Nancy Hamilton, senior teacher for Vimy Dance and Co-Director of the Edmonton Festival Ballet has written this great piece regarding the preparation of choreography for performance.
To Clean or Not to Clean….
It is with a certain amount of trepidation that I announce a few months into each year, “It is time to start cleaning this piece.” This announcement is usually followed by a few groans, sighs or a stunned silence in the studio if I am working with the younger dancers. The senior dancers know what a necessary evil this is, and while the younger dancers are unsure, this announcement certainly does not sound like something that will be fun. The cleaning process in any piece is essential however, and onstage it is what separates the good from the bad and the ugly.
Preparing any dance piece for stage involves a series of steps; learning choreography, cleaning, repetition, and polish.
First, dancers must learn the work and memorize the steps. This step gets easier with more experience and training, and takes less and less time as dancers advance in level. Unlike technique classes, rehearsals run with the assumption that the dancer already knows how to do the steps, and now is responsible for learning them in new sequences and patterns.
Once the choreography is learned, a series of cleaning rehearsals will pull the dance apart count by count and establish where the head, eye line, arms, legs, feet etc. are for everyone on stage.
Once these motor patterns are established correctly, (through guided practice of the movement) the dancers are ready to move forward to repetition. The mistake often made in preparing a piece for stage comes from reversing the second and third step of this series, and doing too much repetition without cleaning first. In my experience, clean dances do not evolve from just running a dance over and over. The pitfall in that approach is that each dancer may be practicing bad habits and technique, and committing those flawed motor patterns to memory. This will inevitably lead to performance without true unity and cohesiveness.
Repetition following a series of cleaning rehearsals will be most beneficial to the piece as the dancers will have the correct steps and techniques committed to muscle memory, and will be able to go on stage without conscious thought of the choreography and better able to focus on performance.
Once the piece is set, cleaned and rehearsed repeatedly, the final steps are taken to polish the piece with small adjustments to spacing, performance and quality of movement. If the cleaning process is skipped, or done too late, the foundation of the piece will never be as strong and the final step of polishing would be, in the words of my husband Steve, “like putting lipstick on a pig.” It will not cover the fact that the dancers are not together.
So get ready ladies and gentlemen, it’s a New Year and it’s time to clean!
~ Nancy Hamilton