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Discovery Dance Group presents...

Notes on Contemporary

Dance & Choreography


A Discussion of Choreographic Inspiration and Development


 Choreography : the art of creating and arranging dance or movement...

Most dancers have experienced that moment when some outside stimuli causes them to imagine movement, it can be a piece of music, hearing a unique sound that is rhythmic but non-musical, a personal or emotional experience, the discovery of some new and interesting pattern of movement in total silence, reading a poem or story that demands interpretation in movement, and/or world events that stir or drive you to choreograph. Depending on how you are stimulated, the movement may come first and the music next or vice versa. Of course one of the more powerful stimulants for choreography is money! While we all love to choreograph dance for the personal pleasure that seeing it develop may bring us, the reality of dance as a profession is that we are often required to choreograph dance or movement for projects that are not always emotive or intellectually stimulating, but the money earned does allow us to do those works we love, more about commercial choreography later.

Some believe that movement always comes first and that the music comes later (it seems every college and or university dance program has at least one proponent of that theory, they are no doubt fearful of those in the music department invading their area), often those that employ this method of choreography also like to use formulas and complicated schematics to create their works (which sometimes results in it being repetitive and boring!). I once had a young choreographer proudly show me how her professor had taught her how to draw a schematic of movement and "mirror" the movement so that you could reverse the choreography and create a very nice symmetrical pattern, that repeated itself over, and over, and over again! Some also like to "borrow" movement from their students and dancers. Most of us have experienced a choreographer telling us to improvise, "explore movement", to spontaneously create a move (meaning they want us to create a new section for their next dance). Don't misunderstand me, I realize that teaching choreography to a class of eager students is not exactly the same as choreographing a piece. But some do indeed employ that method routinely to create new works, and while that may well be choreography, it is at best a "group effort" and all involved should be included in the credits.

Throughout nature there are sounds, birds sing, frogs croak, trees sigh in the wind and thunder rolls, so sound is a natural part of our environment. In many cases the sounds we hear in nature are imitated in music, the rhythms and beats of music often can be found in the natural background sounds created by animals, insects and other natural sources.

Movement is also seen in nature, aside from barnacles and a few others, most animals move, usually with grace and power. Early humans no doubt observed the beauty of movement as saber-toothed tigers loped after prey, gazelle leaped across the savannah, and waves of grass undulated in the wind. A visit to any site where early humans painted in caves will give you a clear insight into their careful observation of movement. My gut feeling is that far in the distant past, one of our neolithic ancestors found a hollow log and while beating on it to drive any snakes or vermin out, realized he liked the sound it made. After a time they learned to beat upon hollow logs and one night, while one cave person beat out a rhythm, others listened to it and rose slowly, allowing the power of the music to enter them and... danced! No complicated formulas, no flip-flopped schematics, or computer programming, just free movement to rhythms beaten on a hollow log around a blazing fire...

 

Let the Dance Begin...

by jacqpea franco-stockman 1991



The fog slowly lifted and the Hunters saw their prey...

They quietly advanced toward the herd and on a signal rose up shouting and beating sticks together, making a great noise...

The herd stampeded toward the cliffs, in their panic, the beasts saw the ledge too late, there was a great bellowing as they tried to turn, but it was impossible...

The Hunters carefully cut up the carcasses, while the Women built great fires to cook over. They reveled in their victory over hunger and the Men began to chant and beat their sticks on the boulders and logs of the encampment. They responded to the rhythms, first slowly, then faster, until the Women and Men were finally dancing between the flickering flames and blackness of that primeval night...

They danced until exhaustion overcame them, and as the fires burned low they found their mates and went to their sleeping places two-by-two to dance once more...

The rhythms would be repeated again and again, as a celebration of birth and victory or to mourn death and defeat, war or peace, joy or grief, the tradition would endure across the endless centuries...

The Dancers constantly changed but the Dance was forever...

