Choreographing is like spiritual dry heaving. However, instead of just dry heaving, you also throw up and then clean it all up, make it look pretty and put it on stage. In other words, your insides are on display for all to see. Choreographing, just like dry heaving, or at least from what I can guess of it, is hard, exhausting work. Anyone who tells you it’s not is lying. This may sound harsh, but the art of creating true, powerful pieces out of nothing but your body is difficult. However, it is also the most gratifying of experiences. To be able to put one’s thoughts, desires, dreams and fears into movement is a gift, it is a treasure and it is a momentous process. It is full of hyperboles as it is gut wrenching yet satisfying at the same time. It is painful, yet it is rewarding. In all, it is…well, it just is.
For those of you that have never choreographed a piece, all of the above may sound ludicrous. But for those of you that have, and that have had the skill to produce an evening length show, I bow down to you. I have never produced a professional piece longer than about six and a half minutes. Once again, if you have never choreographed a piece, this length of time seems minute, even meaningless or worth a hearty laugh. However, for those of you that understand this process that is the art of choreography, you will resonate with these words as you too know that six and a half minutes of choreography can be months, even years of painstaking work, filled with revisions, emotional breakdowns and phrases like, “Crap. This sucks. I suck. Why am I even here in the first place?” And then my radio station, which seems to be turned to Power F U 107 all the time, continues to tell me that I am not strong enough, not beautiful enough and just overall not good enough to be dancing anymore. One might ask why I just don’t turn this horrible radio station off and continue on with my work, but it is harder than one would think.
Even after all these years, the process of dance making remains a complicated, and sometimes unsolvable, mystery to me. It’s as if I go into this movement cave and draw dancing hieroglyphs in the studio with my body, each time hoping these will be the moves that stick. Oftentimes, they don’t and there I am again, at the end of another two-hour session, with seemingly nothing accomplished except a few scribbles in my journal, some tears on my cheeks and another bill for studio time. However, what I also now know is that these hours, these seemingly useless and self-destructive hours, where I berate my body, its aches, its pains and its age, are actually some of the most useful hours spent in the studio.
I am still grappling with the negative voices in my mind. I think every artist must, as we are constantly pushing ourselves, comparing ourselves to the greats that paved the way for us. When I think of the breadth and depth of the work as such inspirational heroes as Alvin Ailey, I temporarily become stymied, struggling in a quicksand of leaps, jumps and turns. Eventually, I am able to find air in all this movement, which haunts me as I look at the mirror, judging my inferior turnout, stuck in the middle of the hip-hop, house and modern worlds. Eventually though, the demons move offstage, waiting for my next session of self-doubt, and lead to inspiration.
Once I am able to tune these voices out, I am able to envelope myself fully in the dance making process, to trust it and to give myself to it. This labor of love that is the process of dance making holds me and tells me everything is really going to be all right. When I able to let go, I feel empowered, strong and complete; almost invincible in the face of movement and the blank canvas of the studio. It might take a month for me to produce a few eight counts that I really love and can build other movement phrases off of. However, it is worth it, as this love/hate relationship I have with movement keeps me whole.
By no means do I claim to be an expert at this craft. I am constantly learning and thus always feel like a novice. I am a choreographer though that knows that the creative process is what enables me to get to the loins of my piece, those that are buried deep inside and under the many levels of movement phrases I wade through and throw out. How to access this treasure consistently is the challenge, and one that I continue to face every day.