It Is / It isn't: Lessons In Creative Process

April 12, 2013


Wednesday I had my first rehearsal with dancers! And being in a rehearsal room with two talented, generous folks was pretty much the best. Getting down to work led to a million questions, many of which I don't yet have the answers to. The questions are good. The answers are the process.

When I work on a piece, I like to do my version of what Twyla Tharp recommends in The Creative Habit. When Twyla works on a dance she gets a shoebox out and puts everything in it that has anything to do with the dance: newspaper clippings, movies, music, thoughts. When I work on a piece I like to make lists of all of the ingredients I'm working with-- what I know about the dance. Maybe I write down that I think apples should be in the piece, or there's a specific movement I'm intrigued by, or a character choice, or a movement device like repetition or speed. More and more I like to create confines for working. I've been inspired to do this by Miranda July's Learning To Love You More process, and by Kate Bingaman Burt's daily prescriptive drawings. It's easiest to make things when you have some kind of parameter. Otherwise, there are just too many options. And when there are too many options, I think art can become really general and diluted. It's everything instead of something.

So I made two lists. For one list I made two columns. At the top of one column I wrote 'It IS' and at the top of the other I wrote 'It ISN'T'. I wrote down what characteristics I know the piece has/will have so I remember what I'm chewing on, and I wrote down what the piece isn't, so that I don't feel like the possibilities are endless. I want to stay specific. For the second list, I wrote all of the questions I still have about the piece/what I need to explore. The goal of the lists is to keep me focused and prevent me from overwhelm...to feel like I'm making progress.

And the It Is / It Isn't list can be helpful for so much more than just making a dance-- it's helpful for finding your edge in whatever you're doing: talking about what you make; figuring out what sets your business apart; finding the ideal audience to connect your work to. Sometimes it's easier to figure our who you are by first figuring out who you're not. The list helps you avoid being too general, which I think is a trap for businesses and artists alike.

There are two perspectives on this:
"Our dance performance has something for everyone!"-- a publicity statement I read.
"I'm not for everyone, but I am for someone."--Levi Weinhagen

I prefer the latter. Trying to provide something for everyone, or make art about everything is...ineffective. It means that you can't be just right for your SOMEONE-- or make your very specific SOMETHING. 

Rant aside, try the list: it's helpful.

[Photo from my Instagram feed. You can follow the dance-making process there.]

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