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Day 8

We start by bridging the section between the fourth and fifth waltz repeats. It’s interesting to think about the period when a ballet is nearly finished, the process speeds up markedly, but it feels like a speeding car; there is tremendous inertia and force, some of it dangerous. One has to be able to distinguish between keeping to a consistent palette of ideas and repeating oneself for lack of inspiration. I know that I have ended the fourth repeat with a mildly disturbing theatrical moment. We jokingly call it “trouble at the plantation,” the “imaginary partners” vanish and the dancers can no longer see them. One joy of choreography, though, is that sections as simplistically and reductively explained in words as the previous one have multiple meanings and associations in dance. If anyone reads this diary and then looks at the dance and thinks that the section in question is about “trouble at the plantation” I’ll kick myself. I have to move in two minutes from that section to the actions of the final waltz; slow arm movements done almost entirely divorced from reality.

Knowing my start point and my end point, I proceed to bridge the gap. The dancing needs to become less and less formal and unison, we need to move towards disorder. After this point in the dance (about 12 minutes in) many of the waltz steps dissolve into walking or running, and pick up as a waltz again. The dancers are used to how I make a phrase, I grab the dancer I think the idea would look best on and work it out on him or her. I’ve always considered that to be a very personal moment and a sign of affection from me. In 1996, I worked with a lovely little dancer named Jenny Polyocan, and because I liked the way she moved and she was an easy height for me to work out partnering details, she (and Morgan) got grabbed frequently. Jenny got used to see me coming at her, looking pensive and staring at the floor, which is what I do when I’m thinking up steps. Once, as she saw me gesturing for her, but looking at the floor, I heard her say, “Come here, my little hamster.” I realized I looked more than a little like a mad scientist at those moments.

I use Mary to work out most of these sections (whenever I do something which involves acting I grab her to work on first.) The entrapment idea from the first day returns again, oddly enough, and again almost so completely altered to be unrecognizable, but I know that the idea I discarded on the first day became the genesis for better ideas on following days. I have Mary balancé, then run, along the perimeter of the stage, which has become a boundary line. I’m working mostly with words and descriptions, and she starts to fill in actions, and even steps. At that point I take one of the steps she’s put in (which is actually probably fine where it is) and move it to another spot in the phrase. I smile inwardly, although a bit ruefully, when I do that. Control freak to the end, I hate letting anyone else put steps into my ballet. Three-quarters of this section is done by the first break, and almost no new steps have been introduced, mostly already used vocabulary (lots of pas balancés and soutenus) recombined.

I pick up after the break with the end of the ballet. I’ve been trying to lay the groundwork for the abrupt switch in the music in the last minute, which is so emphatic that I try to avoid obvious choreography shifts. I have them start to run at that break. Mary breaks in even before I can see it that it might be a little obvious at that point, and I know she’s right (just as I took a backwards look at the beginning of the ballet off an obvious cue on the timpani.) Instead, we start running two counts after the change in the music. The runs move into a phrase from the first day, rushing off balance turns in attitude that have appeared in a fragmented form throughout the dance, and the phrase is seen here for the first time as it was originally choreographed. I then have them do the same waltz phrase they’ve been doing, but painfully slow and off tempo, and no longer in unison. As the music comes to its final crashes, they again break into a swirling run to rush into a mass at the upstage corner and look back on the final crash. It seems to be nicely balanced between “satisfying” and “obvious” and I’m pleased. The final thirty or so seconds are stitched between the fourth and final waltz sections, all in the same vein, rushing and swirling to place.

I’m slightly amazed. In an episodic way and all in spurts, the ballet is complete except for Morgan’s section, which I’ll make next Thursday. The process felt so low-key that it never seemed as if we actually did any work or made any progress. As we run it, it reminds me of the other female quartet I have made, Word Become Flesh in 1996. Both were atmospheric pieces made off pointe, but the atmosphere of each is quite different, the first piece, to Perotin, was contemplative and otherworldly, this one is dramatic and overwrought. I find the piece interesting to watch because its emotional tone is unlike any I’ve ever made; the dancers have a larger than life theatricality I’ve never asked for to this point. It looks to me like it might have come from Hollywood in the late 1930’s (but not a movie musical, rather more like Jezebel or Now, Voyager.)

The other similarity to the 1996 quartet is that both pieces were created very smoothly. I never expected this one to go so smoothly, especially as unsure as I was at the outset as to what the piece would be. A little paranoia of mine is that when a project is near completion, I’m afraid that fate will force me to leave it uncompleted, especially if it has gone smoothly. As I walk to work, I find myself crossing the street very carefully to avoid tempting the gods.