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12 Minutes Max seeks to foster experimentation and the development of new work, along with critical feedback and community dialogue. Choreographers Akeisha de Baat & Nathan Todd, Bevin Poole, Ahalya Satkunaratnam and Clare Twiddy provide insight into their choreographic approaches, and the challenges and rewards of choreographing to a time limit:
Akeisha de Baat & Nathan Todd:
We began the 12MM process by drawing a map of our piece. It can be useful to have a road map, but like most good adventures, you tend to deviate from that path. Our concept was simple; expand on the work we presented at To. Be. Announced. This work was a 7-minute duet addressing physical pressure. We chose to remain in contact for the entire seven minutes; relying on shifting points of connection to locomote our bodies through the space.
When we stepped into this current process, we wanted to address the idea of pressure though a different lens. Introducing a 10-metre length of fabric, we began exploring how to restrict the body. We very quickly discovered how easy it is for fabric to look dreadful on stage. Imagine a limp dance partner that lies there, demanding your attention.
This was our fork in the road, we could continue on the path we laid out, or we could begin to explore the possibilities within the limitations of the fabric. We chose the latter. Instead of the fabric being restrictive, it created “tension” both physically and metaphorically. We discovered how to manipulate the perception of space, transforming the fabric into a dynamic participant in the work.
12 Minutes Max presents a unique challenge - creating a piece with a maximum length of 12 minutes. As a choreographer, you want to show the exploration of every possible idea, but the real work is in learning to be a strong editor. You are forced to ask the question, “is this necessary?” - an important lesson for all artists.
From the first day I stepped into the studio I decided that I would be patient. Having never choreographed a piece on myself, let alone by myself, I knew that I would need to be open to starting from scratch. Luckily, I have a good relationship with the studio. I love process and the inner workings of finding movement. At least I thought I did. The first few days in rehearsal I attempted to mimic processes that choreographers have used with me in the past to generate ideas, confident that I could use familiar structures to get me moving. But I quickly learned that I was frozen with judgement. The stakes were too high. Who was there to present my movement scores to? Just me. And so my patience quickly escaped me and I started judging my choices in real time. It doesn’t help that the studio I’ve been rehearsing in has wall to wall mirrors that I can’t seem to escape. So, I needed a new route in. Find a costume and see what that coaxes out of me.
So I went shopping and kitted myself out in what felt like the right fabric and texture. Back in the studio, I would stare at the mirror, suddenly limited by what the costume would suggest for every single step. Oops. Next? Okay, let’s get some tunes on. Groovy, sexy, makes me want to move. So I went with it. I set up a camera and gave myself the chance to watch where play would take me. Finally I started to find snippets of movement that seemed interesting. But now I can’t stop grooving out and have been overwhelmed with options. I feel out of control and without a focus. And wait. I’m running out of time. I want to start back at the beginning from this point. I’m not worried about the maximum time limit of 12 minutes. I’m worried about the limit of time in general.
I remember a chapter in Twyla Tharp’s book, “The Creative Habit,” where she describes, at one point in her career, having unlimited resources and time to make a piece, which led to her inevitable disappointment in the work that she created. She goes on to say,
"Remember the next time you moan about the hand you’re dealt: No matter how limited your resources, they’re enough to get you started. Time, for example, is our most limited resource, but it is not the enemy of creativity that we think it is. The ticking clock is our friend if it gets us moving with urgency and passion." (p.126)
And so, I’m going to go with it. It seems to have taken me the first three weeks to find out which direction I want to take. And now that I have found my direction, comes the discovery of my process. One week is more than enough time to stop trying to choreograph and instead become an interpreter for myself. I will take the precious time I have left to trust and play with diligence, giving myself the respect that I offer other choreographers in any other process. Ironically, one of the first things I decided was the title of my work, taken from Edward Gorey’s short story L’Heure bleue, and at this point, it seems all too true: “I never know what you think is important.” Sheesh, do I ever know myself.
