Friday, March 28, 2008

On Making Dances and Pacing Novels

Perhaps from the outside making dances, like writing, seems like a giant, freewheeling adventure. Yet those working in such creative fields know that good work merges inspiration with a great deal of hard work and discipline. Still, choreography seems to differ from writing in that it is made upon other people. Inside the choreographer’s mind is a vocabulary of movements and ideas he or she has developed more or less through personal dance experience. These notions must be modified and even discarded for a new vocabulary when a dance is made to embody the ideas presented in a musical and is performed by other people.

Such adaptation is essential when choreographing for young musical theatre performers many of whom have more acting or singing experience than dance training. To make successful dances for such performers, one must develop meaningful, exciting movements that can be both understood and proficiently reproduced. Some of the best dances I have created for kids—the ones that have yielded the biggest smiles on their faces, the most enthusiastic applause from the audiences—have been streamlined, group- and gesture-based routines.

Granted it is delightful when a cast contains trained ballerinas or gymnasts capable of stunning pirouettes and cartwheels but I have learned to truly appreciate the glory of thirty-odd children marching in the same direction, their arms linked together or held in a clear, artful pose. I have come to believe that the young artists’ ability to connect with the movement, its meaning and its execution, is directly correlated to the success of any given dance in performance.

These choreographic principles have begun to echo in my mind as I revise my current YA novel. As I watch closely for character consistency and struggle with the pacing of dramatic plot elements, I have come to think of this book as a sort of dance between myself and the imaginary reader. Will he or she believe this notion? Is this secret revealed to my reader too quickly? Will he or she find this answer too complex or too simple? As a choreographer and a writer, I have my own vernacular, my own voice. Yet, as a person who firmly believes in the essential craftsmanship of creative works, I strive to find a way to connect my style to the nature and experience of my reader. In the end, whether written or danced, the success of my work depends on the dialogue between me and those for whom I create.

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