What does a contemporary choreographer do?

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What is a Contemporary Choreographer?

A contemporary choreographer is an artist who creates original dance works that reflect current cultural, social, and artistic trends. Unlike choreographers in more traditional forms like ballet or folk dance, contemporary choreographers often borrow from classical, modern, jazz, and ballet, blending various movement styles, experimenting with unconventional concepts, and even incorporating multimedia elements into their performances. Their works can range from abstract explorations of movement and emotion to narrative-driven pieces that address pressing issues in society. Contemporary choreographers play a vital role in pushing the boundaries of dance and shaping its evolution as an art form.

What does a Contemporary Choreographer do?

A contemporary choreographer teaching students a dance.

Duties and Responsibilities
Here's a breakdown of the tasks and responsibilities typically associated with contemporary choreographers:

  • Conceptualization – generating ideas and concepts for new dance works, drawing inspiration from personal experiences, societal issues, artistic influences, or abstract concepts
  • Movement Exploration – experimenting with movement by exploring different physical gestures, dynamics, spatial arrangements, and improvisational techniques to express artistic vision
  • Choreographic Composition – crafting original choreography by structuring and arranging movement sequences, transitions, and patterns to develop cohesive dance pieces
  • Collaboration – working collaboratively with dancers, composers, designers, and other artists to integrate various elements such as music, costumes, lighting, and multimedia into choreographic compositions
  • Rehearsal Direction – leading rehearsals by providing guidance, feedback, and direction to dancers, ensuring the execution of choreography aligns with artistic intent and vision
  • Performance Preparation – preparing dancers for performances by refining movements, emphasizing artistic expression, and ensuring technical proficiency and consistency in execution
  • Artistic Vision – maintaining a clear artistic vision for each dance work, ensuring coherence and integrity throughout the choreographic process from conceptualization to performance
  • Adaptation – adapting choreography as needed based on feedback, artistic exploration, or logistical constraints while maintaining the integrity of the original vision
  • Presentation – presenting choreographic works in various settings, including theaters, festivals, site-specific locations, and digital platforms, to engage audiences and share artistic expression
  • Documentation – documenting choreographic processes, including notes, sketches, videos, or written descriptions, to archive and communicate artistic intentions and facilitate future rehearsals or performances
  • Teaching and Mentorship – sharing knowledge and expertise through teaching, workshops, masterclasses, or mentorship programs to inspire and develop the next generation of dancers and choreographers
  • Advocacy – advocating for the advancement of contemporary dance as an art form by participating in discussions, networking with fellow artists, and promoting awareness and appreciation of dance within the broader community

Types of Contemporary Choreographers
Now that we have a sense of the potential scope of the contemporary choreographer’s work, let’s look at some different types of contemporary choreographers, each with their own artistic approaches, styles, and areas of focus:

  • Conceptual Contemporary Choreographers are known for their emphasis on innovative ideas and conceptual exploration. They often create dance works that delve deeply into abstract concepts, philosophical themes, or social commentary, using movement as a means of expression and exploration.
  • Movement-based Contemporary Choreographers place a strong emphasis on movement itself, exploring new physical vocabularies, dynamics, and techniques. They may draw inspiration from various movement styles such as modern dance, ballet, hip-hop, or martial arts, and often prioritize the exploration of the body's potential for expression and communication through movement.
  • Narrative Contemporary Choreographers focus on storytelling through dance, creating works that follow a clear narrative arc or thematic storyline. They may draw inspiration from literature, mythology, history, or personal experiences, and use movement to convey characters, emotions, and plot developments.
  • Performance Contemporary Choreographers focus on creating works intended for presentation on stage or in formal performance settings. They may work with professional dance companies, theater productions, dance festivals, or independent performance projects.
  • Film and Video Contemporary Choreographers create dance sequences specifically for film, television, music videos, or digital media platforms. They collaborate closely with directors, cinematographers, and editors to translate choreographic ideas into compelling visual narratives.
  • Contemporary Choreography Educators specialize in dance education and focus on teaching and mentoring aspiring dancers, choreographers, and dance enthusiasts. They may work in academic institutions, dance studios, community centers, or outreach programs, developing curriculum, leading classes, and providing guidance to students at various levels of experience.
  • Contemporary Choreography Researchers focus on pushing the boundaries of dance as an art form through innovative approaches, interdisciplinary collaborations, and experimental processes. They may engage in artistic residencies, research fellowships, or creative laboratories to explore new ideas, methodologies, and technologies in contemporary dance creation.
  • Site-specific Contemporary Choreographers create works designed specifically for non-traditional performance spaces, such as parks, museums, urban landscapes, or historical buildings. They often draw inspiration from the unique characteristics of the chosen location, integrating its architecture, history, or environment into the choreographic concept.
  • Socially Engaged Contemporary Choreographers use dance as a tool for social change, creating works that address pressing societal issues such as inequality, injustice, or environmental sustainability. They may collaborate with schools, community groups, hospitals, correctional facilities, social service organizations, or non-profit associations to facilitate dance workshops, residencies, or outreach initiatives, amplifying marginalized voices and inspiring collective action through art.
  • Cross-culturally Engaged Contemporary Choreographers specialize in collaboration across geographical, cultural, and artistic boundaries to create works that bridge diverse perspectives, traditions, and practices. They may engage in international residencies, cultural exchange programs, or collaborative projects that foster dialogue and understanding between different communities and cultures.

