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Making Dance

The Choreographer's Toolbox

Solo Versus Group Work

The number of dancers can vary from one in a solo work, to two in a duet, three in a trio and so on.

Group works can be for one or more soloists and chorus or corps de ballet (in musical terms this is like a concerto) or, more democratically, for an ensemble of dancers (like a symphony). Nineteenth-century classical ballets use the soloist and large corps format whereas modern dance works tend to use smaller ensembles.

This is the beginning of the final section of Pas de Quatre, based on a gala performance by four of the greatest dancers of the Romantic Era: each soloist enters alone, then all dance together as an ensemble.

 

This is an excerpt from the middle of the final section of Pas de Quatre. Again, each soloist dances alone, then all dance as an ensemble.

 

This is the coda of Pas de Quatre. The ballet ends with the dancers pictured as in the famous lithograph, with Taglioni in the centre, flanked by Grahn, Cerrito and Grisi.

 

Working with more than one dancer allows the choreographer to expand his or her creative ideas. Here are two concepts to explore:

1. Space

With more than one dancer, the choreographer can create greater variations in spatial effects.

a) Identical

The dancers' movements and patterns may be identical to make a stronger statement.

b) Mirrored

The dancers' movements and patterns may be mirrored to provide visual balance or dramatic effect.

 

In classical ballet, the corps de ballet is often arranged in a mirrored semicircle behind the soloists to frame them and direct the audience’s attention.

c) Multi-focussed

The choreographer may set different simultaneous movements for contrast, shifting attention from a single focus to many points of interest around the stage. Merce Cunningham's work, noted for its multiple points of focus, challenges viewers to decide for themselves where to direct their attention.

2. Time

Using more than one dancer also allows greater variation in temporal effects.

A) Unison

Dancers can perform a movement phrase in unison, all moving at the same time.

B) Canon

A movement canon occurs when dancers perform the same phrase one after the other. The phrase can be offset in a variety of ways similar to musical canons (for example, synchronized, simultaneous and augmented/diminished).

 
 

 
Video Credit:
Echo's Object
Toronto Dance Theatre, Choreographer: Christopher House
Year: 2005
Dancers: Luke Garwood, Louis Laberge-Côté, Sean Ling, Neil Sochasky, Matthew Waldie
Director/Producer: Christopher House/Toronto Dance Theatre; Music: Phil Strong; Set Design: Cheryl Lalonde; Costumes: Jeremy Laing; Lighting: Steve Lucas; Camera: Don MacMillan

 

c) Counterpoint

Dancers can perform contrasting movement themes simultaneously to create counterpoint.

 
 
Video Credit:
Sly Verb
Toronto Dance Theatre, Choreographer: Christopher House
Year: 2003
Dancers: Johanna Bergfelt, Valerie Calam, Kristy Kennedy, Brenda Little, Robin McPhail, Jessica Runge; Director/Producer: Christopher House/Toronto Dance Theatre; Music: Phil Strong
Set Design: Scott Eunson; Costumes: Jeremy Laing; Lighting: Steve Lucas; Camera: Don MacMillan