The rules of entry to our senior choreographic competition held at White Lodge each December are as follows; open to all students in Years 10 & 11; choreographers can work singularly or in pairs and cannot perform in their own work; music is chosen from a list of approximately 30 classical composers pre-21st century; the choreography is to be of approximately three minutes duration and is to be created by the choreographer/s without any external assistance, including decisions on costume, set and lighting. Shortlisted finalists must present the judges with a folder outlining the creation process and cast biographies.
I started the music selection process last academic year and by June had a shortlist of six works, from which I narrowed my choice to Shostakovich’s second movement from his Cello & Piano Sonata [Op. 40]. My music was submitted to the Ballet Principal for approval prior to the summer break.
The music influenced my choreography, which is non-narrative. The dancers’ abilities are exposed via movement conceived from the characteristics of the music. It is a swift and dynamic piece in which the dancers execute energetic jumps, rapid turns and intricate footwork. There is a combination of angular patterns and straight lines, including the varied use of unison and canon. Each dancer plays an important role; four couples keep the pace throughout and a further two girls bring flair to the middle section.
My work is named Accentus – Latin for ‘accented’. This refers to the staccato qualities present within the music and to the accented movements which repeat within the choreography. It was my aim to highlight the individual strengths of my dancers. They are extremely talented and have each contributed something special to the piece. I am impressed by how they have worked to make this piece develop; they showed progress in each rehearsal and displayed patience and enthusiasm along the way.
Seeing the Royal Ballet’s recent revival of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Concerto was a great stimulus during the final stages of the creation of Accentus, particularly due to the musical similarities in sharing Shostakovich as the composer. Concerto was planned as a plot-less ballet to develop the Deutsche Oper’s technical skills when MacMillan was its Director in 1966. The first and the last movements of Concerto feature ample sections for the Corps de Ballet; they spin and alternate places whilst the main couple executes dazzling steps in perfect sync.
I have invoked that same exhilaration of movement in Accentus. Costumes are simplistic to allow the shape and motion of the dancers’ bodies to excel. The apricot represents poise and vivacity whereas the navy represents unity and confidence. The two colours also associate to our school motto: Strength & Grace. The girls wear a strap leotard with a chiffon wrap-around skirt and the boys, an ordinary cap-sleeve leotard with tights. This 20th century style costume was part of the evolution of modern-classic choreography, yet still looks decisively balletic. The set is backlit with a deep, sunset pink tonality which links the costume’s colours. Low intensity side lighting creates a subtle yet vivid hue at the start and gradually brightens as the music builds.
Throughout my five years at White Lodge I have tended to ‘take a back seat’ during choreographic competitions, perhaps lacking the confidence to convince my class mates and teachers that I could lead such a project. In this my first serious attempt, I have surprised both them and myself – enjoying the experience immensely. I have learned the importance of planning ahead, taking notes, video recording, listening to your dancers, being both flexible and sticking to your vision. Most importantly, I have learnt to believe in myself as a choreographer.