Emmi's Pen (2): Steps and time

Emmi’s Pen is a blog, appearing on our website every two weeks. Dancer Emmi Pennanen will take you behind the scenes into the daily joys and struggles of a dancer, each time zooming in on a specific aspect of life at Ballet Vlaanderen.

Steps and time

Two weeks have flown by in a tumbling whirl. Between breakfast and dinner, our days in the studios have been filled with so much information that our heads have felt full and empty at once. Occasionally an hour has carved itself out of the clock and stretched out over a much longer time than it logically should. We have been learning new steps for our upcoming productions and intensively focusing on Approximate Sonata 2016, a piece for four couples choreographed by William Forsythe. It will premiere at the end of October in our programme called West.


Let me tell you, learning new choreography is not easy. Especially when it does not consist of straight forward ballet steps. Well, for some people it is. I greatly admire those colleagues of mine who are able to pick up a complex sequence of movements after seeing them only once or maybe twice. Personally, and I do know that I am not the only one, I need quite a few times of repetition and a moment to process the material before I remember it. Until then I feel like a string puppet whose puppeteer cannot decide what he wants. The body pulls one way and the mind is trying to catch up with what is happening. Interesting enough most often I find myself already doing the steps the right way, before I even understand what they are.

Mind and body

So I wonder, what does it mean to remember choreography? Where does this memory rest? When I think of the steps, movements, or sequences I have learned, there is always a physical understanding of how this particular motion feels in the body, combined with the image of how it would look from the outside. So the memory is partly traceable through intellect but mostly, once the movements have settled between the body and mind, they almost become intuitive, like a reflex. Any sequence will seem extremely long at first and then shrink significantly as it becomes familiar.

Time flies

As soon as we have learned the steps our focus changes from what they are to how we want to execute them. Which parts should roll and be tied together, and which moments highlighted. In Approximate Sonata 2016 for instance the play with timing is a main factor that can make or break the piece. There are hardly any set cues in the music and so it really is up to the dancers to keep the movement going in an interesting way. Tony Rizzi, our repetitor for the piece, has been constantly telling us to reveal the true nature of time with our dancing. Show, that it does not flow at a steady pace, but fluctuates, slows down on its tracks, sometimes even stops for a while and then unexpectedly speeds up again. Time shrinks and expands in mysterious ways and we are attempting to make that visible. As we do so, we in turn fall victim to the succession of long and short minutes and hours. Mostly though, time does fly. And so will we.

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