The process of choreography is surprisingly collaborative and improvisational, and Cirque du Soleil is the perfect example, as demonstrated by a recent interview with Circus Choreographer Debra Brown in the Wall Street Journal*:
When she’s creating a new act, Ms. Brown begins by leading the acrobats in improvisation sessions to see what they can do. Often, new tricks emerge. Routines can come together in as little as a week, or take as long as a month or two to finalize. Shows often evolve after they hit the stage. After a show debuts, the creative team reconvenes to edit numbers and adjust the tricks and choreography. “Improvisation is part of our blood,” Ms. Brown said.
My own research has demonstrated the important element of improvisation in every successful creative collaboration.
Uncertainty plays a big role in Ms. Brown’s creative process. Some of the most impressive stunts in a Cirque show come from unscripted moments in rehearsal.
In a forthcoming book that I edited, Structure and improvisation in creative teaching, my colleague Janice Fournier analyzes interviews she did with professional choreographers, and they all report a similarly collaborative and improvisational process. Dr. Fournier uses their example to draw conclusions about how teachers can teach more effectively, if they build collaborative improvisation into the classroom.
*Alexander Alter, “Cirque du Soleil’s Stunt Woman in Chief,” Wall Street Journal, March 12-13 2011, p. C11.