I am currently working with MFA student Kristina D’Onofrio as a second cast and understudy for her piece to be performed for this year’s Winter Concert. The process for the piece started about a month ago, however I just recently got asked to join rehearsals. As of today, I have completed my second rehearsal. While I find that the piece concept and movement are interesting, I also find that the creative process, while enjoyable, is slightly frustrating to me.
Maybe I can afford most of my frustration to the fact that I was delayed in learning the choreography. In rehearsals, focus is put mostly on generating more movement and previous material is only reviewed over briefly. My main source for learning chorography is through videos, which I find extremely difficult for me. I thought that I was a very good visual learner, but I guess it is just hard for my brain to process something when dance is displayed on a small screen and not being performed right in front of me. I have no idea how some choreographers can set an entire piece based off of a video – maybe it just takes practice, and I have plenty of time to practice with this piece. Learning choreography from film is inevitable in the dance field, and every day I am finding new ways to make the process easier for me. It also is not the only way for me to learn choreography; first-hand information works best for me, so I am frequently pulling dancers aside and asking them questions about the steps and the timing or anything else.
My frustration does not lie in being an understudy; I am grateful to be a member of this creative process and do not feel contempt towards my role. While I would love to have been casted into the piece, it is not solely because of performing. It is because I would love to be able to creatively involve myself into the work. Most of the choreography comes from structured improvisation, and that job is given privilege to the first cast. While standing on the side, I have come up with my own ideas for a section, but in the end, I will have to do what my dancer came up with. It is a kind of stifling feeling, and one that I never thought that I would ever experience before. I am a huge fan of having choreographers supply their movement and was never very fond of improvising my own. I never realized how valuable it was to me until the ability was not there anymore and I am performing movement that was created for specifically for a person and not me.
However, while I am not actively adding my creative input into the project, I still have the ability to add my own nuances and artistry to the piece – that is one thing that I will always have access to. While choreography is constant, my dancing does not necessarily have to look exactly the same as the dancer I shadow.