For this group of dancers, the same idea applies to revivals. If the ballet is learnt considering purpose and aim of the piece, choreographers’ expectations and inspiration, together with steps and counts, this can be evenly challenging and motivating as working with the choreographers themselves. What matters is therefore the “how” of the process, artistic purpose and intention behind the dance.

Another group of dancers claimed that working on new productions with a choreographer is generally much more exciting, as it leaves more room for personal interpretation within a certain storyline or concept.

Dancers feel that when a piece is created on them, they have the possibility to better approach the choreographer’s style, dynamic and musicality in a way that they can further delve into the character or concept of the piece. Instead, in the revival of old choreographies, dancers feel they need to fill the expectations and the picture that is already existing from a previous dancer. On one hand, this is perceived as taking away from enhancing your artistry, and rather as a comparison to another dancer which is hard to push aside. On the other hand, in this case the challenge might be adapting the role to another body with different proportions, style and technique, but yet remaining true to the choreography.

Among the most seasoned artists, a diffused thought is that dance creation requires an understanding of how to combine movements into a powerful form of self-expression. Although each choreographer has their very unique way to forge movement, dancers want to be creative artists involved in the process of “making art”.

Contemporary dancers usually prefer being part of creations in which movements are generated through improvisation, starting from an idea, piece of music, or phrase in which they can additionally give their own timing, dynamic and interpretation. In this way, they see the piece taking shape and evolving in something that they are actively contributing to develop. They find really exciting to come in with some ideas of complimentary phrases, groupings, partnering and lifts, and then just start playing with them in the studio with the choreographer and other fellow dancers. This is very much a trial-and-error process, or at least a very selective one, as requires a lot of open- mindedness by the choreographer as author of the piece. But this is seen as a true reward in the co-creation.  For most of the dancers, choreographing and dancing means not only “making dance”. Dancers feel more and more not just performing artists. They want to be an active part of the creation process, as their bodies and minds are the number one instrument through which the art is created, delivered and perceived.

Lucia Giarratana