Spotlight on Choreography: Troika

In our journey through my collection of choreographic exploits, we flash forward another year to another summer intensive. Little Holly is now 15 and wants to go ‘abroad’ for the summer, rather than staying at my home ballet school. I really wanted a program that seemed to focus on choreography, and so I ended up here, in Utah.

Little did I know director Raymond Van Mason liked very abstract pieces, and so had this brilliant plan to make us create a dance by picking adjectives out of a bag. The words described the type of music, the decade, and an emotion, as well as the number of dancers. For example: “American Top 40” from “the 1970s” and “joyful”, with “four” dancers.

I was mortified. Not only did I instantly rebel against the thought of having someone else dictate the constraints of my piece, but I had a very limited selection of CDs I had brought from home. If I didn’t get an adjective that described a song I already had, I was sure I was doomed. (Yes, I know, YouTube/iTunes/etc–but this was 2007 and you don’t want to know how slow our hotel internet was.)

So, I did what any self-respecting artist would do–and cheated. I figured out in the moment how to swing it so that I got “Russian” from “1990s” and “happy” with “three” dancers, and selected this gem from my collection:

Yep, Mannheim Steamroller again, in “Troika from Lieutenant Kizheh”. I was drawn to the contrast of the bombastic orchestral opening with the clicky, kinetic string melody, as well as the whole idea of the album, which was a collaboration between the band and a Russian orchestra a la ballet as a whole. Obviously that kind of production was much more of a novelty in 1994, so soon post-Soviet Union.

I envisioned a sort of parody, with two classical dancers and one folk dancer in character shoes, with snootiness and hijinks. The two dancers I worked with were more than willing to listen to me, and we completed about half the music in the three weeks we had to work on it.

Now the punchline to all this comes two days before our end-of-summer show. Mr. Van Mason took his love of abstract-ness a step further and smooshed people’s dances together, sticking one person’s choreography to another person’s music. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how we ended up performing in the gorgeous Egyptian Theater with a fourth person doing Zeus-knows-what upstage of my dancers. Overall the dance itself was not an artistic success, but I genuinely enjoyed working with the artists in Utah. The summer intensive as a whole was wonderful for the friendships and the teachers I studied under.

Next up: the Game Changer.

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