So you want to be a choreographer? Part 2: Tips and Grant Opportunities

Sydney Dance Company New Breed 'Conform' choreographed by Kristina Chan. Photo by Peter Greig

A follow-up to Dance Informa’s Part 1 of “So you want to be a choreographer?” series, here we look at how to develop your craftsmanship, cultivate your uniqueness and build your networks. Read on for tips and resources to help you on your choreographic path. 

#1. Hone your craftsmanship.

While the process of creation and performance are inexorably intertwined, it’s important for emerging choreographers to understand the distinctiveness of the choreographic profession and the need to develop separate skills and hone the craft.

Rafael Bonachela, artistic director of Sydney Dance Company, stresses that the choreographic path is one that requires a commitment to the process of ongoing development.

“You can think about choreography as much as you want to,” he says, “but it’s important to be in a studio, or a space, with yourself and your own body, or with other dancers, to develop your ideas and learn the craft. It’s also then incredibly important to put your work on the stage, like we do with New Breed. Taking that step from being in the studio, making steps and playing with movement, to then actually placing the work in a space — that’s a huge learning process. That’s when you realise that choreography goes beyond steps. Choreography is more — choreography is the lights, the music, the theatricality of the whole experience.”

He continues, “Every moment that I had, every second that I wasn’t busy, I would just grab another dancer and go into a small studio, and I would make solos and duets. Eventually, bit by bit, I got small commissions, but always working and earning a living as a dancer. In 2001, my work came to the attention of Kylie Minogue and, out of the blue, I started choreographing her concerts and videos for about eight years. Then, in April 2003, I was made Associate Choreographer of Rambert Dance Company. I had that title for two or three years, during which time I made work for Rambert, whilst I was still performing.”

#2. Be resourceful and engaged in the industry.

Realise that while inspiration might be free dance, creation needs resources, and choreographers need to access funding, mentors and programs.

How does Bonachela find the aspiring choreographers who become part of New Breed? Why not follow their lead?

“A lot of people send me videos, or links, or generally keep me informed of their progress,” Bonachela explains. “I have folders full of their work to refer to at any time when I am looking for choreographers.” 

Bonachela is engaged with the wider dance industry, recognizing the importance of keeping abreast of any developments that occur in the local, national and international dance/contemporary dance world.

“I read things, I always check what Carriageworks is doing, what the Dance House in Melbourne is doing, and so on,” he adds. “It’s about being open and searching and actively engaged in what is going on.”

Knowing what is happening also provides the opportunity for new choreographers to become familiar faces when attending performances and using pre-, post-, and inter-, performance to follow up with networking.

#3. Network.

Like film and theatre, dance creation is fundamentally a collaborative art. This means being constantly able to work with others and realize that much of what is created is co-created. Many dancers already experience this when working in a performance.

Being able to find and network with those who can help you co-create is a fundamental skill for choreographers, as Bonachela explains.

“Networking is all about knowing what you want and identifying who is the best person to help you get there,” he says. “If you are interested in creating work for other companies, you get in touch with the directors. If you have your own company and your own work and you want to have it seen in festivals, you get in touch with the festival directors and programmers. I have never been scared of approaching people. It’s okay to not be liked. The work you do will not be for everybody, but you need to find who is connected with your work, and the only way to do that is to approach them.”

#4. Cultivate your uniqueness.

While it’s important to be inspired by other choreographers’ work and to try to develop creative standards, it’s just as important to develop a unique or distinctive style. This is a difficult process with collaborative arts; controlling the distinctiveness and originality of the work is a complex task.

For example, when Bonachela talks about a program such as New Breed, he’s not necessarily looking for young, budding creatives, but rather someone with an individual voice.

“Our decision is about a balance within the mix of choreographers, because New Breed is not just an opportunity for the choreographers themselves, but also for Sydney Dance Company to be doing work that is different to what we present in our main stage seasons, he explains. “Within each year’s New Breed program, you’ll have different choreographers at different stages of their development. They don’t all need to be fully developed choreographers. We are looking for choreographers who have demonstrated talent, capacity and craft, and who have an individual voice — something that’s new and different.”

#5. Be Determined.

While talent, creativity and ability are essential to the choreographer’s path, a large dose of determination and persistence seems to be just as important.

“I never waited for anyone to give me an opportunity,” Bonachela reflects. 

If you’re interested in following the path of a choreographer, or have already started down that path, you may find the following list of various national and international choreography programs, grants and residencies inspiring and useful. In addition, the Arts Council in each state is always a good place to start, and also ensure you’re a member of Ausdance so that you receive their regular newsletters.

Choreography Grants and Programs (National)

Critical Path – The Facilitated Program offers a range of professional development opportunities for dancemakers, including workshops, master classes, laboratories, exchanges, mentorships and forums. 

Deakin Motion Lab (Melbourne) – The Choreographic Coding Lab (CCL) format offers unique opportunities of exchange and collaboration for digital media “code savvy” artists who have an interest in translating aspects of choreography and dance into digital form and applying choreographic thinking to their own practice.

DirtyFeet Choreographic Lab Program (Sydney) – On an annual basis, DirtyFeet seeks applications from choreographers to participate in their Choreographic Lab Program. 

Keir Choreographic Award – This biennial Australian choreographic award is dedicated to commissioning new work and promoting innovation in contemporary dance. Commissioned artists receive a fee, a production budget and in-kind space proportionate to the scale of their project.

Victorian Dance Festival Emerging Choreographers Initiative – a grant designed to give choreographers a platform to share their work, develop their craft and perform at Victorian Dance Festival.

Lucy Guerin Inc Residencies (Melbourne) – Lucy Guerin Inc Studio Residencies offer choreographic residencies each year at its studio in West Melbourne.

Queensland University of Technology – In 2016, QUT Dance will offer a new Honours course. Entitled Indie 2016, the course is designed for emerging independent performers and choreographers. 

STRUT Dance (Perth) – Each year, STRUT presents a dynamic range of Master Workshops to support the choreographic and skills development of Australian dance artists.

Tanja Liedtke Foundation (International placement) – These special scholarships have been generously supported through the kind donation of one of the Foundation’s donors, Dr. Christiane Weickart.

Tasdance Residency for Independent Practice – Hosted by Tasdance at their premises in Launceston, TRIP is an artist-in-residence program intended for both project-based and research-based residencies. TRIP takes place usually between September and December annually. Three residencies will be offered with each up to three weeks in length.

Ausdance Peggy van Praagh Choreographic Fellowship – Applications for the biennial Ausdance Peggy van Praagh Choreographic Fellowship are invited every second year in June/July. The next fellowship will be awarded at the 2017 Australian Dance Awards.

Robert Helpmann Dance Scholarship – The Robert Helpmann Scholarship is offered biennially by the NSW Government to assist a professional dancer or choreographer to further develop his/her career by supporting a specific artistic program put forward by the applicant. 

Australian Council for the Arts

Choreography Grants and Programs (International)

World Dance Alliance South Pacific (Korea) – The International Choreolab is designed for four emerging and mid-career choreographers to work intensively for almost one week under the mentorship of one Korean established dance artist and one internationally known choreographers (to be announced), resulting in a public showing of works in progress. 

Statement of the Arts Foundation of NRW (Germany) – The Arts Foundation of NRW’s newly established cooperation with the Pina Bausch Foundation engages in artistic research in the areas of dance and choreography with an international programme. 

Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) (New York) – In 2016, Australia Council will be offering a residency at the EMPAC for emerging and experimental artists. The residency primarily supports the development of a project in a focused environment with feedback from the curatorial staff.

By Elizabeth Ashley of Dance Informa

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