Freshman Composition

I have choreographed dances, but I had never taken a composition class before this past semester. As a part of the dance major we take Composition 1 and 2, 1 second semester freshman year and 2 first semester sophomore year. This was a new experience for me as I learned some tools and ideas to help guide the creation of movement.

Throughout the Composition 1 course, I was given different guidelines for “studies”, or works I was to create compositionally. (One study was a site-specific work to be created inside Sullivant Hall. Check it out here.) We were given points inspiration to give specificity to our movement creations as well as tools to enhance our natural movement tendencies. And along the way through each study we would present snippets to our classmates and get feedback from both them and Michael Kelly Bruce, the instructor of our course.

Through this process I learned different ways to shape my natural movement tendencies, with movement dynamics and timing, playing with different facings and orders of movement, and more broadly looking at movement spatially. And within these areas of play I most importantly learned that whatever I originally create is not automatically finished just because it has been created. With new material that I generate I can use these compositional tools, of space, time, dynamics, repetition, etc., to go back and enhance what I have already created.

One of the reoccurring problems I have faced when composing movement is the creation of a beginning, an ending, and a solid through-line throughout the piece. I can generate movement that I find satisfying to perform forever, but different sections won’t make sense together, or they won’t necessarily begin or end. I, in essence, have found that I am good at making up the fragmented pieces of a possible whole. So throughout Composition 1, especially towards the end for my Gesture Study, I worked to create a study that had a satisfying beginning, through-line, and end.

What I mean by a “satisfying” beginning is movement that has a definitive start. I am more fulfilled watching pieces where the movement has a clear reason for beginning, and therefore I aimed to create a study that began for a reason. Many of the studies I created throughout this course started in a standing position, on two feet with both arms down at my sides. It was simple, but for me I felt too balanced. And when I would begin to move I did not fully understand my point of initiation. However I was hesitant to begin my composition studies with an asymmetrical pose, where being off-kilter could have made for a clear reason to start, because it felt unnatural. How did I get to the pose, and shouldn’t that also be part of the dance?

Similarly endings tend to give me trouble because I want movement to end purposefully. And while for beginnings I need a clear point of initiation, for endings I strive for a clear stop to the movement. Endings may or may not be “satisfying” but as long as they are intentional, I can appreciate them.

And like I stated earlier, I am able to generate sections of movement somewhat easily, but the sections won’t have any relation to each other. Therefore throughout the semester I looked to find ways to generate a through-line throughout my composition studies. Knowing that these are the problems I tend to face when composing, it was both fun and challenging to try and work through them. Composition is a part of dance that I find interesting, and I hope to continue my studies in the subject throughout the rest of my career.