Phrase Manipulation as a choreographic teaching tool
I teach basic dance technique, composition and improvisation to college students.
At the end of the semester, they work in small groups on a composition study that gives them an opportunity to apply everything they’ve been learning.
Improvisation and creating from ideas or prompts may not generate dances that follow a steady beat.
However, learning how to manipulate phrase material generally does produce movement that has a beat or pulse. It also helps students learn how to include variety and contrast in their dances and how to rework a small amount of material many different ways.
You can give this movement assignment to teach contrast and variety and the B.E.S.T. concepts . Some easy-to-access concepts for phrase manipulation are: direction, speed, level and movement quality (energy)
Begin with a phrase of 4-6 eights. My starter phrase was 5 eights:
1st 8 beats:
Side slide step/hop diagonally, with arms doing a full circle in the line of direction (LOD). Travel on a shallow diagonal so as to progress across the floor. Do right and left.
2nd 8 beats:
Turn to the right, traveling 3 steps and wrapping arms around with right arm behind, leading in a clockwise direction and stepping out on your right. Continue in the same LOD, with left foot crossing behind, turning counterclockwise 3 steps, and wrapping arms around with left arm behind.
3rd 8 beats:
Over 4 beats – Un-spiral from the wrap, to face forward and jab your left arm up to the high right diagonal, crossing the mid-line. Repeat the jab with right across to left on high diagonal.
Over 4 beats – Jump forward three times, legs parallel wide/crossing/ parallel wide.
4th 8 beats:
Repeat the 3rd set, but this time reaching across to the LOW diagonal.
5th 8 beats:
Two walks over 4 beats. Shimmey and travel forward over 2 beats. Burst out to a shape on count ‘7’ and hold the freeze.
This phrase include direction, level, energy and speed changes.
My objective was to have the students learn several choreographic devices for phrase manipulation: canon, transposition and repetition.
Having learned the phrase, we did it in a canon, starting every 8 beats.
Then we broke into small groups, so students could see different ways of blocking the canon.
We experimented with 1) doing the phrase as a flank, starting side by side and going one by one. Then 2) as a single file line, still going one by one.
We played with having the last dancers catch up to the first one’s so the canon did not end predictably.
For transposition, we change the arms to legs and legs to arms from the 3rd and 4th 8s.
For repetition, we played with the material as it existed, expanding some parts.
Students then manipulated the material in their own ways. They changed the blocking, speed, size, spatial relationships, as well as playing with direction, level and the devices they’d learned.
This taught them that there are alternatives to unison, and that successive movement and contrast adds interest.
This idea is fun to interject into a study that is already in process. Students can use the phrase you learn together and then grow into manipulating their own phrase material. These strategies also expand the language you can use when communicating ideas to dancers and when teaching them what to look for in other performer’s work.
Some of the outcomes were: putting counts to the movement, playing with size, repetition of one motif from the phrase, and having each dancer do a different part from the phrase simultaneously or successively.
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