Here’s another choreography that was performed at North Star Blues this year! What really strikes me about it is how good Megan, Feonix, and Erin are at always being present in the piece, even when they’re not in the spotlight. It’s not just a matter of the moves they’re doing, they’re always actively engaging the audience and each other, which keeps me engaged in the piece overall. Aspiring choreographers take note: this is one of the most frequent notes that comes up during Sweet Molasses that separates good performances from great ones!
They’ve also been working together to teach a class in DC to make a dance to another Ray Charles song … and have even considered doing a whole Ray Charles Cycle. I don’t know about you, but I’d love to see that!
What did you want to express with this choreography?
In this choreography we expressed three different versions of a heartbreaker–hence the coordination in color. One was the sweet girl-next-door (you’ll hear that Ray talks about a bobby soxer in the song), another was the classic femme fatale, and the third was the intelligent powerful woman (although we were thinking more about the badass, sexy PhD candidate rather than the sexy librarian stereotype). As the piece progresses we move into staggered unison movement to indicate the lines between each character blurring – they each become a different facet of the same person. Overall we were hoping to reclaim the negative voice Ray uses to describe a woman as heartbreaker by dancing as happy, sassy, empowered women having fun and owning it.
Why did you choose the song for the piece?
We chose the story about the three versions of a heartbreaker after we chose the song. We listened to a lot of music and went with the song that had plenty of instrumental variation to play with, fun lyrics, and clearly defined sections that inspired each of us. This piece was a true collaboration between the three of us, so often it involved bringing back ideas we’d come up with, running them by the other women, massaging each section until we were satisfied, and then working through transitions. We loved this piece because it had each of us go outside our normal way of dancing–it required each of us learn the others’ styles. I’d never thought about how many variations there are on a camel walks or a tabby the cat, but each of us did our moves very differently.
What other dances influenced or inspired this one?
I always loved the choreography to New Orleans Bump at Lindy Focus. I’d also done some work with my own girl’s group in New York called the Sugar Foot Follies. Sharon Davis had a solo class and we took a lot of thoughts about variations of movement (especially pimp walks) and blues aesthetic from her.
How did you go about combining your concept, song choice, and influences to
create the finished choreography?
The songs we initially considered were all very different, so the theme and story line came after our decision to go with Heartbreaker. Similar to the New Orleans Bump piece, we created a lot of shapes together–in particular in what we call the “tableau section” that starts at 1:40. The heart of the piece is the feeling of collaboration itself and the playful moments we had while putting it together. The concept is important but secondary to the energy of the music and our friendship. We were really focused on finding different ways to break apart and come back together, both with staging and timing.
Recommendations for other choreographers: We had some amazing rehearsals where all we did was watch one person do her solos, or two people perform the piece. These were our first “performances” of Heartbreaker and we all saw drastic improvement in quality of movement and facial expressions, as well as more creativity with styling. Feonix, Erin, and I trust each other and are all open to constructive criticism. That’s part of what makes us a powerful team. We had a great working relationship in terms of boundaries; it was easy to let the person with the most enthusiasm and powerful vision take lead from moment to moment. We were also very clear about expectations from one practice to the next and supported each other in accomplishing these intermediary goals.
My favorite secret about this piece: A lot of Heartbreaker was choreographed at Erin’s work gym where national security employees go to work out. One of my favorite moments was rehearsing as a guy sprinted on the treadmill behind us with a gas mask on. I don’t know who was more entertained–him or us!