In 2009, I returned to Boston-based dance company Tribe as a dancer and choreographer after a four-year break. Last month the company produced its annual concert at Boston University Dance Theater. I choreographed the opening number titled “The Beat of Tribe.” Through this experience, I realized the benefits of crowdsourcing choreography.
As a perfectionist, I typically demand precise execution of carefully defined movements from the dancers I work with. Four years of college dance team drilled precision into my head. The first time I choreographed for Tribe five years ago, I designed a challenging seven-minute piece based on a grand vision. I was so tied to this vision that my choreography did not factor in the diverse background of each company member. Tribe is not your traditional, cookie cutter dance company with more than 30 members of various body types, levels of training, experience and skills. Because I did not take Tribe’s diverse composition into account, the process of choreographing intricate dance movements with little flexibility generated stress for me as well as some of the dancers who initially struggled with the movement. Of course, Tribe prides itself in challenging its members with different styles of dance. In the end, Tribe realized my vision with “Grace” and the piece turned out beautiful.
Looking back, I would have allowed the dancers to share more in the creative process. I believe giving the dancers a sense of ownership would have made the learning experience more enjoyable. This year when I choreographed for Tribe, I decided to open up sections of the piece for the dancers to contribute their own choreography instead of defining movement for every minute of the dance myself. The key was that I established style guidelines for the dancers. Then, I set the dancers free to create movement. My job was to orchestrate the transitions of the dancers in these open sections.
The choreography that I crowdsourced emerged as the most vibrant movements of the dance. During rehearsals, I enjoyed watching the dancers come alive in these sections. Clearly, having some input into the process was rewarding to them. I realized that Tribe members knew their bodies and abilities better than I did, and therefore developed choreography to match. The dancers, not the choreographer, have to own the movement when it comes time for the performance. This experience taught me the benefits of letting go of artistic control and inviting the company of dancers to contribute to the process.
Photo description: Destinations, Rainbow Tribe, Inc.
Photo credit: Dan Minkkinen, 2005.