Dancers get this question all the time. The answer? Rehearsal. We rehearse 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for approximately 10 weeks in order to create a new piece. The other answer? Repetition. Though some started in their late teens, the majority of the dancers in the company have been taking daily dance class since we were children. Class is where you learn the steps and patterns and techniques. It's not so different from learning a language. You learn words, then phrases, which combined become sentences. Pretty soon you can repeat anything that is said to you quite easily, make up your own stories off the top of your head, and have conversations.
We do the same with movements. By the time we have finished our education and started to work professionally, we have repeated the same sequences, steps, and phrases so often that they come without thinking. But the repetition doesn't stop. In our daily training, we learn and remember short combinations quickly to keep this skill fresh. And during rehearsal, we create entire phrases and sequences by improvisation and experimentation, trying to find new things, movements we have never seen or done before. You could say we spend one half of our lives as dancers learning patterns for movement, and the other half trying to forget them and find new ones. They may not be big movements at all; sometimes it's gestures, walking patterns, or a body posture that conveys a certain emotion that we're searching for. Regardless, it's practicing them - repetition - that's essential. And that's what we do every day in rehearsal.
Here's a look back at our last rehearsal process, thanks to our Tanz II assistant Magda's photographs.
Start with some daydreaming during the ballet barre. Schöne Deutschland...
Find movements where you cling to each other "like your life depends on it."
Imagine you are in a box when there is no box. The one wall must become all four walls.
Discuss the lift ...
then practice it.
Catch your partner high in your arms, but don't take an extra step to find your balance.
A little play-acting ...
A little dress-up.
At the front of the room: a table full of people observing, writing corrections and developing other aspects of the piece. Director, Rehearsal Director, Costume Designer, Dramaturg, Assistants....
And of course, lots and lots of work on refining the movements. Sometimes we try to synchronize what we do, even down to the position of the hands, and the direction of the gaze.
Other times, everyone does their own thing.
And how does it all turn out? Cut and paste this link for a glimpse of the new piece.