The choreographic process

The choreographic process is highly individual and choreographers develop their practice through each piece they make.

They use a huge variety of approaches and may use one predominant method or combine several.
These can include arriving in the studio with movement material already created and ready to be taught to the dancers; starting from specific ideas or images; combining other performance art forms to shape a piece; or asking dancers to create their own movement based on specified tasks with the choreographer editing the material to produce the final piece. It can be argued that there are as many approaches to creating work as there are choreographers.

Richard Alston’s main starting point has always been music and his love of movement.  In her comprehensive biography of Richard Alston, Sarah Rubidge elaborates:

“Alston’s choreographic process is rooted in his respect for the dancer, as artist and as individual, in his love for music, and in his love of movement for its own sake. The three combine to produce work which is simultaneously rigorous and humane ... His analytic mind comes into play after the intuitive response to dancer and music has been made in the studio, and is responsible for the highly refined structures which characterise Alston’s work.”

Once Alston chooses a piece of music, he listens to it repeatedly until he knows the melodies and rhythms well; sometimes he will also refer to the score in rehearsals.  Throughout the creation process, Alston will return to the music, playing extracts as he assesses the choreography.

Despite his preparation with the music, Alston usually does not have any choreography clearly decided until he is in the studio with his dancers in front of him. This allows him to respond to their individuality, experiment with what they can do and how he can sculpt his work. He does not ask the dancers to create their own movement material but the process can often include discussion and mutual ‘problem’ fixing.   Alston has said in interviews that he enjoys the creative ‘mistakes’ that can arise in the studio, through which new ideas can often be found.

In the following short films, we can see Alston working on a potential new section for his work Gypsy Mixture (2004) with the whole company in 2010 over two rehearsals.

It is interesting to see how he and the dancers communicate, how he experiments with the timings and starting points for movement and how he begins to ‘clean’ the material assisted by the Rehearsal Director, Martin Lawrance. For further information about the rehearsal process, once a piece has been created, visit A Dancer's Day.

For a film from the V&A's exhibition on Diaghilev and The Ballet Russe, in which Alston discusses his relationship to music as he choreographs a phrase of movement, visit Starting with Music.