Behind the Scenes: The Art of Creating Dance



Hidden behind the Pyramid is a department full of innovative dancers, artists, and choreographers.

Throughout the CSULB department of dance, students are preparing for the annual Contemporary Dance Concert. This concert displays the works of undergraduate dance majors, including Katie Marshall and Molly Matutat.

Katie Marshall, 21, is a senior dance BFA student. Marshall has two pieces in the Contemporary Concert; including a tap piece titled “Tappin’ Out” which she co-choreographed with another dance major, Melissa Sennewald, and her own piece, “The Secret Pond.” “The Secret Pond” was inspired by the John Steinbeck novel East of Eden, and Marshall’s choreography portrays the battle between good and evil within people exemplified in the novel.

“[Once] the facade people put up is stripped away we are all just people,” Marshall explained.

The choreographic process for Marshall began as a duet that formed into a group of five dancers. The phrases of movement that were initially created for two dancers evolved into a completed piece of work including senior BFA dance major Molly Matutat.

Matutat has the experience of being both the performer and the choreographer. She, too, has a piece being presented in the Contemporary Concert titled, “Split Sync.”

“As a choreographer, I am not afraid to ask for what I want,” Mautat explained. “As a dancer, the choreographer is creating their work directly onto you, and it is up to you to manifest their ideas.”

For this reason, Mautat said it is much more nerve racking for her to be the performer. She said she understands the choreographer’s point of view, and how important it is for something to be done a certain way.

Marshall and Matutat agree that as a choreographer you have more control of the rehearsal process, the movement, and the dancers. Both seem to agree that as a student choreographer and performer, a lot less intimidation occurs when working with peers. This also means a level of understanding must be kept for the dancers to remain focused and take the choreographer seriously.

The dancer is also able to experience the frustration of the choreographer during the editing process. Matutat described the editing process as, “a painter trying to paint a certain color but the paint is not the color that they want.  As a dancer, you have to find a way to match the color that they want.”

Both Marshall and Matutat believe that as a dancer, the greatest challenges are the physical and performance aspects along with conveying the choreographer’s movement.

Different challenges arise during the creative, rehearsal, and performance process. As a choreographer, Matutat worried about creating enough material, explaining movement in a way that her dancers would understand and hitting what she called “the choreographer’s version of writers block.”

The overall creative process that goes into a dance piece differs from person to person. Matutat was inspired by music and life circumstances, while Marshall was inspired by concepts and characters from her favorite novel; but once the choreographic process is complete the creative process is not over.

For Matuat, dancing in a piece choreographed by one of her good friends was  “enlightening.” She said she felt honored that during the process she was able to grow closer with Marshall through portraying what the choreographer wanted to express.

Before performing on stage both student choreographers plan to meet with lighting designer Andrew Milhan and costume designer Liz Carpenter. In this meeting, the choreographer explains what they want to portray onstage.

Then begins the process of communication between the choreographer and the designers, and once all agree the final product is presented, the art of dance for the audience to enjoy.