Tonight I was invited by the Guggenheim Works & Process peeps to a Morphoses rehearsal. Funny, I kept expecting Christopher Wheeldon to be there… but of course he wasn’t. This was really special because it was a first rehearsal; the dancers were just meeting the two choreographers whose work they’ll be performing in September in Martha’s Vineyard, and in October here in NY. I’ve never been to a rehearsal that early before – usually the choreographers don’t want an audience until the work is complete or nearly complete.

The two choreographers were Jessica Lang and Pontus Lidberg. They’ve each been commissioned to set a dance to the same David Lang score. Always fun to see what different artists come up with to the same piece of music. This was very lyrical music, part of it choral, and they had the same five dancers to work with – three women, two men.

First we saw Jessica Lang, and her choreography was very lyrical, very classically balletic, very pretty.

She had the steps already outlined and she taught the dancers the routine, using words from ballet vocabulary like jete, soutenu, pique, and chaine. They all picked it up very quickly. I picked it up quickly too and would probably be able to dance it if I could actually dance 🙂 It was really fun following the dancers and seeing how beautifully they could make her commands move. I think watching the piece means more to you when you’ve kind of learned the choreography as well.

But then when Lidberg (who is Swedish) came out and showed them his steps (which he also had pre-choreographed) it was totally different. He reminded me a bit of Sonya Tayeh in that his steps were very fiercely original. You couldn’t name anything using classical ballet vocab. So he’d say things like, “when the music goes da da da, you do da da da, like this, make little flower thing with your foot,” etc. etc. A lot of deep plies with deeply arched backs, a lot of rolling on the floor with legs in the air, then still, hands weaving between each other. Very modern and very different from Lang.  I had a much harder time following him because his movement was so unusual and I couldn’t stop thinking how I could never be one of his dancers! The dancers did pretty well but seemed generally more confused than with Lang.

It made me wonder how trained dancers learn. When I was dancing, I always needed the teacher or choreographer to say the steps aloud as I physically went through them. They – well, at least Pasha – would often get a bit pissy, saying I needed to watch closely and then imitate. Dance is visual not verbal. But I could never learn that way. The second each lesson ended, I’d always sprint over to my pad and write down the steps, and in order to do that of course I needed them to have a name. Tonight brought all that back – with Lidberg I’d never be able to do that – I’d be writing “flower-looking-kind of thingy with ankles, then into foot cross thing in the air and then butt up thing in deep plie,” etc. I just wonder how regular dancers learn since it seemed these were having more problems with Lidberg than with Lang as well. It could have been that he was on second and everyone was tired too though. And not that the images he created weren’t interesting – I think his dance will be very original and I’d definitely like to see the finished work.

Anyway, learning Lang’s routine with the dancers really made me want to dance again…

In a panel discussion following rehearsal, both choreographers mentioned that they don’t choreograph beforehand. Rather, when they’re unfamiliar with the dancers, as they were tonight, they’ll have a series of patterns pre-planned to see how the dancers move and how quickly they grasp the movement. But that particular pattern may or may not eventually be scrapped.

Will be interesting to see how these pieces look in the end. The company has a residency at the Vineyard Arts Project in Martha’s Vineyard over the summer, at the end of which they’ll perform there. Then, they’ll bring the works to NY in October – to the Guggenheim, October 3rd and 4th.

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