Noir Blues

Here’s another great example of where the quality of the performance really makes the piece.  I’ve seen a lot of performances which try to use a blank or neutral look to seem mysterious or thought provoking, but really not have the depth to pull it off.  Here Shawn, Julie and Natalya take that attitude and use it consistently and creatively in a way that really draws me in!

What did you want to express with this choreography?

Natalya: We wanted this piece to have a “Film Noir” feel and experiment with lots of interesting, tangley 3-person shapes and partnering.  We started with the idea of us playing the roles of typical film noir characters – the detective, the secretary and the femme fatale – and we thought of the song as being narrated by the detective, expressing his heartbreak at having found a letter left behind by a lover who has gone.  

We did most of the choreographing with just these inspirations, and then later worked out the specifics of the story.  The plot line we had in mind was that the secretary (Julie), was the detective’s ex lover who he was not over when he started being involved with the femme fatale (Natalya).  So the detective is being pulled away from the femme fatale by memories of the secretary.  In the end, the femme fatale leaves him too, leaving behind the letter saying “there’s no use you lookin’, or ever hoping to get me back”, and the detective is left alllll alone :(.  

We thought of the piece as him remembering back to what happened like a day dream – that’s the mental image that probably resulted in the neutral affect we ended up having.  We didn’t want to spell this plot out for the audience though – we wanted the audience to be able to get the feel of the piece and leave the specifics of the plot up for interpretation.  I think this was achieved given the feedback we got!  

Julie: Also, when choosing the roles of the secretary and femme fatale in our “plot,” we purposefully chose the secretary to be the one drawing the detective away from the femme fatale. We wanted to be careful with that choice a) to not be too predictable or fall into tropes, and b) to avoid reinforcing any messages about your man/person being “drawn away” by someone more attractive/sexy.

Why did you choose the song for the piece?

Natalya: Julie picked the song, and again, it all stemmed from the Film Noir theme.  The song itself has the right dark, dramatic feel and the lyrics describe a typical film noir plot.

Julie: The 3 of us wanted to do a piece together, so I offered up a few songs + concepts, and this was the one we decided to do. For me, it had a good dramatic feel, and as Natalya said, felt like a Film Noir. I think it’s those horns in the beginning and the cymbal tap…Seems Noir-y.

What other dances influenced or inspired this one?

Julie: We didn’t draw too much on other dances/dancers for this. I looked at a bunch of Chicago-style Steppin trio dancing videos for inspiration for the parts where all 3 of us partnered together, but I don’t know if we ended up using anything from that.

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

Natalya: We choreographed the first half of the piece remotely, when Shawn and I were in New York and Julie was in Boston.  Julie would send Shawn and I a few written ideas, Shawn and I would work out the details and fill in the blanks and send a video to Julie for feedback.  Our early videos even featured guest artists such as Josh Fialkoff in the role of Julie Brown.  

Then we met all together for a couple of long sessions when we were all together in the same room to set the tangley bits that finish the piece.  Our process there was to throw out a series of rather ridiculous ideas (e.g. “what if we both just jump on Shawn now?  hahaha”), try them out and see what worked.  There was a lot of playful “what if…” and “yes and…”, which made the choreographic process super fun.

Shawn: Yeah!  It was an incredibly fun process.  Natalya and Julie are both a fountain of good ideas.

Julie: Yeah, the whole process was really fun! It was cool to do the remote-choreographing thing–I give an outline/some ideas, and Natalya & Shawn bring it to life! And choreographing the 3-person parts was particularly fun! Lots of silly ideas, trying things…I still can’t believe that 3-person lift worked out, but it’s awesome!

Advertisements

red rum … Red Rum … Red SHOES!

The story of a blues musician selling his soul to the devil at the crossroads is such classic imagery, I’m surprised nobody has thought to make a piece like this before!  As always, Julie nails her interpretation of her theme through dance.  When I look back over the series of dances she’s choreographed, I’m really impressed with the versatility of her movement – it’s always so different, but always exactly what is needed at the moment.

