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Find a Balance

Good duets require a delicate balance of ingredients. Dowling calls it her “recipe”: “A good recipe has a
dash of this and two cups of that,” she says. “In dance terms, you don’t want a work to be all partnering
or two people doing side-by-side solos.”

It’s particularly important not to overstuff your piece with impressive lifts and forget about the quieter,
simpler movements. “Remember to allow the duet to breathe—that’s when the chemistry between the
dancers builds,” Mather says. “Sometimes it’s the moment when the two are just looking at each other,
engaging with each other, that brings the audience in. Plan the big lifts, but the chemistry is what the
audience will remember.”

Play up the Dancers’ Strengths

Sometimes the biggest challenge when choreographing a duet is dealing with two dancers who aren’t
exactly a match made in heaven. What if you’re working with a powerhouse technician and an
emotional mover, or an experienced girl and a totally inexperienced guy—or two people who simply
don’t get along?

If your dancers aren’t technical equals, don’t force it. “I’m never going to have two dancers pirouette at
the same time if one’s a strong turner and the other’s not,” Dowling says. Pushing a dancer’s technical
limitations is generally a good thing—but not when he or she is going to be closely compared to the only
other person onstage. Instead, blend the dancers’ strengths by “restyling” or modifying their best tricks.
“Don’t try to do an overhead lift with a guy who doesn’t have the technical experience needed,” Mather
says. Instead, opt for a shoulder sit, a cradle or another simpler lift that still looks interesting. “You can
find the ‘wow’ moment without breaking the girl’s neck,” Mather says.

Dancers of different experience levels can actually be a blessing in disguise. Paul Destrooper, artistic
director of Ballet Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia, loves the dynamic energy sparked by pairing a
veteran with someone greener. “There’s a circle of learning and experience that’s unique in pas de deux
work,” he says. “It can be tough and stressful, but it’s valuable for a mature dancer to mentor a newer
one.”

Dealing with personality conflicts is stickier—but as the person at the head of the room, you’re the one
who has to lay down the law. Dowling has “zero patience” for bickering. Make sure your dancers
understand that personal differences must be put aside the moment they set foot in the studio. And
there’s actually a certain heat between dancers who dislike each other. If you can, incorporate that into
the choreography.

Form and Structure

1. Form
The form of a dance determines the way it is organized. This is similar to the way musical forms like the
suite, symphony or concerto shape their overall contour or identity.

Three basic dance forms are:

ABA
RONDO
THEME AND VARIATION

2. Structure
The structure of a dance is how the total work is put together. All elements combine to produce a whole
work of art, with three main sections:

To convey the overall mood, atmosphere and message, the choreographer sequences movement
sections in a variety of ways.

BEGINNING
MIDDLE
END

CHARACTERS

Characterization is a writing concept that can also be applied to creating a character in dance. It refers to
the little details an author uses to convey information about a character’s personality, mood, and/or
story. In writing, these details can be described. (“Sarah was grumpy.”) but in dance, they must be
shown. “Show, Don’t Tell” is important in writing but it’s essential in dance.

Some elements we use to convey both character and story are:


– appearance: clothing, makeup, accessories, degree of tidiness or dishevelment,
– actions: what the character does and how they do it,
– energy,
– mannerisms and gestures,
– gaze,
– posture and the way they carry themselves, and
– facial expressions.
– In group pieces, we can use other’s reactions to convey things about a character.
– Finally, many dancers also use pantomime — creating things that aren’t there (sliding doors, windows,
pulling out a pocket watch) using only gestures, like the parlor game Charades.

Characterization is often the most under-developed part of a dancer’s performance. In the rush to
develop technique or remember choreography, we often forget to ask ourselves, “Who is this person
and why are they doing this?” Dances are stories and characters are the very heart of stories.
Understanding who your character is and what their motivation is essential to conveying those things to
others.

THE STORY
THE CHARACTER
ARTISTIC CHOICES
SEEK INSPIRATION