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Phrase: Linking Movements

This is an excerpt from Dance Composition Basics 2nd Edition With Web Resource by Pamela Anderson Sofras.

Vocabulary

action word

dance phrase

deconstruction

direct space

energy

flexible space

retrograde

sequence

space

time

transition


ALONZO KING demonstrates a movement from a dance phrase

Alonzo King demonstrates a movement from a dance phrase to North Carolina Dance Theatre dancers Hernan Justo and Benjamin Westafer.

© Richard Kumery

Introductory Statement

In this lesson, the term action word refers to any word that motivates movement or defines body shape, such as jump, turn, walk, run, asymmetrical shape, arabesque, isolation, or contraction. Implicit in action words are the dance elements of time (fast to slow), space (flexible, i.e., curved and indirect, or direct, i.e., straight lines and angles), and energy (strong to light). Words that describe actions provide a base from which to create original dance phrases.


A dance phrase or sequence can be likened to a sentence formed when speaking. Sometimes we refer to dance phrases as movement sequences. For the purpose of this lesson either term is acceptable. Each phrase has a beginning, middle, and end. Movements selected in a dance phrase may flow one to the other naturally or may be connected by a transition movement. Evolving dance sequences from action words is another way to demystify the creative process. Action words lead to the formation of individual dance phrases and provide the framework for further developing those phrases into larger compositional forms. In this lesson, the action words are common terms used in contemporary dance.


Warm-Up and Action-Word Discovery

  • Create a warm-up sequence that includes pliés, full-torso movements, leg swings, foot exercises, arm sequences, and small jumps. The warm-up can consist of movement from any style of dance. Name all movements and list them on a chart or blackboard. You may create new words for the actions or use familiar terms such as knee bend or plié.
  • Make a list of favorite dance terms and movements, including those from the warm-up, and display the words on a wall chart or blackboard. Brainstorm to come up with as many terms and movements as possible.
  • Select 10 words from the list that will become the foundation phrase for this lesson. Write each word on a separate piece of paper and post them in order on the wall.


Structured Improvisations

Improvisation 1: Words Become Action

Create individual phrases based on the 10 action words you selected in the warm-up. All 10 words must be used. Make sure the transitions between words and their associated movements are smooth. Experiment with different levels, directions, and energy as you dance each word movement. Try to interpret each action word in several different ways. For instance does roll always mean to lie on the floor and roll like a log? What other ways can you roll? Make original interpretations for each word.

Example: Chapter 1, Lesson 2A: Building a Phrase

In this video excerpt, Alonzo King introduces his thoughts about learning movement and then demonstrates his process for shaping dance phrases. Dancers from North Carolina Dance Theatre are challenged to interpret the actions that King gives them.

  • Assign counts to the separate movements in the phrase so that the phrase is clear. It is especially challenging to make the 10-movement phrase fit into 8 counts.
  • Try performing the phrase twice from beginning to end. As you will see in the next improvisation, it is important to be able to repeat selected movement phrases so that you can play with the movement phrase.


Improvisation 2: Retrograde

Example: Chapter 1, Lesson 2B: Can the Phrase Go Backward?

While creating the men's section from Chants, Alonzo King used the process of retrograde (doing a phrase in reverse order) to further develop his choreography. Watch how challenging this process was for the dancers to interpret but how interesting it was compositionally.

  • Perform the phrase once more, but this time, start at the end and perform the phrase backward until you end in the beginning shape or movement. Start from the end and go backward through all the words, using the individual cards to help. Post the retrograde version on the wall for reference. Discuss changes that might have to be made in the transitions between the movements.
  • Assign counts to this new phrase. Will you use choose 8 counts again?
  • Attach this phrase to the previous phrase you created in improvisation 1, Words Become Action.
  • Try dancing the original phrase forward, followed immediately by its retrograde.


Improvisation 3: Deconstruction

  • Take each of the selected action words from improvisation 1, Words Become Action, and write each one on a separate piece of paper. In a random fashion, perhaps by picking them out of a hat or drawing them like cards, make a new order for the phrase. Each word has a movement previously designed for it, but now each word has moved to another position in the phrase. By changing the movements around, you have deconstructed the phrase and reordered it. Reordering uses the same movements in a different and unexpected way.
  • Discuss this process with classmates and the movement choices dancers made in order to reform the phrase.


Problem Solving

Following the Blueprint

  • Create an original movement study from the three phrases generated in the previous exercises (see the sidebar for an example).
  • Each study will include a core phrase (A), its retrograde (B), and its deconstruction (C). For example:

    Core Phrase (A)

    Lunge

    Roll

    Rise

    Symmetrical shape

    Turn

    Hop

    Asymmetrical shape

    Gallop

    Leap

    Balance on one leg

    Retrograde (B)

    Balance on one leg

    Leap

    Gallop

    Asymmetrical shape

    Hop

    Turn

    Symmetrical shape

    Rise

    Roll

    Lunge

    Deconstructed (Reordered) (C)

    Hop

    Lunge

    Balance on one leg

    Roll

    Asymmetrical shape

    Leap

    Rise

    Gallop

    Turn

    Symmetrical shape

  • Make sure the dance study has a clear beginning and ending shape or entrance and exit to and from the stage space.
  • Select music for the study. The teacher or dance accompanist may offer suggestions and assistance.
  • Perform your studies for your classmates. Audience members should provide feedback. Each dancer will have been working with the same words so the individual transitions and movement choices should be especially interesting to observe.


    Two Blueprint Examples

    1. The form of the study may be a rondo:

    A core phrase

    B retrograde

    A core phrase

    C deconstructed phrase

    A core phrase

    2. The form may be a theme and variations:

    Original phrase (A)

    Retrograde variation

    Deconstructed variation

    Original phrase (A)

Example: Chapter 1, Lesson 2C: Men's Dance From Chants

This selection features the men of North Carolina Dance Theatre in a group excerpt from Chants. The excerpt opens with an individual dancer presenting the movement phrase that will be developed throughout the section. He is followed by three dancers performing the same movement but reordered. The trio is followed by another soloist who performs the original movement phrase and inserts one or two new extensions to the movement material. Last, the group dances the phrase, with insertions, together.



Discussion Questions

  1. How would you define a dance phrase? What does a series of movements need to have in order to be a phrase?
  2. Is there a difference between a dance phrase and a movement sequence? Explain.
  3. What other art forms create phrases?
  4. What did you find challenging about composing a retrograde for a phrase?