I prefer to produce shows that are linear and follow a thread rather than simply a collection of dances with no relationships. I have also always been fascinated with dance theatre and incorporating elements of theatre to tell stories through dance. As the artistic director of Saba, when I choreograph our large YAC shows, I am most satisfied when I have been able to include small tableaux consisting of several dances woven together. However, this feeling of “story” can also be done very simply by using a vehicle to bring a soloist on stage with an interesting entrance that catches the imagination.
What do I mean by “vehicle”? No, I don’t mean a Ford Taurus! A vehicle is an something that is incorporated into the dance and used as a transition between pieces. It can be something very simple or more complex, depending on the effect you are looking for. For example, in Eshta, Samiya did a solo to a really cute and playful Greek song that I thought would fit like a little puzzle piece with a basket dance the troupe was dong. To create this relationship, I decided to use a “vehicle” to get her onto the stage. I simply had two other dancers enter with her during the opening strains of her music – three friends coming home from the market with baskets over their arms. They kissed and waved goodbye at center stage and left Alison in her dance.
A more complicated vehicle for introducing a soloist onto the stage was to use the scrim. In Eshta, Andrameda danced a beautiful contemporary/bellydance fusion number that opened with floor veilwork. In this case, I put Andrameda behind the scrim and lit her from behind for the opening veilwork on the floor. She then worked with the stage crew to time the rising of the scrim just as the veil swept underneath it, resulting in what looked like a flash of light thrown out by the veil. Beautiful!
In Under a Cairo Moon, Zahara danced a fiery number with Isis wings. Now, the first time I saw her experiment with this number was at works-in-progress hafla and she really blew me away with it – it was obvious that she had been working very hard learning how to manipulate the wings in intricate and beautiful patterns. It was magical and I immediately asked her to flesh the piece out and perform it in our next YAC show, Under a Cairo Moon. I wanted to carry the magical feeling right from the very moment the audience laid eyes on her, which meant she needed to appear as is by magic. Instead of using lights, I wanted to do something a bit different because I wanted to be able to use this number off the stage where we wouldn’t have the luxury of special effect lighting. So, I had 8 dancers running criss-cross across the stage, trailing long lengths of rainbow silk during the opening strains of her solo music. This effectively masked her enterance– so that when they finally cleared the stage, Zahara was left spinning in the center – voila! – as though by magic, but quite simple in reality.
As artistic director, I am choreographing the show as a whole, and so I place the soloists into the show according to how their music/style of dance/costume, etc will fit into the vision I am working with. For the soloist, this sometimes means putting ego aside and working within a framework that I have given her, not one of her own choosing. This means that sometimes she may be told how to enter, what colour costume to wear, or how to manage her entrance. It may mean that I have gone so far as to request a dancer to perform a particular song or genre. That is my job as artistic director -and that is also what it means to dance in a troupe! The artistic director/choreographer ensures that everyone is on the same page and the show is cohesive. Using vehicles can be an excellent way of doing this.
Vehicles can be used to transition larger bodies of work as well. For example, our very first show ever, Arabian Nights, Northern Lights opened and closed with First Nations story, song & dance. We used the character of Raven to ground the Yukon audience, and then fly them to the Middle East to see how his people sang and danced under the hot Eastern sun. We ended the show by closing the circle, bringing Raven home again with FN song & dance, and our FN dancers in full regalia. (It was awesome! In fact, I plan to re-mount this on the YAC stage (someday) where we can make full use of scrims, lighting and sound and turn it into a truly awe-inspiring spectacle.) In this case, Raven and the story was the vehicle to transition from the opening to the body of the show and then back to the closing. This was more along the lines of dance theatre rather than using small vehicles to transition soloists.
My favourite use of vehicles was the tableau was at the end of the first act in Raqs Farrah, where the dancers all came onto the stage in ones and twos, carrying a carpet, pillows & stools to sit on in one corner of the stage. Short solos, duets & trios cam and went from the group, egged on and encouraged by their on-stage “audience”. We had live music (Saqra & the Mediterranean Raqs Band), and a sword dance to live mizmar where Wayne (mizmar) came out of the band onto the stage and “sang” me on with my sword. The dancers grabbed Saqra & Denise out of the band and they did solo & duet pieces. We ended with a rousing folkloric piece. It was wonderful fun and the audience loved it. In this case, the tableau itself was the vehicle.
A show can be held together by creative use of entrances and exits. Done well, they are entertaining and, most importantly, can help to keep a smooth and even flow.