There is a quote that I once saw, on Facebook of all places, that resonated with me deeply, and that now comes to mind as I begin to write about my experience choreographing this semester. Kurt Vonnegut once said, “Go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable.” This last line struck me the instant I read it, sending a shiver up my spine. Kurt Vonnegut read my mind. I have been asked time and time again in professional interviews, “You are a hospitality student, so why do you clearly spend so much time dancing?” I usually talk about how dance is good for your mind as well as your body, it has taught me to accept criticism well, and other such impressive and interview-friendly answers. But Kurt Vonnegut knows why I really spend so much time dancing, and especially why I spend so much time choreographing.
Last semester I choreographed a piece entitled “(scream)” in an effort to deal with my various frustrations in my life at the time. I believe anyone going through a major life change (for me it was the penultimate semester of college) could relate to that feeling of powerlessness, accompanied by intense anger. In the four semesters I have choreographed for Dance Theatre Group, I have never created a piece that does not apply to my life in its current state. This semester is no different. “The Seven Stages” is deeply personal to me and the feelings I have been trying to deal with for the past year. It does not only represent these feelings and experiences, but creating it helped me to deal with those feelings and experiences. And that is the most insight into this piece that I will give you.
I personally do not believe in telling the audience the meaning of a piece, simply because I do not feel the audience benefits from this. Viewing dance, just like creating dance, is a very personal experience. The beauty of watching a brilliant piece of choreography is that you feel something very personal to you. You may not know exactly what you are feeling or why, and you may not know if you “should” be feeling whatever it is that you are, but the best part is that it doesn’t matter, because there is no way to be wrong. If I have choreographed successfully, then “The Seven Stages” will make you feel something. I don’t know what that feeling will be. Most people need to make a story out of what they feel. I understand this completely, as I do it myself almost every time I view dance. Most people also need to validate their story; they want to be told whether or not they were right. If you are one of these people, then I would like you to know that I am completely sincere when I say whatever story you develop is right. If you do not develop a story, but just feel an emotion, that is also right. And if you do not feel anything, then you still are right. In this last situation, the only person that is wrong is me, because I haven’t done my job. I never want any audience member to walk out of this show feeling frustrated or stupid. This concert is not a test of your intellectual ability, but rather a way for us to share our talents and ideas with you.
Kurt Vonnegut finishes the quote with the following, “Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” Choreographing this piece has made my soul grow, and I did it as well as I possibly could. I hope that it makes you feel something, and I don’t care what that something is. I have created something. I am excited to share it with you, and I am flattered that you will have dedicated six minutes of your life to viewing it.