Outlet Dance Company has one main performance at the end of each season which is made up of pieces choreographed by the directors as well as company members. At the start of the year, company members are encouraged to submit choreography for a chance to be selected. Each piece is then reviewed by the Outlet Board members to decide on what pieces will make up the concert that season.
So, how are the pieces selected?
Every choreographer, including the directors, submit a choreography form which includes information about the piece: The music, the meaning behind the piece, how many dancers, what the costume & lighting concept is, and a short video clip that best represents the movement style of the piece.
Due to our limited rehearsal schedule, we have a maximum number of pieces we can accept to be able to give a fair amount of rehearsal time. We have to weigh in how many dancers are in the company vs how many opportunities there are for casting. For example, while we love having options for a solo, duet or trio - we can't have an entire show of small numbers and be able to give all of our dancers enough casting in the show. The same goes for music choices or the style of the piece. Because our company is made up of dancers of all different backgrounds, we also need a show that is made up of different styles to allow all of our dancers to shine.
Not only do we want to provide a well-rounded show for our dancers, but for our audience members as well. Sitting through a performance that seems to only hit one note from beginning to end (no matter how beautiful the note) can be hard to do. Once the board members have selected the pieces for the show, the next task is to figure out the order of the show.
What's so important about the show order?
Putting together the order of the show is the trickiest part of planning the concert. We need to select the right opening and closing numbers for each act that help set the right tone. We also don't want to have long breaks between each number, so we look at the costumes and props required for each piece: Do the dancers need time to prep or change? Do we need time to clear the stage afterwards? We also look at the style and how many dancers are in back-to-back pieces which effects casting & rehearsals. If we put two larger pieces back-to-back, there would most likely be dancers in both who would need time to change (and breathe) in between.
Once we think we have a good order set it place, the board members will listen through each of the songs in the correct order to make sure it feels right when it's all put together. Is there enough of an up-and-down throughout the show? Are there too many pieces in a row that are 'darker' more emotional numbers, or too many high energy upbeat numbers in a row? Do the choices for opening and closing numbers for each act still seem right? If all the board members agree... then the show is set!
How do you cast dancers for the performance?
Now that we have the pieces set for the show, it's time for casting auditions. Each choreographer is given time to set a short phrase on the company that best represents the movement in their piece. The company members then perform the phrase in small groups for the choreographer who puts together a "wish list" of dancers to turn in to the directors. After all of the casting auditions are done, the directors and senior board member bunker down to set the casting for the performance.
All our company members are given a 'casting minimum' for the show to help ensure more equal and fair performance opportunities. A grid system is created with the names of all our dancers and the pieces in the show. The pieces are grouped into pairs of which pieces will rehearse at the same time (so we don't cast anyone in 2 pieces in the same time-slot). We then go through each choreographer's wish list and mark down their selections to help guide us in our final decisions. We need to not only make sure that each choreographer ends up with the right number of dancers in their piece but that each dancer is cast in (at least) their minimum amount of pieces. Each piece is also assigned 1-2 understudies.
When we think we've got everything set as far as numbers, we then go through each and every member's casting individually to make sure it is well rounded. Is that dancer cast in all the same types of pieces? Are they only cast in large pieces? If they're a returning member are they working with different choreographers? Do we feel like they will be challenged enough? The entire process takes hours to work through and we continue to make changes until all of the board members have a unanimous vote. Then it's finally time to post up the cast list and get started with rehearsals for the show!