 





In performance dance it is necessary for the Choreographer and Dancers to know movement, be it ballet, modern or jazz, and to be able to convey the pattern of movement in a language that guarantees it can be repeated exactly as before. There are various notation systems that allow choreographers to record their work in notes that may be archived for future use. Today choreographers often record their works with video, the best being a center-shot full-front single-camera recording that guarantees a clear record of the entire space being used by the piece and the relationship of those doing the piece to each other. Fancy angles and close-ups do not give a clear record of choreography and often can confuse you later.

Some of the work performed by Discovery Dance Group is the combined effort of a choreographer and a librettist (one who writes a libretto or story line for a dance), sometimes the librettist writes a speculative piece down and offers it to a choreographer for consideration, but most often it is a truly joint effort, the choreographer hears a piece of music and stores that music in her memory, an event or situation will stimulate an idea for a dance piece and the memory of the music will be combined into a context for dance. In some instances the choreographer and librettist will listen to a piece of music together and exchange ideas on what it says to them. Then the librettist will write out a thematic treatment of the ideas the choreographer wishes to convey through movement in her piece, often it will take the form of poetry. Below are several works performed by Discovery Dance Group that are the result of that unique amalgam of choreographer and librettist...



ACCEPTANCE OF ANOTHER'S IDEAS AS A PLATFORM FOR CHOREOGRAPHY

Early in my career (when I was vain and headstrong) my partner Jacqpea came to me with a libretto he called "The Wind Blown Sands of Time". It was a crazy story about a sorceress who lived in the deserts of North Africa. I had no intention of letting Jacqpea or anybody else for that matter, try to tell me what to choreograph! So I told him NO!, I wasn't interested, but he persisted, reading the story to others in my presence and slowly I realized that I was being overly sensitive about his intrusion in MY DOMAIN! It was a great vehicle for dance, especially when I heard a jazz violinist from Europe, his music was perfect for the piece, exotic and sensual, it sounded like the deserts of North Africa! I titled it "The Shifting Sands of Time" (I was still trying to maintain my independence)...

  

  The Wind Blown

Sands of Time

by jacqpea franco-stockman 1983

   



 Her name was Marzuq, she was the daughter of Jamin the Witch and an unnamed son of the Devil, who had displeased even his father and was exiled to the waste of the North African desert.

Marzuq had been raised up as the outcast daughter of outcast parents, and learned magic potions, spells and castings from her mother. She had regretted never knowing her father, wishing he would have cast aside the veil of secrecy that surrounds devils and their kind! Her greatest asset was her beauty, well known across the desert, she was the subject of many a conversation between men who sat in their tents smoking the pipe and drinking the strong coffee of the desert. Always they tried to think of some safe way to secure her as either a bride (the brave and foolish ones) or as a concubine (older brave and foolish ones). But their fear or respect kept them far enough away that Jamin, fearing her daughter's unhappiness, conjured, cast and mixed potions until she was worn out, all to make Marzuq even more beautiful! Soon she was the most beautiful woman in the desert, loved by men and hated by women!

Marzuq's most prized possession was an enchanted mirror, made by a Moorish witch from far away Spain. From the moment her mother gave her the mirror, Marzuq spent all her free time staring at herself and talking to the Gen who inhabited the glass. Marzuq saw her obvious beauty and asked the Gen why no man had ever asked for her hand, was she not a thing of beauty, a trained enchantress? Had not her mother swindled many a tribe out of its gold to insure her daughter a proper dowry? The Gen smiled at her conceit and answered, "Enchantress Marzuq, your beauty is legend in the desert, but two things cause your loneliness! First, no man is brave enough to ask your hand, they all fear your magic or your rejection! Second, time is the enemy of all things beautiful, women especially. With all your magic you can only delay the inevitable! Find a man who is without fear and stop the wearing of time and you will be happy!" Marzuq seethed, no man is brave enough, indeed! "I don't want much, all I really want is to be happy enough that I can agelessly drift through the desert singing of my beauty!" The Gen cautioned her, "Be cautious my lovely, sometimes getting exactly what you wish for can be a curse!" She, Marzuq, Daughter of Jamin and an unnamed Son of the Devil, would find a solution to her problems! She went into her mother's tent and studied her mother's books on magic. After weeks of study and meditation she had a solution to both her problems!