What did you want to express with this choreography?

For a little while now, I’ve been playing with the idea of being not-in-control of my movement and with movement that doesn’t look controlled.  I started exploring that in my last solo piece, “Blue Midnight,” where I danced as a drunk character, and “Red Shoes” continues that exploration with a character whose shoes possess her & make her dance awesomely but not in ways she controls. The title and very basic concept came from the ballet titled “the red shoes,” which I saw when I was younger. I also thought a piece focusing on foot and legwork would fun and different for me.


Why did you choose the song for the piece?
I had started choreographing this to Memphis Minnie’s “Bad Luck Wiman” because I liked the rhythms, and Memphis Minnie is a boss. But around the same time, I was somewhere where Jenny Sowden DJed “Who Will Be Next” by Howlin Wolf, which I thought was really awesome and also had some great rhythm to play with (thank you, Jenny!). The Howlin Wolf song also had a darker and I guess more demonic feel to it, so it seemed appropriate for a piece that involved possession.

What other dances influenced or inspired this one?
While talking about the concept, I got pointed to a cool LXD video called “Elliot’s Shoes,” which is basically the same concept. That piece have me a lot of ideas for the beginning of my piece. I also watched A LOT of James Brown and Michael Jackson clips, as well as my usual dose of looking at cool hip hop & breaking floor work videos.

How did you go about combining your concept, song choice, and influences to create the finished choreography?
Creating this piece was really fun but also extremely challenging. It involved a lot of fun experimentation to create the movements–lots of rolling on the floor, and a lot of “what else can I do with my feet?,” “how can I make this movement look like my feet are generating it?”. That was really fun. There were many challenging aspects thought too. It was physically challenging in many parts to get the look I wanted, and also challenging in terms of the dramatic arc of the piece–the song has a structure that’s repetitive and, other than the climactic instrumental section, there’s not a large change in the song that would indicate some change in the character, which I wanted to have for plot/interest reasons. I also went back and forth a lot with the balance of comedy vs fear/darkness in the tone if the piece, feeling out how my character reacted to the possession at different points in the piece; something I might play with in later performances. The last challenge was to physically execute some of the stuff while still playing a character & expressing how I’m reacting to the possession. If I’m able to perform this again, I’ll definitely be working on that.

Cuttin’ Choreography

Well, it’s high time I start posting interviews from my favorite choreographed pieces that debuted at BluesSHOUT! this year!

Let’s start with this one, which is a direct response to Dexter’s I Prefer You piece from last year.  It’s always a special moment when an artistic community becomes self-referential, isn’t it?  Actually, poking fun at your competitors has a long history in dances with an African aesthetic, and it’s great to see that expressed here.  I particularly like reading how Jenn and Julie worked to make sure this piece had bite, but still remained respectful.  I also wish you all could have been there to see Dexter’s reaction when it was performed!

What did you want to express with this choreography?

Julie: This one was all Jenn’s idea, and I was her happy accomplice. We wanted to cut Dexter & Heriberto’s piece from last year, pushing the concept that they had danced over into the range of clearly-comedic, while also poking fun at/paying homage to Dexter.
Jenn:  I can’t take full credit for it, actually. While working on my puppet piece last year, Jonathan Pechon suggested that I do a routine where I dance like Dexter. I found the idea intriguing, but at the same time, I like to tell a story and/or bring something new to the blues table with my pieces. Going out and dancing like a second-rate Dexter just wasn’t enough. And then Shout happened. After Dexter and Heriberto performed, I found Julie as fast as I could because I knew she would be the perfect partner-in-crime.


Why did you choose the song for the piece?

