Give Me Some Old Fashioned Dancing

This is going to be the last Sweet Choreography interview before Sweet Molasses Blues goes up next week, so I want to take the chance to feature a couple of our instructors local to the Boston area. If you like what they’ve got, I hope you’ll be here learning from them!

And I definitely like it. Addiction isn’t an easy theme to tackle, and I love how they approached it by recognizing it in the song and then experimenting with motion to find what worked. This is the kind of art I want to see more of coming from our community.

What did you want to express with this choreography?

Julie: We didn’t really start with a theme or anything. We chose the song first, and the story grew out of it.

Amanda: Yes, the idea of addiction arose naturally from the lyrics, and it wasn’t something either of us had seen, so we thought it would be an interesting topic.

Why did you choose the song for the piece?

Julie: I had heard another song by the same artist (Rising Appalachia) that was really cool but would’ve been weird for blues dancing–it had a lot of African-style drumming in it–which I had sent to Amanda to see if she wanted to choreograph to it with me. She didn’t like the other song much, so she sent me back “Old Fashioned Morphine,” which I thought was great too, so we went with it.

Amanda: I liked the artist, so I listened to a bunch of their other tracks on the same album and found “Old Fashioned Morphine.” Loved it right away.

What other dances influenced or inspired this one?

Amanda: When I heard the song, I thought a blend of solo blues, contemporary, and contact improv would be perfect, and Julie agreed. Julie and I didn’t do a ton of source work from other dances or choreographies, we just did a lot of experimenting with the jumpy/itchy and melty/woozy kinds of movement we thought visually represented the different phases of addiction.

How did you go about combining your concept, song choice, and influences to create the finished choreography?

Julie: Once we figured out that we’d use the chair to represent our addiction, we put down the overall structure (the blocking & what we were feeling during each “section”). Then we each took a section or two of the in-unison parts and choreographed those separately. The parts where we do different things at the same time were improvised for awhile, until we each found something we liked. Creating the chair interactions was really fun. It was a lot of Amanda & me just kind of playing around with the chair, seeing what we could do, and what looked cool. We even tried this one aerial off the chair, but it was a little too risky, so we cut it.

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Going Way Back – 2001

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This week we’re back on schedule with another routine choreographed by Amanda Gruhl! This was performed at ALHC all the way back in 2001, making it historically important for helping to define the nascent blues dancing community. It’s also a great example of a choreographer with a clear artistic process. There’s never any doubt what is being expressed through the choices of music and motion.

What did you want to express with this choreography?

I hadn’t seen a partnered blues choreography before this and wanted to try it. Ogden and I had entered the “Blues Division” of ALHC the year before with an improv piece, and figured it would be a great moment to choreograph something to show the lindy community. At that time, blues dancing was also generally viewed as a body-rolling, grinding-on-each-other dance that happened in back rooms at lindy events. We wanted to show everyone how differently we danced blues.

Why did you choose the song for the piece?

The song is “All Night Long” by Nancy Wilson. We just listened to a few pieces, and this one seemed to fit us perfectly.

What other dances influenced or inspired this one?

Like I said, I hadn’t seen any blues choreographies before this, so I extrapolated from contemporary pieces I’d choreographed previously for interesting ideas. But my main influence was just thinking about how Ogden and I danced together at the time.

How did you go about combining your concept, song choice, and influences to create the finished choreography?

It’s kind of an interesting, and somewhat personal, story. The song lyrics talk about a woman being haunted by a man she hasn’t met, that she only sees in her dreams. Ogden and I wanted to do a piece that was intimate, but not sexual, and one thing we felt united us was the longing to find our soul mate. So we put our longing to find that person into the piece. I wanted to do something choreographically interesting, and the idea just came to me to do the whole piece in a back-to-front position (except for the climax). It made every move more interesting and fresh, and expressed the theme beautifully. I still love this piece.

They Put A Spell On You

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This week we have an award winning piece choreographed by Amanda Gruhl. It’s had some real staying power. I still hear people talk about it at exchanges as that performance that made them step back and say “Whoa!”. She definitely accomplished her goal of being “beautiful, powerful, and disturbing”.

What did you want to express with this choreography?

I hadn’t seen a modern blues piece that explored the dark side of relationships, and felt a need to fill that void. As far as the actual story behind the piece, I’m not going to be specific, because I’ve heard so many different interpretations of this piece from the people who’ve seen it, and I love that. I think the best pieces of art evoke strong emotions and thoughts, but not necessarily the same ones in every person. I will say that Paul and I wanted people to walk away saying the piece was beautiful, powerful, and disturbing, and I feel like we achieved that.

Why did you choose the song for the piece?

I actually chose this song in the early 2000s as a piece I really wanted to choreograph to. I find songs that inspire me first, songs that make me feel a certain way, and the entire piece comes out of that – the emotions, the moves, the costumes, everything. All the ideas about this piece had been brewing in the back of my mind for a very long time. I think this was just the right time and the right partner for them to come to fruition.

What other dances influenced or inspired this one?

It’s obviously a modern interpretation of the Apache style of dance from the turn of the century, but it was also highly influenced by a few So You Think You Can Dance pieces, most notably Mia Michaels “Gravity.”

How did you go about combining your concept, song choice, and influences to create the finished choreography?

Like I said, the music really drove everything about this piece from the beginning. The concept and basic story had been in the back of my mind for a long time, and Paul was immediately on board with that, which was great. I always gather source material first – we stole moves we thought worked well with the emotions, modified others to make them fit the feel, and created a few new ones we hadn’t seen before. When it came time to choreograph, we figured out the climactic moments first, and the places in the music where a particular move fit perfectly, then backed out and filled in the gaps. After we finished a draft of the piece, Paul and I showed it to several people we trusted and collected their feedback (an invaluable part of the choreographic process), then used it to refine the execution and the flow of the emotions in the piece. I think that was the hardest part of the choreography, and the part that evolved the most throughout the process – making sure both the moves and our expressions matched what we were trying to evoke at that moment. We wanted to bring the audience with us every step of the way, so they arrived at the end with us, feeling like they had been part of the experience.