More Comp Tools: Minimalism and Repetition

This mid-semester composition study for my Music and Choreography course had me playing with ideas of minimalism and repetition. From this experimentation I played with how a smaller quantity of movement material could still work to make an entire piece arch.

Click HERE to view my full study!

Looking at the Music-to-Movement Relationship

As a part of my focus curriculum I am taking Music and Choreography, a composition course looking to explore the ways in which music and movement interact in space and time. I took the course because I am very much a person who understands based off of visual and kinesthetic information, less so with aural. Therefore I often forget to consider music as my compositional partner when creating.

To introduce the course, we began with listening to Sonata in B Minor, K27 by Domenico Scarlatti. We then scored the music, however we heard it. This helped us to realize that everyone hears music slightly differently. When there are many layers, one individual may hear an emphasis that another may not. In our scores we accepted our differences and just wrote down what we heard. In the picture of my notes, the top and bottom thirds of the page show two different ways in which I scored the Sonata.


After scoring the music, we created movement that went TO the music. How my movement unfolded may be seen through my drawings in the mid-third of my page of notes.

With the choreography set TO music, the second part of the assignment was to use that same musicality and set the movement to a pop song. This was not as thrilling for me. I got bored with the 8-count structure quickly and found my Scarlatti-inspired movement to outmatch the pop songs. I tried many different pieces of music and never really felt like I connected to any of them.

Parts 1 and 2 of this study may be viewed through my Vimeo account by clicking HERE.

In part 3 of our assignment, not included in my video, we were instructed to let go of the phrasing of the movement as we put our choreography to electronic music with a more minimal structure. We listened to artists such as Songar, alva noto, and Aoki Takamasa and chose music that we could use to expand the structure of our already existing material. What I liked about part 3 was how it allowed me to track the evolution of material from being exact to the music, to now existing in a more open-ended timeframe. It showed me how a phrase created to music has material that can exist in forms past the music under which it was created. Moving forward, this is a tool I can use for composition.

Diving Down the Rabbit Holes

Part of where I believe “sophomore hell” comes in to play is that as second-year students in the dance department, we are required to take the intro level courses to the multiple aspects of dance we began to see emerge through Freshman Seminar. IMG_3642For me this includes History Theory Literature 1 (Dance History), Kinesiology, Movement Analysis, and Composition 2 alongside my movement practice classes. I’ve begun to call this “diving down the rabbit holes”, as I feel myself looking down deep pockets of possible exploration and knowledge as I take in each course. While I am busy with work, and face the challenges of accepting dance’s applications through desk work, I love my courses.

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Gesture Study

For my final project of Composition 1 I created a study on gestures. As a class we were each tasked with composing a 2-3 minute solo that we presented to the entire class at the end of the semester. To begin, I brought 3 gestures into class to play with.

1. Rubbing my back

2. Stroking an imaginary goatee

3. Putting my hands in pockets

From this point I used different compositional tools (exaggerating, minimizing, lengthening, transferring, or reversing to name a few) to play with my gestures. I created movement from these original three, and throughout the course of my time developing my study, an entirely new story emerged. Please enjoy “Showing Face”.

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.

Sullivant Steps: a Site-Specific Work

In Composition 1 class, taught by Michael Kelly Bruce, I was tasked to create a site-specific work within the Sullivant Hall building on The Ohio State University’s campus. I chose to work with the granite steps leading up to the Cartoon Library. The coloring of the stone paired with the simple architecture made for a stunning space, and the stairs created an unconventional stage that gave the piece texture.

For this work I chose to create an improvisational score, a base structure of tasks and qualities that fuel and inspire a dancer’s movement. I asked three dancers to work within the structure I created. My structure was this:

One dancer would travel down the stairs, moving quickly and more specifically, inspired mostly by the architecture of the space.

Two dancers would travel up the stairs, moving smoothly and slowly in a more minimalistic manner.

The three dancers would eventually meet in the center and meld together, playing with the space in between each other as well as with the stairs themselves.

They would break apart, and one dancer would continue down the steps as the other two continued up.

They would reach the end of the staircase and walk away.

And because this was a site-specific work I gave my audience permission to watch the dance from any angle, below the stairs, at the top of the stairs, or even right in the middle of the dance. I allowed them free reign to do as they pleased as the dancers worked through their score.

It was fun to create and watch my improvisational score being performed by others, as most of the composition I have done in the past has been works of set choreography. This was a new experience for me, but something that I definitely want to work with in the future.

Because I was unable to film the original version of I have attached two videos of myself dancing the different parts. In one you see the role of the dancer going down the steps and in the other you see both dancers traveling up the steps, both parts omitting the group melding section of the score. These are informal videos, done with a little bit of editing for an alternate perspective of the piece as a whole.