With the New Year just days away, it is time to get ready for National Choreography Month (NACHMO)! I am super excited to be setting a piece on Monkeyhouse for NACHMO Boston. For anyone who is unfamiliar, the premise of NACHMO is to get people making choreography in January. The task is to create a new piece within the month. As one of Monkeyhouse’s Choreographic Mentees, I have been well prepared to take on this challenge, so I thought I would share a bit about what I have been doing so far, before the actual creating even begins.
The most influential opportunity I have had so far is Musings. Monkeyhouse Musings are opportunities to play with choreographic ideas in an atmosphere free from pressure. I have both lead and participated in Musings that have resulted in all sorts of different creation. For the piece I will be making in January, I plan to build upon several of the ideas I started playing with in these musings. Also in musings, I have played with ideas that turned out to be not so great. This was just as valuable because, now I do not have to spend rehearsal time trying out ideas that I am not interested in using for this specific project. Musings are an ideal way to spend time before starting as well as during a specific choreographic process. The risk-free atmosphere of musings has been the best preparation for me to begin a rehearsal process.
As I look forward to the beginning of making something new, I am grateful to have people who have done all of this before by my side. From applications to the non-movement parts of choreographing like set-design and costuming, Karen and Nicole are here for it. They have both participated in NACHMO before and have been new people in the professional dance world.
So, if you are like me and are about to embark on the journey of creating a new dance, I would recommend that you take some time to consider what tools you can use to prepare for this journey. Obviously not everyone has the privilege of attending Monkeyhouse Musings, but you can do the next best thing. Practice making choreography in an environment that does not pressuring you to make something amazing. If that doesn’t work, watch someone else’s process. I have learned as much if not more from participating in a musing someone else has lead compared to what I have learned in the musings I have lead. Also, find someone who can be in it with you. I’m so lucky to get to work with Monkeyhouse, mostly because they are filled with different perspectives. Extra eyes are always good to have.
I can’t wait to see all of the exciting new work that is made next month for NACHMO! Happy 2018!
by Elyssa Berg
Are you a very organized person? Are you spontaneous? Maybe you really like structure or details. Whatever your personality may be, this can greatly effect your artistic process. Finding the process in which you are most successful when creating takes a long time, and it constantly changes.
Your artistic process is your own form of research or self study that you use to create a new piece. This could be in any art form or medium; dance, music, ceramics, writing, anything and everything! More established artists may have a very specific way in which they create work that they have been developing for many many years, but the most exciting thing is that even for them it is always constantly developing, no matter who you are.
Personally, I have found my artistic process has greatly shifted in the past few years, especially from my time in college. Looking at the four years that I was at Virginia Commonwealth University studying dance and choreography, my creative process was dramatically changing all the time. Since i was in school, many times i have been asked to create work in a way that I wouldn't have otherwise. That was the greatest thing that I could have experienced!
Being asked to try on different processes and see what comes out of them is an exciting and scary thing. It can push you to create wonderful things that you may never have expected yourself to create. But with that also comes the flip side. At times when you're asked to create in a different way than what your aesthetic may have led you, it can also be a disaster. And thats okay! I have created many things that I didn't necessarily feel were as successful as they could be, or that really spoke to who I am as an artist, but that's all a part of the process.
The best thing that you can do for yourself is try anything and everything. Don't be afraid to do something that doesn't work. If you do, you know that you were curious and brave enough to give it a go, and now you know that you might not necessarily ever do again. Asking yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and challenge yourself is a difficult thing. I have found that I have easily been able to do that through Monkeyhouse's.
Musings are a chance for you to bring any and every idea you have to a room of artists willing to try what you are offering. With such a supportive community you have the chance to try things that you have never tried before, and you have a chance to observe what the other artists add to your ideas. This has been a new part of my artistic process that has really helped to elevate my artistic process.
I have gotten to try out a lot of ideas during musings, some that I have decided to continue studying and trying for a longer period of time. One of these ideas has been the use of light in connection with dance. I have been able to play with different forms of light such as; lamps, handheld lights, natural light, light that peeks through doors, pretty much any form of light that I could find at the moment. This has led to a lot of magical moments in the studio. Trying out new situations that have really planted a seed for my newest artistic endeavor. I plan to continue to grow this idea as I work with monkeyhouse in creating new work.
