Just a couple weeks ago, the winners of the Carlota Santana Choreography Prize at the Choreography Certamen in Madrid came to NYC to set a new work on the company. The residency lasted two weeks and they set a new piece for the company.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I have been a dancer in other residencies, including one for Flamenco Vivo a few years ago. I wasn’t familiar with the choreographers (Enrique Vicent and Antonio Lopez) or their work, so I showed up to rehearsal ready for anything. And I was pleasantly surprised. The two weeks were everything they could and should be–I grew tremendously as a dancer in my technique, and the artists really pushed me in technique class and the choreography they set is challenging, pushing my performance and musical abilities. The new repertory also pushes the company forward, it is up to date with flamenco today. I think that’s important for any company. There is of course always room for timeless works, but keeping the repertory of a company relevant, in this case in flamenco which is an art form that is constantly evolving, is essential.
|Antonio Lopez and Enrique Vicent with the company after one of our rehearsals.
So what exactly is a residency and how is it different than other rehearsals?
In my experience, a residency is usually a set amount of time when a choreographer comes to set a new piece on a dance company. The company/artist director has usually asked for a work that does X, or has X feeling, or transmits X to the audience. The new work often fills a void in a company and adds to the diversity of the repertory. When I think of residency I think of an artist from outside the company setting a new piece.
Usually this begins with the building of a common vocabulary between the dancers and the choreographer. The choreographer doesn’t simply come in and teach all the steps to a dance and that’s that. Rather, a residency begins with the dancers learning technique and shorter phrases so that the dancers gain that choreographer’s vocabulary and the choreographer sees the dancers’ level and strengths and weaknesses. Along with building a common vocabulary, a excellent rapport is usually developed–the dancers have to understand how the choreographer works and vice versa.
In the residencies I’ve experienced, and this was no exception, the dancers are pushed to new levels in their dancing. That’s inherent in learning a new vocabulary, but more so, the choreographers I’ve worked with help correct technique and performance ability. Usually residencies don’t coincide with preparations for other works/performances; this means the dancers are focusing all their dancing and all the rehearsal time to the conception of the new work. That focus allows for all the dancers’ energies to go to the residency without other distractions.
Choreographing takes a lot a experimentation. Because choreographers work with living bodies as their artistic medium, they try different movement ideas, and sometimes have to scratch them. There are two levels of experimentation, the first is in the movement phrases themselves. Different gestures are set, then sort of edited, and sometimes entirely scratched. Once the movement phrases have begun to be set, there is experimentation in creating the spacing and formations in which the steps will be done. That’s something unique to dance; we often learn and un-learn different patterns as the choreographer sketches and finally sets the final choreography.
As a dancer, participating in a residency is what dance is all about (or at least that’s how I feel). We go from nothing, to a specific vocabulary and toolbox, to a series of steps using that vocabulary, and finally having it come together into a complete living artistic work. I say living because it only exists in the bodies and minds of the dancers on whom the piece was set. That is why I dance, carrying out choreographic ideas, building dances, and always growing and continuing to learn. It’s so exciting to be inside the creative process.
And of course, a residency in flamenco usually means very sore feet! I iced my feet almost every night when I got home during this residency and my whole body was sore at the end of every day from all the work in the studio. I’m often sore, that goes hand-in-hand with being a dancer, but since a residency is particularly demanding and pushes the dancers to new levels in their dancing, I tend to be more sore after a full day of a residency. Part of the work of a dancer during a residency is staying healthy and being ready for the next day of work.
There are of course details in the new work that have to be edited and many details that have to be arranged with the musicians. We’re working on those last few editorial details as we get ready to leave for tour in just a few days. It’s the job of the artistic director to make these final edits and prepare the piece for performance. And this part is nearly as much work as the residency itself–although I call them editorial details. The lighting, music setting, final staging, costuming, and cleaning of the steps is a great deal of work. I’m very excited to debut this piece. Although a choreography is set and exists without being performed, that’s the final element and for me something essential to solidify the work in my body. That’s not to say the work may not evolve after performance, but bringing it to the theater and performing it live completes the process.