Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work in a collaboration to create a new dance? Youth American Grand Prix recently hosted an intimate discussion-demonstration on this subject with super star dancer and choreographer Marcelo Gomes, ABT soloists Stella Abrera and Alexandre Hammoudi, composer Ian Ng, and musicians Dimitri Dover and Charles Yang. The event began with a Q&A session and proceeded to a demonstration of a work in progress and the process by which the artists’ interactions shape the piece.
The Q&A brought out the different experiences of collaborative creation from the perspectives of the various artists. The composer and musicians had to adjust their sense of the music’s timing to the dancers’ physical constraints, such as the amount of time a ballerina requires to come off pointe. Abrera and Hammoudi described the balance between trying to fulfill a choreographer’s vision and making the steps their own. And Gomes was enlightening and charming with his honest description of the challenges and rewards of the choreographic process.
Next came a run through of Gomes’ tango-inspired piece, “Tocare,” danced by Abrera and Hammoudi. The communication between choreographer and dancers was open and effective, probing for ways to bring everyone into the same conceptual space through language and movement. Gomes used phrases such as “spider woman,” “sexy legs,” and “temper tantrum” to convey the kind of stylistic nuances he was seeking at specific moments in the music, and the dancers talked and worked through tricky partnering maneuvers. Gomes’ vast experience as an expert cavalier allowed him to adroitly trouble shoot, until subtle adjustments to balance and timing allowed Abrera and Hammoudi to execute difficult lifts confidently and with expressive musicality. Throughout, there was an evident sense of humor and friendship, which one could feel had both strengthened and been strengthened by the process of bringing the piece to life.
What are some of the challenges of composing for a dance project?
“As a composer, all of my works are my babies. To chop the score down by almost half (to 7 minutes, from the original 12) was hard! But…it’s Marcelo Gomes! So it was a huge honor, and also, it’s a collaboration. We worked together, and at the end, I thought it was really good.”
What changes in the music when the dancers become involved?
“I had originally worked with my own language, but there are physical constraints for a body dancing. For example, a grand battement takes a certain amount of time to execute, so the music at that point can’t have a super fast tempo.”
Stella Abrera and Alexandre Hammoudi
How do you approach new choreography?
Hammoudi: “I initially try to fulfill what I think is the choreographer’s vision with my body and hold back giving feedback. I usually wait until a choreographer asks for it.”
Abrera: “I try as much as possible to give the choreographer what he/she wants. Usually if there’s something that’s really not working, it’s pretty obvious by the time I’d mention it.”
The female part in Tocare was originally danced by Misty Copeland. What was it like for Abrera to inherit the role?
“We’re different dancers, so some movements Marcelo thought needed adjusting. In tweaking certain steps, I was able to make Tocare feel like my own.”
Gomes, Abrera, and Hammoudi have known each other for years. Does it make a difference to the process?
Abrera; “It doesn’t make a difference. You go into the studio with a professional decorum no matter who it is and build a rapport as the process goes on.”
Hammoudi: “I feel more comfortable and can give more right away.”
(Gomes added, “It’s great to have the luxury of knowing my dancers so well. I’ve seen them do so many roles that I know how they dance and partner. I wouldn’t ask them to do anything that didn’t fit them.”)
Dimitri Dover (pianist) and Charles Yang (violinist)
What’s different about learning and preparing music for a ballet?
Dover: “All musicians have a way of working as you learn a piece that’s independent of what comes next, but you quickly realize that certain things just can’t be done the way you’d prepared it. You can’t let your whims interfere. You have to try explicitly not to backslide into how you initially practiced.”
Yang: “While practicing the violin part, I had my own thoughts about how it should sound. Those were shattered when I started working with Dimitri. Then Ian shattered the ideas we developed together, and when we took it to Marcelo, the whole thing changed!”
What’s unique about performing a duet on stage with live dancers? (Dover, at his piano, faces away from the dancers, so he relies on Yang for cues.)
Yang: “My cues, when I was making notes for myself, were totally different than for, say, a chamber music performance. I wrote things like ‘watch legs’ and ‘wait for him to put her down’ instead of ‘wait for violin’ or ‘watch cellist.’”
(Gomes added, “It’s a great challenge for the dancers to feel and respond to the live music. They can’t just rely on their memory of a fixed recording. Every moment is alive.”)
To read about artistic collaboration from choreographer, Marcelo Gomes', point of view, click here.