She would cast a spell on the Lord of Time (those things happened at that time, it would be another 200 years before the Prophet Mohammed would bring spiritual order to the desert) and once the Lord of Time was seduced, she would control him and Time! She would never age, she would spend eternity drifting through the desert singing of her own beauty! She rushed into Jamin's tent and prepared her castings.

Using only the finest ingredients (now was definitely not the time for frugality) Marzuq cast a spell upon the Lord of Time, and in an instant was in his presence. He was tall and handsome, dressed in silk with silver and gold threads woven through it, on his feet were ostrich skin boots with medium heels! Around his neck he wore a massive gold chain with all twelve signs of the Zodiac. Marzuq was impressed, he was far more than she had dreamed of, she slithered up against him and pouted demurely! Now the Lord of Time was impressed! It was that old desert magic! He was her love slave, her every wish his command!

 Everything was turning out just too grand, her mother Jamin was insufferable, she wouldn't talk to anyone below the rank of tribal chief. Marzuq had even decided to have a talk with her Lord and lover about Jamin, you now, to knock a few years off the calendar, tighten her up, get rid of the cellulite, nothing too extreme, just a light tune-up.

The love affair between Marzuq and the Lord of Time (he had a proper name but I can't seem to remember it) was beautiful! Sure there were a few problems, confused seasons (causing a drought and two severe floods) but they were so far from North Africa that Marzuq didn't let them bother her, she was having the time of her life!

She told the now 23 year-old Jamin, "Mother I've never been so happy, he's so sweet, and he'll do anything to make me happy!"

Jamin had to admit that Marzuq had done it, solved both her problems in one fell swoop!

And then two little dark clouds appeared on Marzuq's horizon! Since the beginning of time there have always been three things that could ruin a perfect romance:

NO MONEY

NO LOVE

NOSEY IN-LAWS

Look at it this way, Jamin was very rich, so money was no problem! All the love-making had knocked more years off the Lord of Time's personal calendar than Jamin's, so that left In-laws and since Jamin was happy, it had to be the Lord of Time's two sisters, Day and Night!

Day was a brooding, muscular, heavily oiled, and tanned goddess with short blonde hair, while Night was a pale, smooth-skinned brunette bordering on the edge of anorexia, with dark, neurotic eyes and a mysterious smile. Together they meant to give Marzuq exactly what she wished for!

She never really knew what hit her, one minute she relaxing in her tent with the Lord of Time, and the next she was transformed into a sand dune in the great desert!

Old/young Jamin fared much better, she was able weasel her way into the court of the Caliph of Morocco, where she spent the next 46 years lying about her age and wrecking the lives of countless young lovers!

Just as the Gen in the mirror had foretold, Marzuq got exactly what she wished for, the sisters took care of that! She would never age as a dune, and she would spend eternity drifting across the desert singing of her own beauty! And in the desert just east of what is now called Libya, lies a dune-filled region with drifting scalloped-dunes (which moan or sing when wind blows across them) called the Marzuq, Arabic for singing dunes!


 More Dunes...

 While on a visit to Yellowstone in 1989, we drove home through southeastern Colorado, and near Alamosa, Colorado discovered the Great Sand Dunes National Monument. We almost didn't stop, but thankfully we turned around and went back. If you haven't been there or heard about the dunes, they are immense, ranging in size from 500 to 700 feet tall, and covering an area of over 40 square miles. As we drove into the small parking lot we noticed wild deer walking casually about, seemingly unconcerned about the cars and people. We got out and walked up to the visitor's center and looked at the displays of information about the dunes, where they came from, how they were formed, and how they came to be in this place. Then we went out into the sand...

