2.1 Collaborators

Whether you find a presenter to buy your work or you choose to self-present, there are a multitude of tasks involved in the process of creating a dance piece for the stage. As a choreographer, you are likely to take on a lot of the workload, but you won’t want to do it all alone. Be prepared to give up some control and delegate. After artistic creation, the choreographer’s main role is to direct the entire process as a team leader.

Defining Yourself
For artists involved in their first productions, incorporating as a company is not recommended. It involves paper work and legal protocol, and there are few advantages. It is important, however, to determine and commit to a structure of operations for each particular production. Traditionally, a choreographer is an inspired individual with a strong vision of many, if not all, aspects of the creation. She may be very directive in her relationships with her collaborators, or she may be open to creative input from others.

A collective is an alternative, anti-hierarchical structure. Most collectives form because the artists discover they share an artistic vision and work well together. The choreographers might equally share creation and interpretation of the movement, or they may take turns choreographing and dancing. Mandala Sitù, a collective created by former LADMMI students, commissions works from more established choreographers, dance and share the administrative duties. Other collectives form mainly to share resources, sharing rehearsal space and occasionally presenting work together.

Whichever structure you choose, it is important to understand and own it. Define and honour the rights and responsibilities that titles give you and your team members. Figuring out how you work is an important first step towards organizing yourself.

Roles and Responsibilities
There is no set model for the roles and responsibilities involved in the creation and presentation of a dance piece. Although they can differ with every production, they must be clearly defined each time. The lists below include many possible situations. Obviously, in smaller productions, various players take on several different roles. You and your team have to work out how to divide the tasks. Know which person is wearing which hat, and when.

There are several major aspects to each dance production with various roles falling under each of these. The most important role is the production manager, who oversees and coordinates the entire production. The production manager works in liaison with the choreographer and the technical director organising production meetings, creating the production schedule, negotiating contracts, tending to all aspects of the venue, and managing a project budget and possibly even the bookkeeping.

i. Artistic
• The choreographer is the production’s artistic director; he creates the choreography and chooses collaborators.
• The dancer learns, creates, interprets and performs the work.
• Designers design the set, lighting, props, costumes, sound and video. They conceptualize,
create and communicate the environment of the piece, and direct assistants such as carpenters, costume makers and musicians.
• The rehearsal director regularly attends rehearsals and helps the dancers clarify and perfect their movement; the outside eye givesfeedback on the piece.
• The dramaturge supports the creative process through assisting research and development, possibly helping the audience to interpret and contextualize the work, as well as documenting and archiving it.

ii. Technical
• The technical director oversees all technical aspects of the production. Generally, a theatre has its own technical director, and your production team may or may not need another one.
• The technical crew is in charge of hanging and focusing the lights and speakers.
• The lighting and sound operators operate their respective control boards, cueing lights and sounds during the performance.
• The stage manager works backstage during the show doing everything from ‘calling’ the show to helping with costume changes, set transitions, and general technical assistance.

iii. Promotional
• The photographer takes photos.
• The press agent or publicist is responsible for media relations: soliciting previews and reviews of the show.
• The graphic designer creates the poster, flyer and program, and sometimes the press kit.
• The poster crew must be coordinated to do the distribution of posters and flyers.
• The videographer films the piece.

iv. Administrative
• In a dance company context, the general manager oversees all company operations, writes grants, deals with paperwork and plans, together with the artistic director (usually the choreographer), a strategy for the company’s long-term goals.
• The administrative assistant assists the general manager.
• The accountant or bookkeeper keeps track of expenses and revenues.
• The development agent seeks presenting opportunities for the work.

Finding Your People
It is best to start making contacts while you are still in a pre-professional environment, where keen young experimenters are looking for experience. Look for dancers by taking dance classes or holding an audition. It might be a bit harder to find designers if you don’t have personal contacts but you discover who’s out there by attending dance, experimental music and alternative gallery shows. This will also help you develop an idea of your own aesthetic, and eventually, a vocabulary with which to approach and consult potential designers.

Put up signs on music, theatre, design, film, and/or photography school or department bulletin boards, at dance studios and art galleries. Check the Québec Drama Federation talent bank. Hold auditions and interviews. Ask trusted friends and artist peers to suggest possible collaborators. Don’t just take anyone who shows an interest – you want collaborators who are stimulated by your concepts and who will fly with them without taking over.

Contracts
The production manager or the choreographer should write contracts for all the collaborators involved in the production: dancers, designers, publicist, technicians, etc. They allow you to clarify the responsibilities for each role and the approximate time needed to fulfill them. When dealing with money, it is best to have everything on the table to avoid unpleasant surprises or bad feelings later on. Creating your own contract is a valuable learning experience.

Be sure to include these bare minimums:
• the names and addresses of the two participants (one requesting the service, i.e.: the choreographer, and the other providing the service, i.e.: a dancer, designer, etc.).
• the service rendered;
• the name of the production and relevant dates (performance, rehearsal, set-up, etc.);
• the monetary transaction: how much, how and when;
• any additional terms or special clauses;
• the dated signatures of each party, in the city of…

Use an existing contract as a model. Many professional Québec dance artists have become members of Union des artistes, which provides them with a model contract (“contrat type” in French). For resources for preparing contracts, consult the CADA Ontario’s Professional Standards for Dance, CADA/BC’s Basic Dance Agreement and the CanDance Network’s Artist Negotiation Tools.

Management Strategies
Be as systematic and organized as possible when managing your production. Managing people is no easy task – it involves maintaining a balance between giving enough direction and giving up control. It is essential to respect the people you work with; be clear with your expectations and with each team member’s artistic freedom. Plan feedback sessions into your schedule or touch base with your team regularly right from the beginning to keep the process on track. Communication and planning are essential and time-consuming. Don’t underestimate the work involved. Leaning on your colleagues and friends in a crisis will work only a few times before their generosity runs out. Burning bridges and overspending aside, the most dire consequence of haphazard management is producing work that does not reflect your artistic talent.

… next chapter: 2.2 Timeline

Tips

  • Give yourself enough time to be organized.
  • Remember to delegate, especially in small productions where it’s easy to take on too much.
  • Try to anticipate what could go wrong, prepare alternate plans and problem-solving strategies.
  • Be realistic about time and money, adapt your methods and materials to your budget.

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