This blog is about choreography from the perspective of contemporary dance, which is constantly evolving by finding new ways to communicate through the body, movement, and other media.


Compositional skills and thinking of a choreographer

I believe that dance can evoke feelings, thoughts, and bodily states in the viewer that other arts cannot. I also believe that the choreographer’s compositional skills play a key role in this unique process of communication between the audience and the dancers.

The dance performance can be seen as an atypical dialogue between the choreographer and the audience. Although it is continuous and reciprocal, it takes place as a monologue by the choreographer, to which the spectator responds by creatively constructing his or her own experience, which he or she appreciates at the end with applause (although in some formats even this feedback does not occur). The extent of the performance’s effect on the audience remains largely a mystery to the creators, and they can only find out the individual response when they meet the audience in person.

The way in which the viewer understands the ideas expressed in a choreographic work depends, on the one hand, on the extent to which the viewer is skilled at reading the ideas expressed in the dance, and, on the other hand, on the extent to which the choreographer is able to articulate his or her ideas clearly. It can be said that the more skilled the choreographer is in composing the dance, the more clearly he can communicate his ideas in the form of dance.

The development of compositional skills in dance is a fascinating topic for me, as it represents a creative connection between the body and the mind. Composing is a deliberate activity and as such uses thinking and works with certain principles of creation. In contemporary dance, a choreographer can use tried and tested techniques or create new ones. I see composing as a creative play with the aim of creating practices that work well for performers as well as audiences.

To compose dance is to design and shape movement – the basic medium (means of expression) of dance. The core of composition is the movement material, but composing dance is also a process of sorting, shaping, and organizing dance ideas (ideas). What do we mean by these two key concepts?


Movement material – the basis of choreography

Movement material is the basic “fabric” for composition. The movement material can consist of elements of the familiar vocabulary of different dance styles. If a choreographer wants to create his own, distinctive movement material, he uses the method of improvisation, which is the most widespread method of creation in contemporary dance.

The movement material created through improvisation is the “raw material” for choreography, much like clay is for ceramics. The form and quality of the movement material manifests its recognizable identity. The quality of the movement material is crucial in the creation of choreography in the same way that the quality of the clay for ceramics is crucial. Given enough time, the choreographer can create better quality material, which he or she elaborates in the later stages of the work using different compositional tools.


Material – wood with a unique identity

Dance is also unique among the other arts in that the dancer himself can be seen as part of the ‘material’. His identity (abilities, skills, personal qualities, temperament) determines the characteristics of the movement of which he is always, to a greater or lesser extent, a co-creator. It depends on the choreographer’s way of creating, whether he leads the dancers to create their own movement material or creates it himself.

If the movement material for the choreography is created through improvisation, its further compositional formation also depends on the extent to which the dancer is able to “listen” to it and feel its identity. Sensitivity in this process allows the dancer to colour the movement material with his or her individual qualities. This happens when the dancer fully immerses himself in the movement material and allows himself to be literally absorbed by it. There is then a remarkable balance between intellect (mind) and intuition (body) that far transcends the superficial manipulation of the form of the movement material.


Communication of ideas through the body

Is the dance idea a particular step, a body pose, a movement sequence? In some circumstances a step or pose can be a bodily expression of an idea, but usually the expression of an idea requires a more complex form.

Generally, we distinguish between abstract and concrete ideas. Dance, as a non-verbal art, can only express concrete ideas in a limited form. It cannot deal with facts at all. The mastery of choreography, in my opinion, lies in the ability to gauge the degree to which ideas can be abstracted so that they can be expressed by the body through its unique means of expression.

In 2002, I was intensely concerned with how the body can communicate its immanent thoughts. I based my choreography entirely on the shape, architectural, rhythmic, and dynamic qualities of movement and called my choreography Body Thoughts. You can see fragments HERE.

What is the relationship between the movement material and the idea? Movement material can emerge without a preconceived idea in the course of free improvisation. Then, most often, the dancer follows his or her currently perceived feeling, which leads him or her to an immediate reaction in the moment. It can also be the sheer joy of movement. The moment we recognize the identity of the movement material in improvisation and begin to shape it, we can create countless variations, as long as we don’t completely change the characteristics of the movement. At that point, new movement material begins to emerge.

