Creating a character on stage is one thing; creating a plot-driven ballet requires a wholly different mind set. The choreographer has to be all the characters, has to relate the story through movement that is driven by music (at least in the way that I work as a choreographer). The choreographer must see all the characters and how they interconnect to tell the tale. All without words: just the gorgeous flow of the body. Visceral and poetic and so, so human.
Making dances that are plotless is not an easier task, just a different process. The music is the impetus, always. It inspires the movement; it inspires the choreography. Perhaps I shouldn’t call the works plotless. There is always an emotional content to the music that drives the choreography in that direction, if you believe as I do that movement and music are inseparable in the creation of a dance.
The process of creating art is all consuming. And when there are many elements in the creative process—plot, music, movement, dance, set and costume—it can nearly drive choreographers mad trying to get everything to fulfill their vision. Where does the work originate? Sometimes a score gives the inspiration; sometimes the story inspires, and the choreographer has to find the music. With luck, choreographers can collaborate with composers who create music that allows the dance to tell the story. But in our ever increasing “no money for art” society, that ideal is hard to reach. So choreographers research and listen. What a great adventure that is: discovering unfamiliar composers, or finding unfamiliar works by familiar composers. It’s a massive jigsaw puzzle to put together, and all before a single dancer steps into the studio for the first rehearsal.
Then, once choreographers choose the music and define the story line, they start to work with the artists. And, as each dancer is an individual, the choreographer must find the right fit for each character. Technique, personality, passion, the ability to transform, all play an essential part in creating a work. And the set and costume designs are a huge part of the equation. It is a collaborative effort among artists from many genres to create this place, this world where the story unfolds, reaches out to the audience, and takes them on a journey
The journey begins with the choreographer, the music, the dancers, and designers; but ultimately it is the viewer who is transported. So as the process unfolds, the choreographer steps back, assesses the clarity, or, maybe the mystery, that is unfolding. I have just begun this kind of artistic process. Always one to create dances that visualize the music, at this point in my career I have become fascinated in the telling of a story through dance. The great classic ballets are all based on stories, fairly tales, or legends and have been staples of the repertoire of companies for hundreds of years. And I have danced and staged these beautiful works and been moved by the way dance can be so theatrically telling. Like opera and theatre, but different, in that there is no language divide. Movement and gesture are universal. So it’s exciting to find how to tell the tale and create the characters through dance.
So I go a little mad and fight the demons of creation, searching and researching, pushing dancers and designers to work with me to move the audience along with the flow of the story and to reveal the secrets and truths that storytelling can so effectively do—if the choreographer does it right. And there is another demon to confront. But that is another tale to tell..Robert Gardner is the artistic director of the Minnesota Ballet.