Responses to Dancemaker

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The movie Dancemaker is about preeminent choreographer Paul Taylor. Taylor has inspired and created work at the forefront of the 20th century modern dance. The film shows the world of creativity, love for modern dance and how it began, as well as how much physical work and brain work it takes to create a piece of art loved by many around the world.

Taylor takes us into his place of work and shows how he spent nights putting together dance numbers that he could teach his students. But his journey did not start off big and happy. It took a lot of work to create what he has today. He had to start from the bottom and work his way up. And only his faith and love for dancing kept him reaching his goal.

Paul Taylor was born on July 29, 1930 in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania. He started a dance company in 1954 and worked with icons like Martha Graham and George Balanchine. Taylor went on to establish a massive repertory with his company and created a distinct, acclaimed mode of choreography in works like “Esplanade” and “Arden Court.” He’s won many honors and awards, including a 1992 Emmy Award.

In the film Dancemaker they show the inside story on how Taylor’s version of modern dance was created. Highlights include:

  • When they premiered in New York. One of the debut pieces was about relationships based on physical attraction.
  • Also, the time they performed in India. Even though the dancers saw massive poverty in India, the Indian people made a fancy stage for them under a huge tent.
  • In India, they performed a dance number for one of their fellow dancers who passed away from AIDS. The music stopped working midway through their performance, but the ensemble used their breathing to remain perfectly in sync. When the music turned back on, they were in exactly the right place.
  • The camera also followed Paul Taylor around the streets of New York City, interviewing him about where all his creativity and ideas come from.

The purpose in watching this documentary was to reflect on the creative process as it pertains to the performing arts versus the literary or language arts. The following includes some of the discussion questions the movie inspired in us:

What does a good piece of choreography have in common with a good piece of writing?

  • They both flow well.
  • They both tell a story.
  • They both can express emotions and expression.
  • Both are hard work.
  • Both are organized and structured.
  • Both are well thought out.
  • Both require practice.
  • They both require creativity.
  • Both can capture an audience.
  • Both require passion and effort.
  • They both can be very meaningful.
  • Both can be pleasing to the eye.
  • Both requires imagination.
  • Both are very detailed

What does this movie teach us about any creative process, whether you’re working with words or with bodies?

  • It takes time, frustration, and perseverance.
  • To connect with the piece.
  • If you keep practicing, you’ll get better.
  • To sit back and observe the world.
  • You’re compelled to say something.
  • Sometimes you might get stuck and experience a hardship.
  • It’s good to use improvisation.
  • Be creative.
  • You can have a hard relationship with it, but it’ll work out in the end.
  • If you’re passionate and understanding you can reach success.
  • Inspiration can have any origin.
  • You should use a thought process.
  • The creative process may be long but with dedication it will get better.
  • It’s okay to be afraid.

Is there any value in making the drafting and brainstorming process more interactive, social, mimicking the collaborative process that is the process of making a dance? If so, how could you do this?

  • Take notes to remember what you’re brainstorming.
  • Having too many influences can have a blockage on your own creativity.
  • You’ll interact with others to make your work better than it was before.
  • Social environment can only help you grow as a dancer or writer.
  • It’s important to make value in your draft.
  • You reach your inner strength.
  • It allows you to build off of positive feedback.

What are some differences in the way pieces of choreography are preserved versus pieces of writing?

  • The art of the piece watching the body form move around.
  • Both can be preserved for later. (Choreography with videos and pictures; writing with novels, newspapers, etc.)
  • Both require revision and experience.
  • Dancers are preserved by memory. Writing is preserved by copies.
  • Dancing tells a story without the writing.
  • Both can be documented.

Do you see major differences in the way dancers hone their technique and the way writers hone their technique?

  • Writing requires more transitioning.
  • You must refine your process.
  • Honed in the same way through practice but require different thought processes.
  • Both gain more technique through practice.
  • One exercises the mind while the other exercises the muscles.
  • Both use improvisation.
  • Both take their crafts really seriously.

Do you think writing is typically as emotional as the process of making dances?

  • Both are equally emotional.
  • Writing is more emotional because you are recreating a story while trying to make sure the details are perfect.
  • One could be more emotional than the other at a point of the storytelling and its effect on you.
  • Both require organization.
  • Passion can make one more emotional.
  • Making dances are more emotional because they require emotions to get the message across through movement.
  • Writing is more emotional because you have to make your readers truly feel what the characters feel.
  • One can be more emotional depending on the message of the story.

It’s interesting when Paul talks about how hard simply walking onstage is. Have you experienced a moment in writing where the simplest thing is the hardest?

  • Sometimes you’ll get stuck on what you want the story to be about.
  • It may be hard to transition when writing a story.
  • Sometimes it’s difficult to understand which details to add in your story and which ones you shouldn’t.
  • Trying to compress ideas into one story.
  • Making sure you have important key points.
  • Creating a good opening line.

A lot of the dance world (as you can see) is recreating old revered works. How do you think the process of inspiration and emulation and paying tribute to other creators works differently or similarly in the writing world?

  • Dancers and authors can recreate memories in the same way.
  • It depends on the imitation part of it.
  • People are often inspired by particular works of art that have already been invented.

Notice that Paul Taylor says he comes into the studio with a list of numbers, “not knowing what he’s doing.” He is discovering what he wants to say with his dances. This is what we are striving for as writers. Being comfortable not knowing what we are doing and discovering what’s inside of us. How comfortable are you with starting writing before you know what you want to say?

  • Just stand on courage and go for it.
  • It’s difficult, especially when you’re a perfectionist.
  • It’s easier just going for it than planning it because it’s sometimes difficult to write all your planned thoughts down exactly how you want them to be.

What are some of the challenges of the dance-making process versus the challenges the writing process? How are the challenges different? What’s easier/ harder about making dances? What’s easier/harder about writing?

  • There may be no real structure with dancing.
  • You need a set structure for writing.
  • There may be moments when you’re stuck and don’t know what to do next.
  • There’s dance challenges like finding a song, auditions, and creating a dance.
  • There’s writing challenges like the title of the story, meaning behind the story, and naming characters.
  • Believing in yourself.
  • Not second guessing your work.

What other questions about the creative process or comparisons between writing/dance-making did this film spark in you? What other ideas presented do you want to discuss?

  • How do Choreographers/Authors use their five senses in their writing?
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