Exploring Choreographic Techniques

In this resource, we explore the choreographic techniques Joel Bray spoke about in his Inside Dance webinar and suggest how you might incorporate them into your own practice.

Collaborative Choreography

Joel Bray loves to have other people in the room when he’s developing a work and believes that inclusion of diverse voices can really lift your creative process. So why not get exploratory in your dance creation and draw inspiration from improvisation. Try running the camera, creating stimuli, and engaging in extended improvisational sessions with a partner. Some of the most interesting moments arise when you push beyond the obvious ideas.

Tasking in Choreography

Bray works a lot with tasking; asking the dancers to do specific things. By assigning specific movements or actions to dancers, he can introduce a structured element to his creative exploration, adding a layer of intentionality to the collaborative process. Try incorporating tasking as simple choreographic or improvisation prompts. Doing this on a regular basis can help keep your “choreographic muscles” strong and provide a pool of movement ideas you can draw on in future.

Choreographer’s Authority

While dance is collaborative by nature, Bray emphasises the importance of the authority a choreographer must bring to decision-making, especially when leading a project. Acknowledging collaborators is crucial, but the as the choreographer you need to stand as the ultimate decision-maker, responsible for the work’s overall impact on the audience. This is something you will develop over-time.

Choreographic Techniques. A dancer wearing loose black pants kneels on the ground with their back to the viewer. They are against a concrete wall and floor.

Movement Generation

Over the last seven year, Joel Bray has been developing a unique methodology for movement generation. Drawing inspiration from the environment, he tasks his students with translating physical memories into movement. By focussing on how we manipulate tension in the body to suit different terrains Bray finds new pathways and new movements. Next time you walk into another generic-looking studio hoping creative inspiration will strike, try drawing on memories of a physical environment and translating those into movement.

Overcoming “Blank Canvas” Syndrome

Personal reflection and writing can be one of the greatest tools for choreographers looking to transform an emotional experience or narrative into movement. Joel Bray suggests a looping written, movement technique taught to him by Paea Leach.

Using a timer on your phone, dedicate 10 minutes to each step of the process.

  • Write a stream of consciousness until the alarm rings, then read it back to yourself.
  • Improvise dancing to what you wrote and record this on your camera.
  • Watch this back and write a response to your improvisation.
  • Improvise to your written response.

Keep going with these 10-minute alternations until something happens and you find yourself in flow. While the material won’t necessarily end up in the final work, the looping process will help you move through creative development.

Separating Movement Material and Narrative Exploration

Try creating the movement material separate from the narrative, emotional or theatrical exploration. Play and experiment with different movements and create written notes or diagrams to document these sequences and ideas. Doing this separate from the narrative, allows for the creation of neutral and versatile movements, providing flexibility during the later stages of show development to complement or contrast with your overarching narrative.

Continuous Learning and Exploration

As a young or emerging artist, there is significant benefit to be gained from continuous learning. Engaging in workshops, attending performances, and discussing work with peers will all contribute to your artistic growth. You might also like to keep a dance journal, written or visual, to record ideas, sketches, and notes about what inspired you from these experiences.

As your progress through your career, Bray advocates for a shift from external to internal exploration. It is natural that as your artistic expression develops, you become more self-focussed. Authentic choreography often reflects the choreographer’s unique perspective and voice so explore what makes your perspective special and hone in on your unique skillsets and interests.

Secondments and Learning from Varied Experiences

Spend more time in other studios! Learning from both positive and negative experiences with different choreographers and teachers is crucial for personal growth. Emerging and mid-career artists can benefit from being involved in the process of dance-making as much as possible. So, explore secondments opportunities that enable to you get in a room with other dancers, do the tasks, and be part of the creative process.

Your choreographic practice is a journey of continuous improvement and self-discovery. It can also be informed and inspired by those around you so we encourage you to try one of the above choreographic techniques and share your experience with others.