It was a strange scene we came upon as we walked out toward the dunes... women playing in the sand. Several generations of women were sitting in the fine white sand and playing with children and infants. It was a family of women, a great-grandmother in her sixties and her daughter, a grandmother in her 40's and her two daughters, one a young teenager and the other in her early twenties with her own young daughter of 18 months, all playing together in the sand like children... It was an amazingly poignant scene and made a strong impression on us. While I walked out into the dunes (a serious effort, climbing 700 feet in such fine sand) Jacqpea remained behind and took photographs of the women in the sand and the dunes as they stretched out across the desert. It was a powerful moment, one that has stayed in both of our memories. As we drove away from the dunes, my eyes teared up, it was as if I was leaving a sacred place, one filled with peace and love. We talked about it all the way home, and I decided to choreograph a dance to celebrate the dunes, and the pleasure I got from visiting them. I had heard some music prior to my visit, and it ran through my mind as we drove along. Jacqpea wrote the poem DuneScape at a motel that night in New Mexico, and when we returned home to Houston, I began to count my music and write out the choreography...

 

D U N E S C A P E

by jacqpea franco-stockman 1990

 Water over Stone...

the gentle rain, high in the hills, filled the streams,

washed over boulders, wearing them down, one grain at a time...

the grains flowed with the undulating stream,

grinding, eroding more from the boulders downstream...

and, as the stream widened, it began to meander,

when it meandered, grains washed ashore, drying in the sun...

our Father the Wind...

the Season of the Wind came, it roared along the banks,

finding the dry grains, blowing them higher and higher over the land...

the Great Wind lofted the grains, sorting sand from dust,

and, as the Wind reached the mountains, it dropped the sand...

season after season, storm after storm, the Wind lifted the sand,

carried it over the land, dropping it at the base of the mountains...

Children of the Sand...

as the sand gathered at the base of the mountains, it began to swirl,

slowly piling it into higher and higher Dunes...

as the Great Wind of the Desert passed over the young Dunes,

it caressed them, gently kissing them, while whispering soft songs of love...

and after a thousand millennium, the Dunes were a nation who danced across the desert,

singing the songs they learned from their Father the Wind and their Mother the Water...

Footprints in an Ageless Place...

a Dunescape is a sacred place, where age fades from those who cross its timeless borders,

there is a great Serenity and Freedom from Harm one feels among the Great Dunes...

harming no one, they grow imperceptively larger each year as Nature planned,

even while the hills of their origin continue to slowly erode...

and long after the race called Man is forgotten, the Dunes will continue to exist,

living out their muted lives, slowly but relentlessly drifting to their own music...



D U N E S C A P E

 Great Sands Dune National Monument - Jacqpea Franco-Stockman

D U N E S C A P E

Inspired by THE GREAT SAND DUNES NATIONAL MONUMENT, Mosca, Alamosa County, Colorado, U.S.A.

and Dedicated to the Men and Women of The National Park Service who work there.

  


Music before Passion...

 Once while looking for new music I found a piece of really sensual Jazz that had that smokey flavor of a small intimate club with a small, but appreciative audience. I played it for Jacqpea and asked what it conjured up for him. He sat down and wrote the following poem, a perfect match for what I was feeling about that music, it was romantic and very sensual ...

 

Summer Smoke

by jacqpea franco-stockman

 



 Wordlessly they enter a darkened room...

Golden rays of Sunlight angle through slanted blinds

gently dancing in Summer Smoke...

Silence ends as bodies joined in ancient rites

utter whispers soft and low...

Dark coolness of afternoon warmed by two souls

massaging each other's egos...

Two breaths into one as lovers sleep

faces lost in growing shadows...

Parallel to Earth, red rays of sunset lay

as dust drifts...

Last cooling embers spent, do in darkness fall,

lost in Summer Smoke...



I then choreographed a Jazz pas de deux that perfectly conveyed the essence of the words & music. Slow and powerful, it employs full-body-contact adagio work and requires two highly experienced dancers.

 


CHOREOGRAPHIC EVOLUTION

Often one begins a project with one thought in mind, or a specific point of view on a subject, and as it develops it begins to take on a life of its own. An excellent example is a contemporary piece titled "Light Passage" choreographed in 1995. It began as a poem entitled "Solar Winds", and an interesting piece of music I had not used in years. Jacqpea had heard me play the music one evening after classes and asked what it was, I told him and mentioned that I was thinking of choreographing something to it for an upcoming HDC Adjudication. We talked about the music and its "image halo", what chords it struck with us and what kind of movement it inspired. Jacqpea made a copy of the music and left to consider it further, while I sat down and listened to it several more times, making notes on where to do edit -splices on sections (something I always end up doing, re-editing the music). The next thing I knew Jacqpea came back in the studio and handed me a poem he had written while listening to the original music, he called it "Solar Winds" and it was about "after life" or "a near-death experience".