My work is continuously evolving. As a dancer trained primarily in Bharata Natyam, choreography has been very new to me. For the most part, I was a dancer who performed the choreography of others. I am still trying to learn what my voice is through the dance. Trying to use the form outside of its musical frameworks is a big challenge. The pieces that I have choreographed thus far each had different entry points and final products. So, I haven’t found the formula yet.
In hopes of connecting the new 12MM choreography to an earlier piece I choreographed years ago, I began with some imagined visuals that largely oriented themselves around a prop. After struggling with that for a while, I eventually incorporated text for inspiration. In this final week, I am still experimenting, having a working version of the audio that will accompany the piece.
The rewards of working with a time limit of 12 minutes are several. I am inspired by political works that are incorporated in mundane and everyday places, on stage and off, I like short pieces that allow for one to insert their work easily. I enjoy the punch of shorter works. Of course, taking a concept and bringing it down to 12 minutes is daunting, but 12MM allows us to begin the process.
Volume One has been in research since October 2015 and has been possible through the support of The Interplay Project and Mascall Dance’s Bloom One. Special thanks to Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg and Matilda Cobanli.
The original idea for this piece came from the impetus to combine jazz singing and contemporary dance. It was important to me that both disciplines inform each other; movement to create song, song to create movement. It was important that it conveyed a personal story, and that the existence of both forms was essential to telling this story.
I started by drawing an emotional timeline from past years. You can imagine it to look like abstract morse code mixed with the vertical range that you would find in a musical composition. From this I created a vocal solo composed of just sounds, no lyrics. I dissected the sounds one by one:
What is the shape of this sound?
What emotion does it convey?
What movement might it create?
What words does it bring to mind?
I ended up with base of shapes, words, and emotions to use for movement creation. Each sound had its own modality and physical task. Words that repeated during this process were: tracing, ascension, descension and choppy.
Early on I realized it was quite difficult to sing and dance simultaneously for the entirety of a 10-12 minute piece. I brought in a loop pedal (a device that records sounds and plays them on repeat) so I had the option of singing and dancing together or using the looping sounds to fill the space when my voice was silent.
Looping was the next task to add to movement. Dance phrases were morphed to reach their starting point then repeat, and then morphed further to translate the movement into different parts of the body. I used improvised vocals to surprise myself, and create movement in more erratic patterns than I habitually tend to create.
I reviewed what I had made and looked at what sort of images or ideas it proposed. Words that came to mind were:
Due to the nature of my vocal inspirations (Billie Holliday, Etta James, Amy Winehouse, Ella Fitzgerald) and the repetition of the movement, the piece began to distill the image of a tired 1940’s jazz singer. I imagine the setting to be in a back hall, or a change room of a jazz club. Smoke fills the room, it is dusty and dark, there is wine in the corner and clothes on the floor, you can hear muffled sounds and speaking in the background.
Working within the restriction of 12 minutes max has given me the opportunity and challenge to filter the elements of the piece down to those that speak to these ideas and images the most. After exploring this piece as a duet at Bloom One and creating something entirely different to fit the dynamic of two people, I have been able to come back to the solo with fresh eyes and ideas. I’ve tested new props, costumes, and the addition of lyrics, and abstract vocal sounds.
I’m so grateful to have the opportunity through The Dance Centre’s 12 Minutes Max to continue research on this piece and to have a platform to receive feedback.
12 Minutes Max Studio Showing: Tuesday April 19, 2016 at 6pm at Scotiabank Dance Centre. Free admission.
Featuring works by Akeisha de Baat & Nathan Todd, Bevin Poole, Ahalya Satkunaratnam and Clare Twiddy.
Photos top to bottom: Akeisha de Baat/photo Nathan Todd; Bevin Poole/photo Jane Osborne; Ahalya Satkunaratnam/photo Bill Christiansen; Clare Twiddy/photo Chris Randle.
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