Julie: We tried out 2 different Etta James songs, since we wanted a similar sound, but not identical to the original piece. We ulitmately chose “You Can Leave Your Hat On” because right from the beginning of the song, the guitar sound is very over the top bow-chika-wow-wow, which helps people understand right away that the piece is comedic. Also when we were dancing to the song, we were already cracking ourselves up.
Jenn: The song choice really did make us establish our priorities. The other Etta James tune had a more similar feel to I Prefer You. We went back and forth between the two for most of our first meeting, unsure of which one would make the cut funnier. Words failed us, so we got up, danced, and ridiculousness won.


What other dances influenced or inspired this one?

Julie: Obviously, we drew most of the inspiration from Dexter & Heriberto’s “I Prefer You,” but we also drew on many other of Dexter’s pieces & piece’s he’s been in. There are direct references to “Even Swingers Get the Blues,” “Hound Dog,” and probably a few others I’m forgetting. And I’m also only half-ashamed to admit that we watched a few Chippendale’s and Magic Mike videos for inspiration as well.
Jenn: We also watched videos of some of his class summaries. “In a Groovy Solo Blues Mood” was a particularly big inspiration for me, and we looked to his masculine movement classes to help with styling. There’s even something we saw him do at Steel City Blues. I like to think of the result as a bit of a game: how many Dexter references can you spot? As for our other sources… the Chippendale videos were a bit of bust, but I feel no shame in what we stole from Magic Mike. We wanted to be as a ridiculous as possible, after all.


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

Julie: We knew we were walking a fine line with this: we wanted to be comedic and poke some fun, but we didn’t want to be mean or hurtful. We also definitely wanted to display good dancing in an interesting choreography. To accomplish our goals, we made sure to get ridiculous and do some silly moves, as well as take a few moves & ideas from “I Prefer You,” but then make them more over-the-top. To ensure quality, we studied Dexter’s movements and tried to recreate the style as much as we could. We spent a lot of time on movement quality and making sure we looked good, again to ensure that our comedy was backed up by actually-good dancing
Jenn: The original piece was used to block out the structure and flow of ours. We picked out the statement moves from it to include in our own. Patterns can be found in anyone’s movement, so we tried to identify and use some of Dexter’s. And, for proper cuttin’s sake, we took a few parts of the routine and tried to make them even cooler. To meet the submission deadline we had to divide up the first 1:45 or so and choreograph them separately, and we each choreographed our own solos. There was a lot of geeking out and analyzing what makes Dexter’s style so unique. A lot. I even grabbed Julie during Steel City’s Blues Clinic just for this purpose. And, naturally, we had to include the underwear toss. It had to be bigger though, closer to a shower. So, we leaked the piece to a few friends and asked them to, um, participate. The thrown shoes, however, were not our doing.

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.

Blue Midnight

Video

Welcome back to the Sweet Choreography blog – here to keep you up to date with the world of blues dancing performances, leading up to Sweet Molasses Blues in Boston July 25th-27th!

(Blue Midnight starts @10:55 in case the time jump doesn’t work for you)

Our first post this year if from the ever-inspiring Julie Brown! If you were at Enter the Blues in Atlanta you should recognize it because it took first place in the showcase competition there. I love how she combines the music and her physicality in this piece. It creates a really evocative mood without an explicit story, leaving the watcher with a lot of details to imagine.

What did you want to express with this choreography?

When I decided to choreograph to this song, I listened to it a bunch and saw the image of someone drunk, dancing to the moon. So that’s where I started.

Why did you choose the song for the piece?

I heard Jonathan Pechon DJ it once, and was like “Yessssss.” The song has a laziness and nonchalance to it, but also parts with a lot of emotion. There are tons of great textures to play with. And Little Walter is a boss.

What other dances and dancers influenced or inspired this one?

Well, they’re not dancers, but the character’s posture and movement was influenced a lot by Charlie Chaplin and one version of Patalone’s physicality from Commedia dell’arte. I also learned a little break dancing for it.

