How can I start developing a chance dance?

by Jasmine


I am a sixth-form student currently studying A-Level dance. I have taken up an Extended Project where my chosen subject is 20th century influences on modern dance. My final outcome is going to be a performance based on the work of Merce Cunningham and chance procedures.

I aim to develop a dance piece purely through chance and I was wondering if you had any pointers or tips? Perhaps even chance methods ideas?

I would be extremely grateful for any ideas that you could offer!

Thank you


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Jan 16, 2013
Maria's reply
by: Maria

Dear Jasmine,

I teach a dance composition course in which I propose young choreographers to create dances using Cunningham's random method. We do this alongside with Rudolph Laban's conceptual tools like the kinesphere, his division of scenic space, his notions about the human body and other notions concerning his theoretical system (see our page about dance composition to learn more about this).

For example, we start creating a short choreographic fragment that is based on the 27 directions one can reach within the kinesphere. Each student has to compose the fragment by creating 27 moves that go each one into one of the directions (repeating directions is not allowed) and those directions are chosen randomly. We call this fragment our 'Part A'.

Then, we create a series of different paths in scenic space (straight path, circular path, irregular path, etc...). Again, repeating type of path is not allowed and we proceed to insert them randomly within our 'Part A'. The 'Part A' with the new paths included is now our 'Part B'.

After that, we start working over the time factor, for which we choose whether our 'Part A' or 'Part B' (randomly again) and do rhythmical changes or length variations of its moves. That creates our 'Part C'.

Another guideline concerns Laban's vocabulary to name the body. We choose 'joints', for example. The task is to create a choreographic fragment in which joints are guiding movement. Repeating joints is not allowed so it's not very long and the order in which joints go is chosen by chance. This creates our part 'D'. (You can use this guideline using limbs, instead of joints, for example, or bodily surfaces, or no matter which category of bodily parts).

Through that type of guidelines, we create a series of short 'Parts' that will make up the whole piece later on. You can even combine or mix the guidelines to create new ones. That is endless. Just keep the condition of making all decisions randomly.

Once we feel we've created enough single parts (depending on the amount of different choreographic material we want), we put them together randomly, in whichever order it falls. We may also repeat some of those 'Parts' or eliminate one of them, depending on the final length we are looking for. But the clue is that we really let chance decide everything for us and we ACCEPT THE CHOREOGRAPHY AS IT IS. This is very important because if you start changing what chance decided for you, you're going out of the chance method. You'll see that composing dance using Cunningham's random method may produce some weird things... ;-), but if that's your task now, go on and see. Sometimes you get very nice surprises too.

For the use of chance, you can throw dices or coins, hide little papers with words in a bag, ask someone to choose a number (raffle- like), etc. That's actually the easiest part.

Good LUCK with your piece!


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