Like all ever changing artistic processes, each moment is exciting and different. My greatest hope is that my search within this process is that it is filled with many trial and error moments that continue to help me establish what works for me. I am still on that journey of constant change and exploration within my artistic process and I will always be, which is a really exciting thing.
You may have heard by now that Elyssa Berg and Elizabeth Powers are the choreographers for this years Choreographic Mentorship program. In this interview, Elyssa responds to Elizabeth's questions about herself and her choreographic process.
EP: As a choreographer, dancer, and teacher, you wear many hats. How would you describe yourself to someone who doesn’t know you?
EB: I would describe myself as a dancer and choreographer. I use movement to explore what forms the human body can possess, the roles that it can take on, and the qualities that it can embody. I create work that explores natural elements (such as earth, wind, fire, and water), as well as animalistic qualities that are explored in abstract and concrete ways. As a mover and creator, I portray strength and physicality coupled with delicacy and fluidity in order to find genuine and honest situations for the human body. Intense and specific movement meets a grounded and powerful quality as a pathway to tap into the essences of inhuman entities and situations. Through this ongoing exploration I am most interested in creating worlds by building environments and atmospheres in which dance and movement are meant to exist in.
EP: What is the first step in your choreographic process?
EB: When I look into creating a piece, I first start with a lot of preparation. I take time to organize my thoughts and find a lot of ways that I can visually represent what I want to explore. Often through images, colors, environments, pieces of music. I usually use a Pinterest page to do this. I find that through this I can also communicate to other artists the exact world that I am working to create for that specific piece.
EP: Can you tell us a bit more about your process for creating a new piece?
EB: I use a lot of my preparation work to guide the rest of my process. I usually start with one phrase of movement and find ways of layering and manipulating the movement to create a specific vocabulary of movement that I want to use for the piece. At times I will have a lot of chunks of ideas that I like of different movement and imagery that I work on transitioning together to build and develop my piece.
EP: How has your concept of dance changed since you’ve recently graduated from college?
EB: I think that my interest of movement has changed since graduating. I am a lot less concerned with the technical execution of movement and more drawn to the simplicity of movements. Thinking that less is more. I think I appreciate a lot more the small details of expression and self exploration than I have before. I think your perspective has to change greatly when you are transitioning out of school and into your career. Things don't always happen instantly or consistently and you really have to keep your passion for dance and keep it alive in your life in any way possible.
EP: In what ways do the different types of dance education you have received influence the work that you create?
EB: I was lucky enough to be exposed to the early ideas of choreography at a young age from my time at Impulse Dance Center and through the guidance of my teachers Karen Krolak and Nicole Harris. This really impacted how I moved forward through the rest of my education and developed as a choreographer. I had the opportunity to focus on choreography just as much as I got to on my technique in college and this was really my time to deepen my exploration of movement and creation as I established my own artistic voice. One of the most influential moments of my education was my time studying abroad. I studied with the University of South Florida's Dance in Paris Semester Program under the direction of Michael Foley. This time influenced me more than ever. I was exposed to so many artists, so much artistic work, and a very different artistic culture. A lot of the ideas of creation that resonate with me the most, that I am still continuing to explore, have been picked up during my time in Paris.
EP: What are you most excited about in setting a piece on Monkeyhouse?
EB: I am most excited to be able to explore new ideas with such an inspiring community. I have always felt so supported and grateful through my contact with Monkeyhouse. Every person is supportive and open to trying everything and anything. It is very exciting to see people take your ideas in so many directions that you didn't even think were possible. I always walk away from time with Monkeyhouse with a new outlook or approach to my thoughts and work. It is exciting to have to chance to set a piece on such a special community.
EP: I know that you haven't started rehearsing yet, but can you tell us anything that you already know about the piece you'll be setting on Monkeyhouse?
EB: I don't know the details of the work but I do know that I will be exploring the use of technical elements-how they can relate to movement and exist equally on stage. I have used my time at musings with Monkeyhouse to explore the beginning ideas of this through the use of light. I have tried different lights and shadows to explore these ideas as well as exploring the relationship between dancer and light. I plan on continuing that exploration and really pushing myself to expand these thoughts even further.