Musical Moves

Student dancer/choreographer Nina Stoller-Lindsey '10 reflects on the creative process of her new dance piece, "Musical Chairs," which is being performed in the Harvard Ballet Company's fall show, "Momentum."

I am absolutely in love with music. When I find a piece of music that really excites me, all I want to do is dance to it. I file these musical selections away in a mental drawer labeled "To Choreograph To," and when I begin my next choreographic project it is usually one of these pieces that initially inspires me. Upbeat, a work I choreographed for the Harvard Ballet Company last spring to Paul Desmond’s "Take Five," was one such project. I’d wanted to choreograph to this music since I first heard it at nine years old, and finally getting to tackle Desmond’s score was both a challenge and a thrill. Although I was pretty happy with the finished product, I decided that for my next choreographic endeavor I wanted to try a new approach, in which I didn’t rely so heavily on the music as my source of ideas.

Over the summer, I decided to rework a short trio I had choreographed at the end of high school, entitled "Musical Chairs." I knew that for Momentum, the Harvard Ballet Company's fall show, I would have to make the piece longer, as well as adapt it for a larger cast, but in revisiting this piece I also saw an opportunity to focus on character and narrative in a way that I hadn’t done yet.

Performing in the debut concert of Larissa Douglas Contemporary Dance while approaching the rehearsal period for my own new work, I realized that the pieces I am usually most drawn to are those that use music and formal design in the effort of portraying something more. Watching the rest of the concert in rehearsal, I felt most affected by the works in which Larissa Koch '08-'09 developed meaningful relationships between her dancers. The tension between the two women in her Dystonic Trio was riveting, and her portrayal of difficult family dynamics in Leavings never failed to leave me in tears.

Trying to develop onstage relationships in my own work, I started thinking about what I had already created in my trio. "Musical chairs" is a game usually played at children’s parties, but, partly because of the score, this piece had a much darker tone. I decided to tease out and further develop the theme of competition. As both dancers and Harvard students, we have become accustomed to competition and continue to deal with it on a daily basis, so I felt that this theme was particularly relevant for both the cast and the audience.

Taking a three-minute piece that stood completely on it’s own and fitting it into a larger, ten-minute framework was more difficult than I had expected. I knew that I wanted to explore the theme of competition in a larger ensemble section and in a series of duets for a couple, but, even with this plan in mind, I found myself paralyzed after I had finished restaging the original trio. What finally helped was choosing music. I had choreographed the trio to music by Tigger Benford and Peter Jones, and since their sound was so distinct I chose two more of their works for the remaining sections of the piece. With their score to support me, I suddenly had a much clearer vision of the piece and was able to develop all of the movement and spatial patterns I felt I had been missing. I have to admit, I am still very much musically inspired, but in choreographing my new Musical Chairs, I learned that I was capable of creating more than a visual representation of music. Developing character through choreography was certainly a challenge for me, but it is one that I will continue to pursue.

See also: Dance, Dance, archive