What Is a Choreographer?
If you’ve ever watched professionals dancing on television, in a movie, or as part of a live show or ballet, you’ve probably noticed that their moves appear to be carefully planned out. What might look spontaneous at times was probably sketched out and practiced for hours before the first performance. And who’s responsible for all that careful planning? While the dancers themselves may come up with ideas from time to time, the person responsible for putting it all together into a beautiful, compelling performance is the choreographer.
Choreographers design and direct dance routines. They not only invent and perfect dance moves, but they also practice them to make sure that they coordinate with music and provide entertainment for the audience. The word “choreography” actually comes from the Greek words that mean “dance writing.”
Some famous choreographers, such as Bob Fosse, George Balanchine, Alvin Ailey, and Martha Graham, may work as freelance artists who own their own choreography businesses. Other choreographers might work for dance studios, universities, or movie or television production companies. Choreographers might work with individual dancers or large groups. As they teach dance moves by example, they also provide encouragement and guidance to the dancers. While the final dance might be just a few minutes long, it can take weeks and even months to perfect even a short routine.
In addition to professional dancers, choreographers often use their knowledge of dance and the body’s movements to choreograph routines for a wide variety of other types of professionals, including gymnasts, cheerleaders, synchronized swimmers, divers, and ice skaters. Anyone who must perform a routine to music can benefit from the help of a choreographer. Modern choreographers often use advanced technology to synchronize dance moves with lights, music, and video presentations!
Dances are designed by applying one or both of these fundamental choreographic methods:
Improvisation, in which a choreographer provides dancers with a score (i.e., generalized directives) that serves as guidelines for improvised movement and form. For example, a score might direct one dancer to withdraw from another dancer, who in turn is directed to avoid the withdrawal, or it might specify a sequence of movements that are to be executed in an improvised manner over the course of a musical phrase, as in contra dance choreography. Improvisational scores typically offer wide latitude for personal interpretation by the dancer.
Planned choreography, in which a choreographer dictates motion and form in detail, leaving little or no opportunity for the dancer to exercise personal interpretation.
Several underlying techniques are commonly used in choreography for two or more dancers:
Mirroring – facing each other and doing the same
Retrograde – performing a sequence of moves in reverse order
Canon – people performing the same move one after the other
Levels – people higher and lower in a dance
Shadowing – standing one behind the other and performing the same moves
Unison – two or more people doing a range of moves at the same time
Movements may be characterized by dynamics, such as fast, slow, hard, soft, long, and short.