Ross MacGibbon makes award-winning films about dance. He is also a photographer.
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The Art of Choreography

Frederick Ashton did it by delivering a sharp poke in the ribs with the index finger of his right hand. Kenneth MacMillan sat broodily in a chair centrally placed under the barre in the rehearsal studio. Recently I watched Matthew Bourne stalking around the dancers, two assistants in his wake, instructing two or three dancers at a time. People make dance in many different ways. Not long ago, I was watching a DVD of Steptext by the renowned avant-garde American choreographer William Forsythe. Seeing the dancers performing their unlikely contortions, my perplexed colleague asked me what choreography actually was. How on earth could someone imagine that shape and then ask a dancer to move like that? How is dance devised so that we see ‘spontaneity’, seemingly improvised dance, but in reality something minutely analysed and endlessly rehearsed and repeated?

Everyone had the same reaction when my dance career ended. I suppose you’ll teach – or choreograph? Teaching is something that you can be taught to do, but choreography is altogether different. I had danced so much bad choreography in workshops over my thirteen years with The Royal Ballet that I just couldn’t risk joining the massed ranks of third-rate choreographers. To be confronted by blank faces, shrugs and half-hearted attempts (and even the very best choreographers face that every day in the studio) would, I decided, be soul-destroying. Sure, twenty years of dancing meant I could serviceably have strung steps together to music, like improvising tunes on a piano, but there’s more to good choreography than mere steps. Randall Jarrell once said that a great critic is rarer than a great poet. There are many steps in ballet vocabulary and there are many great dancers, but there are only a handful of great choreographers. To a greater or lesser degree I worked with three of the colossi – Frederick Ashton, Kenneth MacMillan and – for Americans the closest to God a dancer can get – George Balanchine. Actually, I only worked with Balanchine on one of his ballets, Liebeslieder Waltzer, and then only for a week, but that’s enough for bragging rights.

Posted on 1 February 2014 by Ross MacGibbon in Invitations, Exhibitions | Leave a comment

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