It’s important to note that these categories are not mutually exclusive, and many contemporary choreographers may incorporate elements of multiple approaches in their work. Furthermore, individual choreographers may develop their own unique artistic identities that transcend conventional categories, reflecting their personal vision, experiences, and artistic sensibilities.

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What is the workplace of a Contemporary Choreographer like?

Contemporary choreographers work for a variety of organizations and entities within the arts and entertainment industry. These are among their most common employers:

  • Dance Companies – Professional dance companies, ranging from dance troupes to interdisciplinary performance ensembles, often employ choreographers to create original works for their repertoire. These companies may be based in a specific geographic region or operate on a national or international scale.
  • Theater Productions – Choreographers are frequently hired by theater productions, including musicals, plays, operas, and other staged performances, to choreograph dance sequences, movement, or physical theater elements.
  • Film and Television Production Companies – Choreographers are employed by film and television production companies to choreograph dance sequences for movies, television shows, music videos, commercials, and other visual media projects.
  • Arts Organizations and Festivals – Arts organizations, cultural institutions, and festivals often hire choreographers to create new works for special events, festivals, or interdisciplinary collaborations. They may commission choreographers to develop site-specific performances, outdoor spectacles, or immersive experiences that engage audiences in unique ways.
  • Educational Institutions – Colleges, universities, conservatories, and dance schools employ choreographers as faculty members, guest artists, or visiting choreographers to teach classes, lead workshops, mentor students, and choreograph works for student performances or productions.
  • Community Centers and Outreach Programs – Choreographers may be employed by community centers, recreational facilities, social service organizations, or outreach programs to facilitate dance classes, workshops, residencies, or outreach initiatives that promote wellness, creativity, and social connection within diverse communities.
  • Freelance and Self-Employment – Many contemporary choreographers work as freelance artists or independent contractors, creating original works for a wide range of clients and projects. They may collaborate with performing arts venues, event organizers, corporate clients, or private individuals to choreograph custom performances for special occasions, events, or productions.

Based on the nature of their work and focus, contemporary choreographers may find themselves transitioning between different settings. They may spend time in dance studios and rehearsal spaces; theaters and performance venues; film and television studios equipped with sound stages, green screens, and production facilities; as well as offices, shared coworking spaces, or classrooms. Contemporary choreographers involved in touring productions, international residencies, or site-specific projects may be required to work in multiple locations around the world, traveling to different cities, countries or cultural institutions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Contemporary Choreographer vs Experimental Choreographer

Contemporary choreographers and experimental choreographers are both significant figures in the world of dance, yet they approach their craft in distinct ways.

Contemporary choreographers typically work within established dance traditions and techniques, incorporating elements of classical ballet, modern dance, and other established forms into their work. They often prioritize technical proficiency, artistic expression, and storytelling, crafting performances that resonate with audiences through evocative movement, emotive themes, and relatable narratives. Contemporary choreographers may explore a wide range of topics and styles, from abstract and conceptual pieces to narrative-driven works that address social issues, personal experiences, or cultural themes.

Experimental choreographers, on the other hand, embrace innovation, risk-taking, and unconventional approaches to dance-making. They often challenge traditional notions of dance and performance, pushing the boundaries of movement, composition, and presentation. Experimental choreographers may incorporate elements of improvisation, interdisciplinary collaboration, multimedia, site-specific work, and audience participation into their creations, seeking to explore new possibilities for expression and engagement. Their work may be more abstract, enigmatic, or provocative, inviting viewers to question assumptions and expand their understanding of dance as an art form.

While contemporary choreographers may be more widely recognized and celebrated within mainstream dance communities, experimental choreographers play a vital role in pushing the art form forward, pushing the boundaries of what is possible and inspiring new generations of dancers and choreographers to explore bold and innovative approaches to movement and performance. Both contemporary and experimental choreographers contribute to the rich and diverse landscape of dance, offering audiences a wide range of experiences and perspectives on the power and potential of the human body in motion.

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Contemporary Choreographers are also known as:
Modern Dance Choreographer