The Making Room

Investigating innovative ways of sharing the creative process from start to premiere

pre-convening homework

March 2016


“What does the "creative process" feel like? When you’re in that moment when something clicks. Physical synapses fire when you’re in the zone, in the flow of creation. How do you experience it?”

—Lila Hurwitz, The Making Room’s Project Manager, posed this question to Sue and Bebe, before they met for the first convening. This was Bebe's response.


The other morning, I woke up and realized I was choreographing. Still half asleep I was pondering moving a group of dancers here and there. It was dreamy, in every way. The space needed balancing somehow so I shifted folks around, considered the outcomes (but then they’ll be_____ so maybe it’s better if________). The dreamy dancers and me, we were all pretty cooperative, it was a friendly sorting of possibilities.

I realize that I often wake up this way; the times I’m closer to getting up and going to an actual rehearsal there’s a bit more urgency, tied to whatever happened the day before. Other times, most times, it feels like I’m holding on to the remnants of a dream in a large room (always indoors), never alone (no solos for me, no sir), there is light and ease and I’m getting to ponder. Maybe it’s the processing, making use of  available time to sort, stitch, weave, decide.

I recently finished a commission for a group I didn’t know, with dancers I got to know, just a bit. We worked together for fewer hours than a full time work week before they took it on and showed their all to the audiences. If I’d gotten to know them better I might have seen their all a little earlier, had fun figuring out how to shift it sideways (with their knowledge, I would hope) to see what it was made of. That sideways shift is sometimes just that, literally: move your intention further in/out of line with its resolution. I get a glimpse of a reference point they might have—or I make up—and I’m judging distance, interest, aptitude, amplitude, looking to do to it, do with it. In this I feel moved to catalyze, to shift the ground enough to change what’s there.

Hmm…. When to change what’s there? Why change what’s there? Ooh! Ooh! Dream Move! I’m reading weight in action, anticipating surge, redirection, a sweet kitten pounce that softens, rolls over and gets distracted by a shiny object. I’m also taking the temperature of the room, the group, me, looking to flutter resolution. The context of a particular moment is a holographic partner to the way it moves, that’s how I see it. Not so much a thematic decision as taking into account the circumstances we’ve been building, the resistance to and/or flow toward and/or tangential relation to the way we’ve decided to be.

I watch, a lot.

A note about my working strategy. I watch the vectors of actions on their way towards encounter. I feel the phrasing of related perspectives on the move. Intentions radiate and I look to bend them; this is on the body level as well as person to person, to space and time. I set up a kinetic situation, try it out, watch, move, try, watch. It’s clear I cannot do this by myself. And improvising, generally with others, is where I start.

OK: sitting here typing, my hands leave the keyboard and draw apart like the graphics for cell division, while my eyes focus straight ahead: I’m reading the pull between left and right while scanning my body up-limb toward center, figuring out the tensile involvement (Nikolais’ title, which I have returned to again and again) of related parts along with WHAT AM I LOOKING AT? HOW MIGHT I TWANK FOCUS AS WELL AS THOSE HANDS? WHA’…WHAT IF? That’s what happens, and then I’m referencing physicalities, movies, characters, timings, other dances, other dancers, figuring out what I’m reminded of even as I’m figuring out what my hands want to do/what I want my hands to do. I love this.

There’s more. I feel like I’m reading peripherally and internally, matching up what I’m imagining (the situation? The tone?) with the pleasure of moving, arresting, part by body part by breath by slice-through-space, by shrinkage, by dull-eyed heroine, by landscape, by sea, by coddled memory, by touch. And then, because I can’t not do this, I acknowledge who’s in the room (what color? How’d they get here? What’s driving them? Do they like this like I like this?), sometimes just lightly, just enough to acknowledge that I got here, somehow, too.

There are choreographers who can imagine a whole scenario and then make it.  I’ve never been really good at that. I’ll look at a phrase, a gathered bit, and often just reframe the room we’re working in: what if the background couple moving at their own pace is the missing piece of that phrase I’m looking at? Or, they’re improvising, and I’ll change my perspective in the room. So basically I ask, what is that? What is that? In watching I come up with questions, more so than directives. And from an un-formed and then an in-formed place of “what is that” I build dances, or events, or situations. And I look (or notice) reference: how is that similar to something else? I refer to film, novels, writing styles, other dances. I assign homework: Ian McEwan’s Saturday, for Necessary Beauty (2008), because of how he leads me from the mundane to the Big Event without warning. David Foster Wallace (my new crush) because of how he leads me from the horrific to the mundane.

Awhile ago I ran across a short story of his, Incarnations of Burned Children. It’s devastating. He takes us to and through a horrific event that happens in the middle of a regular day. He doesn’t resolve it for us, we don’t really know how it continues past the six minutes it takes to read it. But it was the weighted imbalance between the mundane and the horrific that brought me up short. How did he do that? How did he make words on a page stand out in time and affect? It seemed to me his skill was in his relaying the chunks of event, how they were splayed out in a rush of feeling but also annotated off so particularly and objectively, and how he took the time to dwell on commonplace in between the madness. Syntax, yes, and flow.