Movement within art appears in many forms. Within Lorca’s provocative play Blood Wedding, this was no exception. In this post-mortem, I spoke via email with Compass Shakespeare Ensemble company member and movement choreographer Molly Seremet about her history with movement, working on movement in Lorca’s play, and utilizing it in her MLitt thesis production Quietus.
Q: How did you get started in the field of movement/choreography?
MS: On the most basic level, I’ve been dancing about as long as I’ve been walking. My parents enrolled me in dance classes at age three and I’ve just never really stopped. I especially loved ballet as a kid, though I never had formal aspirations to be a professional ballet dancer. Even as an adult, I am really drawn to the discipline of a ballet class, with its distinct segments of barre work and floor work, the emphasis on the needs of the group, and the blending of French and English language. When I went away to college in 2000, I moved away from ballet and began to study modern dance under the inimitable Jan Hyatt who opened my eyes to experiencing movement and not just choreography. Like so much of my background, my interests and experiences in dance and movement are eclectic: I’ve trained in modern dance and Laban technique, I taught ballroom dance for years, and I’ve been a professional burlesque dancer for nearly 10 years. In one or another, all the performance work I make winds up being about the body in motion, even if that’s not the place where the work begins.
Q: When approaching actors experienced in movement vs. novice actors, how does your approach to teaching movement evolve?
MS: For me, I think that sharing a vocabulary with the people you work on a performance with is really helpful in germinating the work in its earliest stages. This is especially important as I am most drawn to collaborative projects with people who come from really different backgrounds than my own, which means that when we come together to make work, I find it useful to decide together what “language” we’ll try to speak to each other in rehearsal. In my case, that means that I tend to start a rehearsal process with the development of a bank of physical material, that we can both draw on throughout the rehearsal process and that we can come together to make right at the outset of rehearsals to start blending our voices together. This often takes the shape of a gesture score drawn from the world of Viewpoints or a more freeform movement improvisation with a set time limit and some productive parameters we use to train together every time we meet.
In preparing for Blood Wedding, Doreen had the brilliant notion that we should develop a physical warm-up to use from the first rehearsal on that would introduce our cast to the particular flavor of movement we were interested in exploring in the production. This was so smart because it resulted in a warm-up that not only prepared actors for the daily rigor of rehearsal but also helped them develop their larger movement sensibilities within the world we wanted to create. To make the warm-up, we combined a section of basic dance elements (plies, tendus, parallel and rotated foot positions etc.) with a section of tango and flamenco-inflected movements. We taught this warm-up at our very first rehearsal and continued to repeat it nearly nightly for the entirety of the six week rehearsal process. To me, this repetition is key, because it allows the actors time to learn the movements at their own speed and then take ownership of them in their own unique way. I find that this more gradual approach to dance instills confidence in even the most timid of dancers and helps create choreography that has the muscles to tell a story and not just be aesthetically pleasing.
Q: Having worked with you in your Q1 Hamlet Directing scene, I understand the intricacies, as well as the surprises, that play into movement-based work.What were some of the stark differences going into working on “Blood Wedding”, as opposed to the devised work in your thesis production “Quietus”?
MS: In Blood Wedding, Doreen and I knew that the play’s Spanish setting loomed large in our collective imagination for the world of the play. For me, that meant that when I started to think through the movements, I went to Spanish sources for inspiration right from the outset. I took music by Piazzolla and La Tremendita into the rehearsal room, for example, and started playing with loose adaptations of the rhythms of flamenco dancers like Rocio Molina. My notion was not to recreate Argentine tango figures or flamenco patterns with our cast, but rather to allow the essence of those styles of movement to inflect the movement work we made from the ground up. That meant that the choreography for Blood Wedding had a certain geography for me that I could continue to ‘check’ myself against as we added pieces and layers to the work.
In my work on my devised piece Quietus, we started from a different source. We began with the First Quarto of Hamlet and a (almost) random assortment of objects: lemons, rope, a glove, and a feather. When thinking through how we could move together, we needed to be cognizant of taking the objects with us and even finding ways to let the objects lead the movement. That meant that as we played with the objects, we started to develop “rules” around what the objects could and could not do that would form the spine of our physical work. If, for example, Corambis dropped a lemon, his children would need to stop their action and comfort him physically before the lemon could be picked up and movement could resume. While Blood Wedding seemed to want a geographical starting point then, Quietus grew out of a set of organic and interconnected rules about how objects dictate human movement. In retrospect, these are two sides of the same coin and speak to my desire to motivate movement, to make the physicality of a performance grow out of a need to communicate and to tell a story together.
You can see Molly Seremet as Titania/Hippolyta in Compass Shakespeare Ensemble’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, performing at the Blackfriars Playhouse on Sunday, February 26 and Monday, February 27 at 8 PM.