"This is how I always start."

Liz, Keith, and I are in the midst of our second week of teaching technique, tools, and repertory at Harvard University’s January Performance Intensive. One of the great things about being in residence here is the chance to try out new methods of making work, teaching technique, and collaborating with each other and with the students. After class last week, Liz, Keith and I spent an hour breaking down one part of Keith’s choreographic process to figure out the tools and skills we wanted the dancers in his work to develop during our residency.

It went something like this: Liz and I got up and put some distance between our bodies. Keith told us to get closer together. He told us to start individual phrases, then stopped us, and asked us to overlay the movement. Liz said, “What do you mean by that?” Keith responded, “Find moments for the surfaces of your body to connect to Sarah’s while doing your phrase.”  After we’d worked this way for a few moments, Liz asked Keith how he’d made what he’d made. He said, “I don’t know, this is how I always start.”

Keith and I then created a short duet. We moved a bit, then restarted and began to name what was happening physically (“I used your knee to help me get to the floor”) and the ways Keith was directing the process (“Shift your torso off vertical”).  Liz calls this “harvesting intuition”–making what we make, and then going back and uncovering the methods we used to do it. Sometimes it’s easier to find out what we do intuitively by having someone else talk about how they see us working.  In Keith’s case, Liz and I noticed that he started with his dancers in close proximity to each other, played with slight facing changes and shifts in verticality to affect the connections between two dancers, and encouraged the dancers to use each other to accomplish or vary movement. Once we’d named what we saw, we had about a million possible choreographic assignments for the students, and a better understanding of the skills we needed to work on in technique class to prepare them for Keith’s work–all of this just based on a tiny slice of Keith’s choreographic intuition.

About Sarah Levitt

Sarah Levitt (Resident Artist/Communications Coordinator) is a dancer, choreographer and teacher based in Maryland.