MAXINE HEPPNER : NOTES ON CHOREOGRAPHY

6 core principles

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These days I group my approach into 6 core principles: Place, Action, Perception, Duration, Syntax, Realization.

 

1. PRINCIPLES of PLACE

I refer to every performance work as being it’s own specific “world” or “environment”.
 

We begin with 4 aspects of Environment

  • the world of the piece,

  • the world shared by the performers,

  • the world inside each performer,

  • the world shared by the piece and the audience

No matter what ideas we have in our minds (creator & interpreter), at the beginning we begin with an unidentified world, the unaltered actual place. (Be it an empty stage or a non-theatrical site.)

 

Every action, object, sound, etc. made visible in this environment adds to the identification of the world we are creating for our audience. Once you have put something in the space (or altered it) even if it’s removed it remains in our perception/memory. Nothing can be erased.

As soon as we begin to alter and identify the world, we are creating the basic laws of operation that determine the internal logic of the piece. I call this the “syntax” of the piece.

 

2. PRINCIPLES of ACTION

Within each of these “worlds” are:

  • ENERGY (includes tension, density, tone)

  • FORM  (includes edges, shapes, planes, space)

  • TIME    (includes duration, pulse)

  • FORCE  (includes pressure)

  • ACTION  (includes sensation of the performer)

I call these PRINCIPLES of ACTION
Some aspects of movement such as direction, speed, texture are outcomes of the Principles in Action.

 

3. PRINCIPLES of PERCEPTION

In dance as a (watch-it)(show)(live) art,
the major sense that is operating is vision,
the second is (visceral)(kinesthetic) (e.g. “I was right on stage with them”, “it took me to another place”, “it moved me”, “enervating”, “energizing”, “I could taste it”.) Some of these things are actually visible. 

the other senses feed these first two.

  • Principles of Action exist in different perceivable ways:

  • visible / invisible (we perceive the invisible through our other senses and intellect)

  • internal / external

  • circular / linear

 

In every World the principles exist in relationship to each other. We must understand these internal relationships to become intimate with that world’s deep syntax, i.e. it’s internal structures and how those structures convey meaning. The relationships and syntax are different one world from the other (one dance from the other).

I talk about Action  (not movement) and Sensation (not feeling, nor emotion).

 

4. PRINCIPLES of DURATION

Energy creates impulse: Impulse creates action: action has a form; the natural duration of the action is how long it takes to complete the action. Every action has a natural duration from the moment of impulse to completion.

 

Primary Moment: everything in the piece moves towards, supports the primary moment. The primary moment can be 1 second, 2 seconds, 10 minutes, 64 hours…

 

A show itself is always in linear real time. There is a beginning (when the audience begins to watch it) and an end (when the audience stops watching it). The Audience only sees things in a linear fashion- beginning to end).

 

However, the Unfolding of Information can be Linear or Non-linear.

  • Linear – the way it happens in real life

  • Non-linear – impossible to happen in real life

 

5. PRINCIPLES of SYNTAX

YOUR WORLD (the dance you have made) has CONVENTIONS
They are not necessarily cross-cultural, i.e. not understood or even perceived by all people in your audience. If you want the majority of your audience to be able to enter your world, you have to know who the audience is and know what conventions they bring with them into the theatre.

It is possible to create conventions singular to just one piece but one must always ask “why” as this is a very delicate task demanding great care, time and discipline (even when the piece is anarchic).  For a work to be entirely unique and approachable it must unfold in ways that introduce and in essence teach the unique conventions to the audience.

 

6. PRINCIPLES of REALIZATION

Avoid emotion at all costs. ONLY SENSATION. Leave emotion to the audience.

Emotion-Feelings are what is read by the audience not emitted by the performer nor by the material itself.

 

Find how to physicalize the ideas. Our Material is Action. Action is created by manipulating our bones, breath, muscles, skin, energy in space and in relation to each other and the environment.
The performer’s Sensation of Action conveys the Content.

 

Clarity of content depends on how well we use our material in relation to our audience.
If the concept has an “emotional” base (e.g. anger) note: “Emotions” are the names we give to complex physical sensations. Movement/dance is the combinations of the sensations themselves.