In late November 2014, The Guardian ran a blog entry entitled, “Do choreographers need editors?”, and the dance community here in Dallas started paying attention. For the next couple of weeks, my Facebook feed was filled with dancers, choreographers, and educators sharing, re-sharing, and commenting on this piece. In fact, according to the counter on The Guardian’s website as of December 19, 2014, it’s been shared 1,672 and has logged 23 comments (quite good for an blog entry about dance).
In the piece, Judith Mackrell wonders what would happen if a new system of editorship (not censorship) entered contemporary dance history. What would happen if you invited someone into your process whose sole role was to help you fine-tune your ideas? What would happen if you opened yourself up to criticism and debate and a new pair of eyes? What if you listened to that person’s opinions and trimmed a few minutes here and there? What would happen if you reorganized phrase-work into new sections? What if you turned that duet into a trio, that quartet into a solo, or what if you used video instead?
She compares the creation of dance to the creation of a novel: “In the history of literature there have been countless authors who’ve owed part of their success to editors; individual works including F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and TS Eliot’s The Waste Land might not have achieved greatness without the editorial skills of those such as Max Perkins and Ezra Pound, who respectively chipped and cajoled them into shape.”
Mackrell goes on to briefly look at the world of theatre: “…there’s also a parallel support system in the way that the original text of the play is subject to the influence of both a script editor and a director.”
In dance, she argues, there is no real equivalent since dance is a beast all of its own. Many times there is no script, narrative or manuscript to follow. It’s a collaboration of different elements, from the choreographer’s interaction with the dancers in the studio, to the musical inspiration, or the inclusion of live music, and from the choreographer’s initial intention to what actually is created. “It’s not always going to be simple for an editorial figure to intervene in the complex process of their creation.”
But if authors have improved their work with the help of a mentor or editor, imagine the effect a similar system would have for dance. What would that system look like? We get used to the jury process in college (sometimes high school, if you attended an arts-focused or dance-focused high school) but once we graduate, that support system disappears. Sure, your advisors and teachers say they will always be there for you, just to give them a call or send them a link to what you are working on, and they’ll send you feedback, but we all know how that eventually turns out. That phone call goes unanswered, that email and video link are never viewed, because, let’s face the facts, everyone is busy, and if you aren’t currently enrolled as a student, your professors put your email at the end of their queue—their current students come first. That reality can be difficult to face, but don’t stress out too much. It’s time to grow, and grow up, and develop a new support system. If you work at studio, tap into those resources. If you work at college, well, you are surrounded by just the people you need. And don’t be afraid to reach out to local critics and invite them to a rehearsal. I guarantee one, if not more than one, will gladly accept and be more than willing to weigh in on your process.
So do choreographers need editors? Yes, I agree wholeheartedly with Mackrell. It’s an almost absolute necessity. No matter how committed to your work that you are, there are things you can’t see, especially, if, as a choreographer, you decide to enter into your work as a dancer. I encourage all of my students who are studying composition and choreography to not dance in their pieces, and with DGDG, it’s a rare occurrence for me to join my dancers on stage, because it’s difficult to find the separation needed to direct and produce a show that way. Yet, the decision is ultimate up to you. If you decide to dance in your work, then I suggest asking for help—a second pair of eyes. Better to catch something that is not working in rehearsal, then putting something on stage that you might end up regretting. And don’t be afraid to ask for that help. It can be very difficult to reach out, to give over complete control—I know, I’m a perfectionist and a control freak—but, and I speak from experience, the result can be very rewarding. If you are running the entire production by yourself, you may not have the time or even the specific skill to edit yourself. Take a page from your educational background: find a mentor.
Dance is not a solo activity, so why should choreography be one? Some of the best work I have seen—and if you ask yourself, some of the best work you have made or have been in—has come from a collaborative process. Open yourself up to that possibility, and see what happens. If you hate it, well at least you tried. But if you like it, then see what may come out of you next. As Mackrell says, “Editorial interventions can never guarantee a work’s greatness but they can go a long way to help realise its potential.”
Objectivity is not a bad word.
» Danielle Georgiou is a dance educator, critic and writer. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of DGDG (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group) and is a working dancer and performance artist. Her column Sixth Position appears the third Sunday of the month on TheaterJones.com.
Previous columns are:
- February 2014: Cash Choreography
- March 2014: Make the Fringe Your Future
- April 2014: Don't Freak Out, It's Just an Audition
- May 2014: You Love Dance. You're Not Alone
- June 2014: Persevering Through Movement
- July 2014: Sharing in Success
- August 2014: To the Barre
- September 2014: Method Act
- October 2014: Fear of Flying
- (no November column)