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

I listened to the song a lot while riding the train, walking around, etc. And got a vision of the character. Then I put on my costume and just messed around to the music until I came up with cool movements. When I got stuck, I watched some break dancing videos, and showed it to some people for feedback to work through it. Since the character came out of the music, and the character drove the movement, it was easy to “combine” the concept and song choice.

Downtown Anna Lee

Video

Here’s another piece by the indomitable Julie Brown! This video is a performance from bluesSHOUT!, but you may remember it from earlier this year at Enter the Blues, where it took first prize at the showcase competition. It’s a great example of how much dedication pays off; when you push yourself to win a competition, and then work even harder because you have an idea in your head you just want to express as well as you possibly can – this is where you can get.

What did you want to express with this choreography?

My last choreography (“Makin Whoopee”) was very soft, subdued, and a bit subtle, so for this piece I wanted powerful movement and a wild, untamed feel. The concept developed more once I picked a song and started to explore the character of Anna Lee. I went through a lot of ideas and it eventually became a Siren’s dance with Anna Lee luring the singer in with moments of coyness, interspersed with moments of the powerful, wild movement I originally set out to use.

Why did you choose the song for the piece?

I’d been trying to choreograph to this song for about a year. I love the passion of the vocals and the chaos that the instruments descend into as the song progresses. It was a good fit for powerful movement, so it was a good fit for what I wanted to do.

What other dances influenced or inspired this one?

For this piece, I drew a lot of inspiration from Naomi Uyama in the ULHS Solo Blues Competition in 2006. Her dancing there was exactly the type of power I wanted–moments bursting with energy, freedom, and power, going right into moments of extreme control. Totally awesome. In the final version of the piece, I also got inspiration from some Sharon Davis movements we did in class at Enter the Blues, some movements from Kate Feldman’s piece at Enter the Blues.

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

Ultimately, it was a lot of dancing, experimenting, watching videos, talking to people, watching other dancers, and re-doing things. I had a tougher time with this pieces, and talked to probably around 10 people about it, to get feedback and help me refine the ideas. After the initial performance at Enter the Blues, I had a very helpful conversation with Shoshi Krieger on how to contrast the moments of coyness with the moments of power by taking up more or less space with my body. That combined with the new movement ideas I got during Enter the Blues ultimately lead to the finished product that I did at bluesSHOUT!.

The First Sweet Choreography Friday

Video

This solo piece by Julie Brown won the choreography competition at Enter the Blues in 2012 and was performed at Blues SHOUT! in the same year.

What did you want to express with this choreography?

I wanted a piece that focused on details, particularly hands and arms, as well as lots of long, extended movements, instead of doing a ton of “moves.” The song was one I’d loved since the first time I heard it, and it lent itself really well to that style of moving. The intimate feel and emotion of the piece came from the music, and wasn’t something I originally set out to do, but again, it meshed well with the style of moving. Also, in general, I enjoy hitting things in the music that are not the most obvious, so that played into the choreography as well.

Why did you choose the song for the piece?

This song is beautiful; very emotional with lots of space, while still having fun musical elements to play with, and different textures and feels to it. I loved this song before I choreographed to it, but I had actually attempted to choreograph to 2 other songs pieces (and gotten stuck) before “giving up,” then choreographing to this song in the middle of the night, all in one go. The choreography just kind of fell out of the song for me, so this piece and the song are very special.

What other dances influenced or inspired this one?

This may be obvious, but the style is highly influenced by Naomi Uyama’s solo choreography and Sandra Gibson’s shake blues from Spirit Moves. I also really love Nina, Naomi, and Ramona’s choreography to Blues in C Sharp Minor, so that’s style is always on my mind.

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

As I said a bit before, this choreography really just sort of came out. It wasn’t an intentional, intellectual approach to take the concept + song + influences; I had something I wanted to do, and the song supported it and added to it, I got movement ideas from my brain, experimentation, and my influences. From there, I showed it to some friends whose opinions I value, which helped me refine and focus the piece, and to show what I wanted to show, while also making sure it was interesting, enjoyable, and better than it started.