On the blog today, we’re spotlighting Artistic Director Darion Smith’s recent new choreography, Game Change. In so doing, we are also looking at how practical challenges, like choreographing for students as opposed to professional company dancers, influences how a choreographer makes art, and how that art takes shape.
Game Change, choreographed by Darion Smith, was selected to represent the University of Oregon at the ACDA North West Regional Conference 2018 in Boulder, CO, in March.
As Smith explains it, Game Change is “a representation of nuance in my creative process.” That creative process was specifically influenced by his time as both a graduate student and an instructor in the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance. Now teaching in the Howard Community College Department of Dance, Smith reflects on his time at University of Oregon, and the impact that academic exploration and teaching dance students has had on the creative process and the work it produced.
He says, “from the moment I arrived at the University of Oregon, I realized that I had a new space to be creative in and a new set of constraints. In some regards there were no constraints to what I wanted to make,” at the same time, because he was working with students, as opposed to members of the professional Janusphere Dance Company, there were other factors to consider, from learning outcomes, to range, to readiness.
Talking about Game Change, Smith walks us through some of his process, starting with the early stages of turning “an idea that floats in the mind” into movement. If, as he explains, that idea “merits enough interest,” he tries to work it out in some physical form, often starting in his own kitchen or living room, exploring the idea ans seeing where it takes him.
From the Living Room to the Classroom
When it is time to take the next steps toward creating the work, by bringing the choreography to dancers, a choreographer needs to transfer those movement ideas in specific ways. “A lot of how I worked in the past was by showing movement phrases to dancers and them picking it up,” says Smith. Once the phrase was learned, he would move onto other aspects of putting the choreography together.
Smith says that, while he was able to use this mode of making dances to some degree with students, he did recognize that, “working with professional dancers, I was able to choose the dancers for specific qualities, making this mode of translating choreography very effective.” In the classroom studio setting, he saw that “working with a diversity of levels and experience at university taught me that this mode does not translate as clearly as it did in a professional setting.” Choreographing for students required more. That lead to an enriched creative process and it pushed Smith, as a choreographer and an educator, to “see and explore other qualities in the dancers I was working with" and to explore new methods of generating a dance that has structure and unique qualities.”
Improvisational Techniques and Adding Voice
Part of this exploration included incorporating improvisational tasks and the use of the voice. “I was happy to use my work to get to know the dancers as artists and individuals, by inviting them to incorporate more of themselves into the work.”
As a result, he created three distinct worlds in Game Change, the through line of which was the dancers.
The ACDA Conference was the perfect environment to present Game Change, because its choreography and execution are unique to the dance education experience, and the role that dance education plays in the creative process for both choreographers and students of dance.