 
Full Disk X-Ray of the Sun, image shown here is in soft x-rays by NASA (Image from the Yohkoh Soft X-Ray Telescope)

S O L A R ..W I N D S

by .Jacqpea .Franco-Stockman

Written September 18th, 1994



They stood in small groups

facing the ever-shining Sun.

Then, one-by-one, they took wing

and flew off into the dark void of space.

Their captain, a member of the Principalities,

wheeled in the dark airless space and dove toward me.

His fellows followed him closely, never losing their courage,

and I felt the hair on my neck stand up, these were indeed angels.

The captain, his aerobatics completed, came to stand by me,

"What think you of our squadron, these winged warriors of the permanence?"

And I stuttered as I spoke, of majesty and grace, of power and gentleness combined,

but mostly I marveled at their wings, soft and glistening, so strong and resilient they must be.

I asked (in such a soft voice I could barely hear it myself), "How far can you fly?"

His laughter rippled through the airless sky and struck me like a crackle of cellophane

"Oh, we can fly, so far we can fly, but it takes little or no strength to cover great distances,

we sail across the universe, blown by the solar winds, but alas, only angels can feel the solar winds."

His name was Perthius, and he had witnessed all of history, from Lucifer to now.

And shed, he confessed, as many a tear for "now" as he had for that once beloved archangel

"We exist in this place at the will of God, were He to turn His thoughts away from us for a moment,

we would cease to be, gone unless He re-imagined us, in a way we are Him, His eyes, His hands..."

A large group of Angels (the lowest, most common of the celestial hierarchy) flew overhead,

they circled like eagles and swept down upon the strange plain we stood upon, landing without effort.

Perthius motioned for one of them to join us, and the most beautiful of creatures came toward us.

"Perthius, how good of you to notice us, and greetings mortal visitor, may God smile on you today."

Her name (the angel appeared to be female, while Perthius was male in appearance) was Saryphia,

and her eyes were so blue as to make you shudder deep inside, while her hair was shining spun gold.

She was the most glorious example of pure beauty I had ever seen, and without thinking, I told her so.

Saryphia smiled and took my hand, holding it to her breast, "Your happiness is my pleasure, sir!"

Visions flashed inside my head, of loving her in a most earthly fashion, I longed & recoiled all at once,

shocked I pulled back my hand from the quickly hardening nipple of her breast, the visions stopped.

"Fear not, to love is no sin, to long for coitus with one who is beautiful is why He made beauty."

Her gown slowly became more sheer before my eyes and all her beauty was bare to see. I stared.

Perthius laughed again and lightly nudged me on my shoulder, "You are not the first,

nor will you be the last, to lust for an Angel's body, for God gave you eyes and us beauty.

A true sin would be to hide Saryphia's beauty or to blind your eyes, would it not?"

And then I knew that this place was indeed God's Heaven, and never did I fear again.

Later, as I walked along the edge of the great plain, constantly aware of the Angels above,

I thought, would I some day join them, was there a chance that wings would sprout from my back?

I had been there for only a short period of time (I had no idea how long in fact I was there),

but I too yearned for a chance to fly, and then I felt something brush my face... the solar winds.

 

 

 It's always interesting to hear another's spin on a piece of music and how they see it as a tableau de art, and after over 30 years of marriage with Jacqpea, it still amazes me to see how closely we think. I listened to his poem and played with it for a few days, and then something new came up and I forgot all about the project. In the spring of 1995 I found the music again, and brought him the edited and now re-recorded version of the music and asked him to listen to it. He took it into his office and put on his earphones and sat at his computer with the poem "Solar Winds" on the screen. About 30 minutes later he returned with a new poem he called "Light Passage" ( I had mentioned how often there was mention of seeing a bright light by those who had a "near-death" experience). It was a little different slant on the same subject matter, a mortal dying and angels.

