Dallas — “So, like, what exactly do you do?”
That question, or a variation of it, is one that I generally get during an interview leading up to a new show. Most interviewers are honestly curious about what a choreographer does, especially since the term “choreographer” does not have the same connotation that it used to.
The word “choreography” literally means “dance-writing” and was first introduced in Ancient Greece. The term “choreographer” only came in our lexicon in 1936, when George Balanchine was listed as one for his movement work in the Broadway show, On Your Toes. Before then, stage and movie credits used phrases such as “ensembles staged by,” “dances staged by,” or “dance by” to denote the work of the person who composed the sequence of steps for a performance. However, choreography is not just associated with dance. It is related to cheerleading, gymnastics, synchronized swimming, fashion shows, ice skating, martial arts, marching bands, show choirs, theatre, and cinematography. Choreography is the method through which human movement and form is placed in a space, in a time, and with a context to tell a story.
Choreographers put movements together in a sequence to create a new language. Choreographers find ways to produce non-verbal communication in a universal way. Choreographers explore methods by which stories can be told. Choreographers are makers and movers.
They demonstrate. They create. They perform. They craft. A choreographer is not just the person behind the table in the back of the theatre, speaking through a god-mic, telling you what to do. A choreographer is right there next to you, either physically or mentally, working through the steps. They are you, the performer. They are you, the audience member. They are the work.
That’s what I do. I work. And for the first time in my career with DGDG, I will be performing alongside the company. While in the past I have danced in shows, it is usually because I am filling in for performer who was not available, or it was for a public art work that was for one-night only. But this is the first time that I have considered myself a part of the cast from the beginning and have created a role and character for myself.
Originally, the decision to be a performer in War Flower came naturally and stemmed from a short work that I developed in February 2016. I was working with four performers—all of whom are involved in the premiere this month at the Bath House Cultural Center—to create a work for the Second Annual Faculty Dance Concert at Eastfield College. When we started to develop movement, I found myself inside the work with the performers. I was both setting phrases while also putting them inside my own body. I was creating partnering work, while also being a partner. It started to become apparent to me that I was now in the work, and the work was becoming a part of me. The cast of four become five, and the beginning stages of War Flower bloomed. This 15-minute section was distilled down to seven minutes in the summer of 2016, and we took the show on the road, presenting it in Tulsa, Okla. for the Exchange Choreography Festival and again for the 254-Dance-Fest in Waco, Texas.
When we returned from our festival mini-tour, it was time to focus on creating work for the full production, our premiere, and it was time for me to make a decision. Would I remain a performer in the work? Would I take a step back and just choreograph? Or could I do both?
I was intimately connected with the work; I didn’t know how to take myself away from it. Or if I even could. It made so much sense to me to remain a performer in the show. At least, it did for a time. There were many days when I would come home from a rehearsal, draft an email to the performers explaining to them that I would be removing myself from the production, that I would remain on as director and choreographer, but no longer could I dance. That it was too much for me. Then there were days when I would give up on myself in rehearsal in front of my peers. I would just shut down, turn my brain off, and couldn’t play on the same team any more. It was all becoming too much. I was too close to it. I wasn’t good enough.
I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t create. I couldn’t remember any of the movements that I would teach. I couldn’t find balance. Being a choreographer/performer is one of the most difficult and challenging places that I have found myself so far. How do you create system in which you not only lift up your peers, but yourself as well? When you are on the brink of failing yourself, how do you bounce back?
By letting yourself fall down. By letting yourself fail. So, that you can fail again. “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” That Samuel Beckett, he knows his stuff. And I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by artists and friends who believe in the work and believe in me. It is because of the cast of War Flower, and our DGDG crew, that I didn’t give up. They helped me find my love for the show again, and my passion to dance. My passion to perform. They reminded me that this show was a part of all of us. That no matter what happened, we would always have this experience together, and that was a beautiful thing. We are a family. We are all war flowers.
And no matter how intense the nerves are, I can’t help but be excited. It is truly an honor to share the stage with performers of War Flower. It has been a joyful and enriching experience creating a new work alongside these talented individuals, who have all come together for a united cause.
So, what do I do? I dance. I choreograph. I make work. I tell stories. I worry. I fail. I come back for more.
» 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 on the third Sunday of the month on TheaterJones.com.
- 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
- December 2014: The Editor Dance
- January 2015: Community Relations
- February 2015: The Fabric of Movement
- March 2015: State of the Dance
- April 2015: The Dance Mom Complex
- May 2015: Who Wants to Date a Dancer?
- June 2015: Figuring How Men Fit In
- August 2015: Creative Economy
- September 2015: Dancing to Learn
- October 2015: Whose Idea Is It Anyway?
- December 2015: '15 Going on '16
- January 2016: In Memoriam
- Februrary 2016: The Politics of Dancing
- March 2016: No column
- April 2016: Defining Dance Theatre
- May 2016: No column
- June 2016: Dancing for Change
- July/August 2016: No column
- September 2016: Sweat the Details, Not the Consequences
- October/November 2016: No column
- December 2016: Louder Than Tweets