It took a few hours to calm down enough to write about today’s rehearsal. Certainly nothing traumatic or disastrous happened, it was merely that I knew I had to finish both Armature and Aubade in four hours flat and the adrenaline kicked in. Armature lacks only its final 20-30 seconds, Aubade is completed and I was wired beyond belief by the end.
I had been thinking since last night about spatial issues in Armature, a bit discouraged. I was leaning towards deleting Mary’s opening section where she is half concealed by the wing and not dealing with spatial variations in the ballet at all. The theater we perform in is very wide and very shallow. Choreography gets flattened out enough on that stage, attempting to differentiate the space seemed harder still.
As often happens, a possible solution came to me in the shower. I began rehearsal by having Morgan and Abraham do Frances’ step from the opening, each at the opposite edge of the stage, so that as each of them do the section, they travel into and out of the wing. Abraham also faces backwards. I chose him to face backwards for more practical concerns. If I told Morgan she was doing a combination with her back to the audience, she’d start moaning about the butt shot. It’s hard to tell what the effect will be in the studio, we’ll need to see it in the theater, but I think it helps to right the balance of the work.
From there, I finish the final section of the work, to the cantata. I still have questions about my musical choice, but I think it will work. I love the austerity of the solo violin partita, for some reason, to my ears, the cantata, essentially the same music but scored for organ and orchestra, doesn’t have the same gravity, and I wish it did. From the point that I am at in the finale (where Abraham leaves after a small solo variation) I choreograph only group sections, to find and heighten that gravity I’m looking for.
Work proceeds painfully, two or three steps at a time, and then I race back to the stereo to listen to the next few bars, but I am dogged about progressing. Again, I’m looking for gravity. Poses, reverences, polonaise steps (slow stately brushing walks) form the bulk of the vocabulary. The women enter in a quartet, and then split to form two duets (tall and short), Morgan and Mary bring on Abraham and there is a final unison quintet with jumps and extensions, the sort of broad movement that ought to be in a finale. I leave the last 20 seconds unmade because I’m tired and I want to be able to ruminate about it overnight, so we spend the final half hour of rehearsal doing the ballet in sequence.
The ballet is hell on the dancers’ memories. The absence of music is further complicated by the fact that I have choreographed many phrases that are mostly alike, but contain some distinguishing detail they must also struggle to remember in sequence. As in a fashion show, the dancers ask that the running order of the sections be written out and posted in both wings. Morgan has already written her sections out, and holds her notes in her hand as she dances, alternately consulting them and tucking them into her waistband elastic.
Chuck comes in for rehearsal, looking happy and rested from a week of fishing in the lakes of Minnesota. “I kept telling myself I was going to do barre every day, but you know what? I didn’t do a thing.” I congratulate him. I’ve brought the videotape of the ballet, wisely, because Chuck remembers most of it, but not all, and my recollection of the ballet is even spottier, I’ve made another ballet in the interim.
It takes us about an hour to review the work to this point, as we go over it, I continue to simplify combinations. I like the rushing quality of the choreography, it matches the music, but there is a difference between Chuck rushing about and Chuck being rushed about by the choreography. We pull out some beats and a few extra steps, and I can see the work acquire loft and breath. I also start to delete the mime wholesale, not to replace it with dance, but to replace it with better mime. I can’t stand all the “instrument” miming when I look at it again. It just looks foolish on Chuck.
The final hour is spent finishing the work. We’ve got a minute to go in the ballet, and I honestly thought of the final minute like the final few minutes of an aerobics class, the cool-down section. A section of music that is obviously meant for mime (you can hear the strings whining) is left blank, and I keep the choreography as simple and uncluttered as possible. I’ve also learned that Chuck is a really reliable turner, even when he’s winded, so because the end needs to be impressive, but he’s also dying of exhaustion, there are a few handsome turns that he knows he can reliably do at the end of the solo. I conceived of the final moments of the solo (a rush in the music, then a diminuendo) as being a rush offstage, but by serendipity, Chuck is slightly behind the music and it ends when he finishes a turn under the “balcony” that he’s been dancing towards, and the effect seems just right. At the end I ask Chuck to listen to the music tonight and start thinking of what he’d like his own “story” for the ballet to be, so that we can set mime. I apologize and explain that I’m not abdicating the responsibility, but I think that what he does would seem more natural and suitable if it came from him, with my refinements.