In this formation of movement material, we open the door to a unique process: the reciprocal exchange of impulses between the body and the mind, when memory, imagination, sensory perception, and emotion are linked together. It is a truly fascinating process: the mind supports the body with its conceptual capacity, and the body allows this potential to be embodied – the idea then literally comes out of the body.


Intention and compositional tools

I will return to the example of making ceramics. Clay is the material and the potter’s wheel is the tool. The intention of what I want to create (vase, plate, bowl) guides my hands in shaping the clay. Or I can improvise and create an artifact, something that cannot be used as a vessel. Art is a play with creativity beyond functionality, aiming to communicate ideas in a way that is beyond everyday routine. When we connect movement material to our thoughts/feelings/images when we create, we are also triggering a process of finding ways to communicate them through movement material. I understand composing movement material as a process of bodily articulation, i.e., making an idea visible, not only verbally, but also visually, aurally, kinesthetically, etc..

What fascinates me most about dance is the fact that thought may or may not be the initial stimulus for the creation of movement material. It also doesn’t matter if I start creating material through improvisation or using existing movement/dance vocabularies. The result is, of course, significantly different. Choreography can thus emerge in two ways: from movement that evokes an idea, or from an idea that stimulates movement. The process of clarifying an idea happens through the compositional elaboration of movement material.

Idea: Tree – unique material and structure

How can a choreographer elaborate movement material? By shaping the four main elements of movement: body, space, time, and force in movement. By using the spatial shaping of the movement and working precisely with its timing (tempo, rhythm) and dynamics, the movement acquires specific characteristics in its form and expression that correspond to the choreographer’s intention (idea).

By the quality of the movement, we mean the specific character of the movement, which consists of recognizable characteristics of the movement. They are defined by the way the movement flows in space, the way it evolves in time, as well as the degree of control of muscular tension in the movement, or the specific characteristics of the shapes flowing in sequences, etc..


Development of dance composition

As a dance composition unfolds in time before the eyes of the audience, its evolving structure keeps their interest. This means that

  • the movement ideas do not stay the same (boring) and
  • the movement ideas do not constantly change (confusion).

In creating the compositional structure of a dance, the key is not only shaping the movement material, but also creating relationships between movement ideas, as well as clearly breaking down the parts into sequences, images, situations, etc.. A good composition structure is characterized by good rhythm and coherence. Coherence is created by continuity, but more on that next time.

This article lightly sketches an idea of how thinking works in dance, but it is a complex topic connected to many other aspects of how dance expresses itself and what it communicates. In the beginning of my choreographic work, there were many times when I felt frustrated when I knew exactly what idea I was working with, and even saw it in my choreography, but the audience didn’t see it. Today, I know that I was not able to develop my ideas enough and therefore they remained difficult for the audience to read. How abstract and concrete ideas coexist in dance is a question that never ceases to stimulate my interest in choreography.



This video is a visual demonstration of working with motion material. In the beginning I present the possibilities of how to develop material that is initiated by the lower limbs, then in the second part I present material that is initiated by the upper limbs in a specific way (the dancer based her idea on the idea of wipers). In both parts, the dancer focuses in turn on each of the four elements of movement: body, space, time and force. She first explored the possibilities to develop the shape qualities of the movement, where the kinesthetic perception of articulation in the joints of the limbs, and in the case of the lower limbs, the sensitive perception of weight work, play an important role. It further developed the possibilities of the spatial aspect of movement: the spatial relationships of the limbs, the paths they draw in space, the use of spatial levels, etc. For the temporal quality, she concentrated on acceleration, deceleration and stopping of the movement. Finally, she developed the dynamic qualities of movement of the lower and upper limbs. Although she gradually varied her focus in the manner described above, it was also a matter of layering the different possibilities on top of each other, so that by the last stage the movement material is complex and involves multiple levels of expressive qualities. This theme also allows one to notice the difference in the specific qualities of movement quality of the upper and lower limbs, which develops a sensitivity to the qualitative qualities of movement for both choreographers and performers.


Dear readers, if you want to share with me your thoughts and experiences on this topic, I will be very happy if you write to me. Thanks a lot.


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