Try it another way

by Dance

Thuy Phan '12 describes the rehearsal process for the December '11 Dance Installation, to be performed December 2-3 in the Harvard Dance Center.

One of the very first things OFA Dance Director Jill Johnson taught us was "never become too attached to your own ideas." I think this piece of advice encapsulates our rehearsal process, as our rehearsals constantly involve the modification and discussion of ideas. For me, being part of the December '11 Dance Installation has enabled me to not only learn new movement, but gain insight into the choreographic process.

In one rehearsal, we learned a phrase in which we extended our right hand to accentuate a musical cue. After a few runs of the phrase, the hand extension somehow no longer matched with the musical cue, despite our practicing it repeatedly. After a few more practice runs, Jill directed us to move on and generate other ideas, saying, "I was attached to this one idea because I really liked that it matched with that musical cue, but that’s not working anymore. We can try something different later."

A few weeks later, this simple phrase was no longer done in unison--it was developed into a more complex and dynamic section where five groups danced the phrase in various orders and with different timing. By discarding her old idea of matching a movement to one particular musical cue, Jill taught us a lesson in abandoning ideas to generate even better ideas.

Not being attached to one’s own ideas also means being open to exchange and dialogue throughout the rehearsal process. Our rehearsals often begin with conversations about ideas and issues that are relevant to the theme of the installation. During our last rehearsal, Jill asked us for our opinions on the text that she generated for the piece. (The installation will use text in the set design, and she made a list of words, statements and questions that we may use to convey the theme of our piece.)

By opening up her own ideas to us for feedback, Jill invites us, as both dancers and collaborators, into a dialogue that enables us to have an impact on the formation of the installation. By structuring rehearsals as a time to exchange, present, and accept new ideas, she focuses the rehearsal process around collaboration and teamwork.

Working with Jill on the installation has been a unique creative process for me at Harvard. It has been a tremendous learning opportunity to participate in this project not only as a dancer, but also as a collaborator. Rehearsing with her has influenced the way in which I now encounter any creative process. When I find myself stuck with an idea that does not seem to be working – whether I am improvising in dance class, working on my own choreography, or writing a paper – I try to remember that it is important to never become too attached to my own ideas.

[Caption: Thuy Phan '12 in motion. PHOTO: Andreas Randow]