by Patricia Beatty
Form itself is what makes your material into an entity, what makes it into something beyond simply energies of a certain kind. Form is that which organizes and makes boundaries for your material, making it repeatable and specific. In a sense, form is what gives lasting substance to what you do and in a tangible way. The most salient fact about form in relation to everything else that a dance needs, which is content, is simply that the two must be equally balanced. Actually, I feel that form and content must not only be equal, they must appear to have invented one another for the occasion of each work of art.
I am offering you some simple, and not new, structural rules. They are based mostly on the presence of a beginning, middle and end, and, if you watch them at work, you will see form becoming present in what you do. What allows my simple, learned rules a future is that they allow for different emphasis. We are currently in a period of greater emphasis on the middle of a work, rather than on the beginning, climax or end. I think this leaning towards middle comes from today's discoveries in science, leading us towards the ability to become familiar with infinity, with cosmic repetition and never-endingness. Certainly pattern music (Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and Ann Southam when she chooses) gives me this feeling, as do many of the large abstract canvasses of this century, the colourfield painters in particular.
There are four essential forms of dance that I think a young choreographer should be familiar with, and able to produce at will. Every other form is either included in this group in some combination or blend, or is something less: a formula, like a pavanne or a classical pas de deux. Once you know the requirements, you could fulfil them, but I don't think your overall sense of form would be greatly affected.
Read Louis Horst's Pre-Classic Forms to see what these types of dance offer to formal understanding. He felt that modern dancers so lacked a sense of form that he made a famous course out of this material. I audited his course, simply to hear this great mentor of Martha Graham's speak about life and dance. I knew that I was capable of following rules, and making things that weren't particularly magnetic, so I didn't undergo the rigour of the course. I concentrated on taking more emotional risks in my life instead, working on the content rather than the form. My main purpose here is to introduce you to a few of the successful forms already available. My deepest ambition, however, is to make you capable of discovering new forms, consciously.
A little help in finding a title: what you want is a word or words that will act as a roadsign for the person approaching your dance, something to point in the direction you would like them to head. It will not explain, describe or in any way replace what is coming. It indicates, with both sound and meaning, what world you like the viewers to put their minds in. The type of word or words you select will affect the mood the viewer is in to receive your dance. Words that have movement in them, whose sound carries over after being spoken, words with lightness, energy, or darkness will all help to convey the nature of the event about to take place.
I think that reading poetry can only help your entire apprenticeship as a choreographer. Not only will your head start ringing with an expressive, ungrammatical use of the language, but also your feelings will be undergoing a private little training of their own. You will be moving farther and farther away from literalness, and closer to essences, the more you make poetry part of your life. Certainly, 'poetic' words make stunning and effective titles.
I think that the following are all good titles in the repertory of The Toronto Dance Theatre: A Walk in Time, Seastill, The Silent Feast, Rhapsody in the Late Afternoon, Prospect Park.
Your subject must be one that you know deeply, infectiously and intimately. If not, you will never have the kind of command or supply of ideas that you must have. Your own obsession is forcing itself to be made into a dance. You must honour this inner pressure. Take your idea, raw as it might be, and work with it. Don't dress it up for the theatre with a lot of wonderful steps and colours. There are enough skilled people doing just that in the entertainment field. If you are as honest, probing, and physical as you can be, you have the precious opportunity of saying something about the universe, something unique between you and great energies of existence. The size of your statement has nothing whatever to do with its validity. I was reminded by my composition teacher at Bennington College that there really are only a few things to make art about. Originality or validity comes from how you make this art, not what you are basing it on; i.e. we certainly haven't tired of love duets, dealing with death, the seasons.... The great substance of myths, these are our subjects.
Don't concern yourself with whether you are being new and revolutionary, or whether your dance has already been done. Dig deep in yourself, examine with curiosity the possibilities of bodies in space with sound. This will give your work all the freshness it needs. The mind and spirit behind the work will determine whether it is behind, ahead of, or right in the centre of its time (and that is not within the boundaries of this book to discuss).
The point here is to approach a body of experience that centres around a certain feeling, and then to objectify it, give it a form outside yourself, something you can imagine on a stage embodied by dancers. Once it has taken that leap in your imagination into something in dance terms, you are on your way. Your feelings, and your memory of the experience, will feed you with the uniqueness that will validate the work artistically.
Simplicity and seriousness are the most honoured gates to pass through in entering the actual subject matter (even with something comic). To bind something in universality - what does your activity or mood mean to all people, not just to you? - will give your material the mythological weight that I mean. Where does your idea fit into the collective fears, joys, aspirations and obsessions of human-kind? If, when putting your idea into words, it sounds far too simple, this means that you probably stand a chance of mastering your material. A great religious thinker said, 'Life is simple but difficult,' whereas we prefer to think of it as complex but easy. The same holds true for all art.
Lastly, I encourage you to stay away from what you think is appropriate in the theatre. Listen to the voices within you and be simple and physically committed to what you do. This purity of expression is exactly what is reinventing, for each generation, exactly what is appropriate in the theatre. Take the dare. Say to yourself, 'What if?' Many times you will come up with fresh material, and perhaps that precious powerful force, a startling concept, one that makes people reconsider things that they usually take for granted.