 

  Julianne Le Roi & Sterling Ramsey in

 

 

 

L i g h t

P a s s a g e

 (Terminus ad Quem Luminosus)

by Jacqpea Franco-Stockman 1995

   

 

 

 

 

Enter now that darkest place where mortals all must finally go

while whispered words of those who care drift softly by their souls

and out of that darkest night comes a bright and piercing beam

to guide all who pass this way on their final voyage across the sea

 A solitary mortal washes ashore on a wild and windswept coast

where angels watch and wait for survivors who have been lost

and once the waves have left him there, the mortal must await

the graces of an angel who ponders each twist and turn of fate

 Now some stay still and never move, those who are ready for the night

but others stir and move about, not fully drained of their mortal life

and those who still live, journey back through a passage long and dark

to return again another night on that shore where angels soar like larks

 An angel sees the mortal on the shore and stoops to hear his heart

and when she hears its faint beat, she counts its stops and starts

well does she know the angel's rule : Never Touch a Mortal Living!

but she reaches out in reckless impulse, to see if he is breathing

 Like a flash of energy, her essence flows through fingers into him

filling him with life again and proving why rules are often written

for he stirs and shows signs of life, opening eyes to see her face

sadly does she smile at him, for by living he has sealed their fate

 She takes his hand and guides him back to that portal whence he came

then smiles once more at him and sends him down that dark passageway

for her that moment is stilled in time for all eternity to recall

but the mortal will not remember, what has happened or her, at all

 He retreats to where he came from while she watches teary-eyed

and confesses to her older sisters that she wishes he had died

"You are young and foolish, you really should have never touched!

the gods make rules for a reason, I hope you've learned as much!"

 "Once he passes through the portal, he'll remember not your pretty face

and when he does return some day, you'll be a stranger in this place!

Forget your sadness, there are bells to be rung, come join us in our play

who knows, the mortal may hear the bells peal and return this very day!"

 Now angels fly among the stars and play them like celestial wind chimes

ringing out their happiness at serving the gods, and souls that they find

while random notes to a mortal's ear, to angels they are soothing dear

and fill the sky with joyful song of heaven gained and happiness long

 The sound of bells pulls the mortal back into night's magic realm revealed

and he comes aground upon the shore where the angel found him deathly still

but she is no longer there to greet him, and he remembers not her face

for when the rules are broken, a severe penalty is exacted in this place

 He looks above and sees the night sky filled with glistening wings

a chorus of angels circles like eagles and swoops down upon the plain

landing, one of the winged beings detaches itself from the others

and that most dazzling creation, an angel, moves slowly toward him

 Her name is Saryphia, she tells him, in a voice as sweet as mead

her eyes are so intense that a mortal man is mesmerized indeed,

while her face, flawless in its features, seems to softly gleam,

she is certainly the most beautiful creature he has ever seen

 Her face stirs something deep in his memory, a faint vision from his past

he studies her closely, trying hard to pierce Amnesia's Veil held fast

he tells Saryphia he has seen her face before, of that he is certain

she smiles, and he remembers, her smile has raised Amnesia's Curtain!

 Rejoice lost mortal, you have been found

out of the darkness of Hades you entered the light

to safely land on Delos, blessed of the Cyclades

and Saryphia, the embodiment of perfection

is your shining gift from the gods





In the end, the piece "Light Passage" was very well received, it was one of the nine pieces selected by the HDC Adjudicators for performance at the University of Houston, and is still in our repertoire. A contemporary ballet with three females and one male, it uses interesting and unique lifts to portray the meeting of the mortal and the angel on the beach. Set to re-arranged music by Vangellis, it is an excellent concert piece.

It is often instructive to follow the evolution of a piece from its initial conception to its completion, as it usually shows how creativity is a fickle mistress, often changing her mind about which path to take.

 


All Works above Copyrighted by Jacqpea Franco-Stockman, no reproduction or publishing without written consent.

If you'd like to see some additional choreographic efforts of Pam's, please click on these links to photo galleries for each piece:

Intersection | Forest Deep | Reflections | We Are Travelers | Ancient Tribes | Swing Shift

 

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