Jonathan Guise has been dancing professionally for 18 years. He graduated from the dance department of The Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, Florida, and has danced with The Boston Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Eugene Ballet, and others. Jonathan has worked with choreographers including Twyla Tharp, Nacho Duato, Daniel Ezralow, and Mia Michaels. He has worked as Artistic Director of The Peak Ballet Theatre and Northridge Dance Conservatory in Colorado Springs, where created four full length original ballets and over 35 dances. Two of his ballets were recognized by the Pikes Peak Arts Council. Jonathan taught at Jacksonville University, Harvard Dance Department, Northwestern University, and many other dance institutions across the world.
I have created a great many original works in my career as a dance choreographer. Some pieces have been less than a minute while others have been evening length. There are quite a few directions one can take when creating and everyone initiates this process differently. I tend to find a storyline to follow, find music that is suitable, set up my character list, create a cast list with the available talent, costume design, choreograph an outline of stage formation, design the sets around my formations, create a lighting experience, and add an audience to the mix.
It sounds confusing but I will explain in greater detail.
I settle on a story and try to find three different versions of the story to research. In this case I am reading the original novel Peter Pan by J M Barrie. I have also watched a mini-series created for English television called Neverland. The show created a more realistic aspect of Peter Pan and how he could physically and scientifically be real. Then of course I watched the Disney version. As I am finishing reading the original novel I am finding that Disney changed a lot in the story line. I am taking this into account, and just so everyone knows, this version will be nothing like the Disney version.
I started looking at music from a story standpoint and looked for all stage versions of the show. Most of what I found was electronic on a keyboard if you will. I do not like the sound of that so I have since moved on from that. I looked very intently at Houston Ballet's version of Peter Pan and choreographer Trey McIntyre's vision. I liked it very much, but not my style. I will be using a few songs by composer Edward Elgar but not entirely as Trey did. I was tossing around in my head something Piratey and kept getting stuck with Pirates of the Caribbean in my head. I can't use that but it did remind me of a ballet I wrote a very long time ago called The Stowaways. I am using music that I pulled together for that ballet. It is made up of a few video game soundtracks, Celtic, Irish, and classical folk songs.
This can be a difficult task because you have to look at the amount of dancers you have and the amount of cast you need and meet somewhere in the middle. As in our specific situation I am creating some roles that aren't in the original story per say but I know that they can fit and support the story. Type casting is a big deal in casting a story such as this because I can't cast someone to be a fairy if they are tall and lengthy. This can cause issues but I know I will cast properly because I will make the role level based on that specific dancer through my choreography. This makes the dance unique to that dancer and involves more personal attention to detail, which creates a better experience for the dancer.
Sometimes casting can be a result of costuming as well. When costuming I usually come up with a color palette, a style, and pictures I find through research. I am fortunate enough to have a great costume designer so she will know what to do once I pass on the information to her.
I begin choreography by staging formations. I decide where lines will go and when to utilize a diagonal or a circle. Also I decide how many dancers will be on stage and when. This sort of creates a dotted line of choreography that I spend rehearsal connecting. I always end my rehearsal with the dancers by choreographing something that is just simply awful. I do this to remind myself where I'm at so when we meet for rehearsal again I can see where I ended the previous rehearsal. I try and get the work completely choreographed no later than a half month ahead of performance. I do this so that the choreography does not stale or become robotic to the dancers. I enjoy seeing that the dancers still have to think about what they are doing on stage when they are performing.
Designing a set is a blend of color, lines, space, budget, and multiplicity of production use. I always try to build a two-sided set that is small enough for a stage and large enough for a story. For Neverland I will try and have a Pirate Ship Quarter Deck to Aft on one side and when you flip the set it will hopefully be the Lost Boys hideout. As for the rest of the set, I think we can get away with lights and fabric and we should be set.
This will be the final step from a production standpoint. This will be done in the theatre with a lighting designer and will be created around the look of the costumes, the feel of the choreography, and the lines of the set.