There are five stages of grief, ten stages of death, three stages of labor, and (I will argue) six stages of choreography.
1. The Conceptual Stage: Most of this stage occurs in the shower or the car. In this stage I’m full of exciting ideas about colors, themes, titles – big overarching concepts. This stage has no concern for budgets, schedules, or even gravity. Wonderfully impossible things happen here.
2. The Sweaty Stage: This is the stage wherein I start making steps with my dancers. At this point I have most likely lost sight of my conceptual day-dreaming and am just making movements. It is at this point that I get preoccupied with innovation (trying to make a ‘cool’ step). It’s a sweaty time but not always an artistically-driven one. In its best iteration, this stage creates the language through which the work will be communicated.
3. The Crafting Stage: I now take the ‘steps’ and set them to music and in relation to one another. At this point I’m usually feeling pretty good about what has emerged. The dancers are beginning to take on the movement as their own, meanings begin to bubble to the surface, and all of that shower thinking starts to pay off. It seems that Borat might explain this one best. “King of the castle. I have a chair. Go do this. Go do this.”
4. The Cleaning/Editing/Panicking/Polishing Stage: In this stage all of those fuzzy feelings disappear, making way for some hefty self-doubt. You are too far along to go back; after all, the show must go on. The dancers have mastered the tasks you have given them and any short comings are wholly your own, as choreographer. You make small changes, add costumes, add set pieces. In this stage, I usually long for the simplicity of sweaty rehearsal clothes and dance studio settings. The theatrical elements (lights, stages, make-up) always surprise me, even after a decade of this. They always start out feeling false, artificial, creating an unnaturally distancing between me and my dance. They feel vain… There is usually more shower-thinking in this stage. For me, this is the scariest stage – and when successful, the most rewarding one.
5. The Performance Stage: Like Adele Dazeem tells us, this stage is about letting go. In this stage, the dance is no longer solely yours. Be selfless and let the dancers and the audience have their gift. Step back and hope that all your hard work has manifest something worth thinking about. And if it hasn’t, be grateful that you tried and then try again. To the best of your ability, be honest with yourself about what worked and what didn’t work. This stage is about watching, appreciating, and flowers. Bring your dancers flowers. But also this: you can point and laugh at a flower, but it will still bloom and grow and be beautiful.
6. The Recovery Stage: Nap. Read books. Go see other shows (dance and otherwise). Be a part of the community at large. Make coffee dates with interesting people. Goto yoga. More naps. And pretty soon, without much thought, your morning shower will again be fully of ideas.