Expanding ideas

below are some approaches to expanding a base of material or strategies on directions to take when you get stuck. 

Motif and Development:

[from The Intimate Act of Choreography, by Blom & Chaplin]

Used in music and dance as a compositional device, motif and development is a way of taking a simple idea and expanding on it.  Taking an image, sound or movement- apply any of the below...

16 ways to Manipulate a motif

  1. Inversion
  2. Condense/Expand
  3. Tempo Change
  4. Repetition
  5. Retrograde
  6. Rhythm
  7. Quality
  8. Instrumentation- try different body parts   
  9. Force
  10. Background
  11. Staging
  12. Embellishment (ornamentation)
  13. Change the Planes
  14. Additive/Incorporative
  15. Fragmentation
  16. Combination (the above)

Forsythe Technologies:

[from William Forsythe]

William Forsythe’s Improvisation Technologies are great for artists outside the discipline of dance because they get people thinking about the architecture of their bodies as simple points lines and planes.  This work can became very complex to increase the challenge, but it can also get bodies moving very clearly.  Start with the first few from his system and then see how it goes- you can always add more.  Good ones to start with include: Point, Line, Parallel, Bridging, Collapsing Points, Dropping Points, Lower Body, Back Space and Room Orientation. 

"A choreographic object is not a substitute for the body, but rather an alternative site for the understanding of potential instigation and organization of action to reside. Ideally, choreographic ideas in this form would draw an attentive, diverse readership that would eventually understand and, hopefully, champion the innumerable manifestations, old and new, of choreographic thinking."

- Choreographic Objects, William Forsythe

Here are sections of William Forsythe’s “Improvisation Technologies” that I use in composition classes with dancers and actors.  There are many more- but these are the ones I find most accessible in a class with a range of disciplines.  You can find video samples of Forsythe demonstrating these principles on the web.   

Oblique Strategies:

[from Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt]

This is a great system for when you get stuck and need a fresh idea when developing material.  This is a deck of cards with suggestions like:

  1. Breathe more deeply
  2. Cut a vital connection
  3. Define an area as 'safe' and use it as an anchor
  4. Emphasize repetitions
  5. Ghost echoes
  6. Go slowly all the way round the outside
  7. Is there something missing?
  8. Look at a very small object, look at its centre
  9. Make a blank valuable by putting it in an exquisite frame
  10. Only a part, not the whole
  11. Remove specifics and convert to ambiguities
  12. Shut the door and listen from outside
  13. Tidy up
  14. Turn it upside down
  15. What would your closest friend do?

There are many more and it's fun to create your own.  It's interesting how many ways they can be interpreted and how they can really help develop new ideas.


[from Free Play of the Imagination]

“Young artists easily fall into the trap of confusing originality with newness.  Originality does not mean being unlike the past or unlike the present; it means being the origin, acting out of your own center.  Out of your spontaneous heart you may do something reminiscent of the very old, and it will be original…..”

“Paradoxically, the more you are yourself, the more universal your message.”

Solo Process:

[from Rob Kitsos]

Here are some ideas on how to help artists with creating solo work.  Often with emerging artists, we have found that they get stuck in one place with the ideas and need simple ways of developing their material.  If you have a base of material or a study to work with -here are some ideas on developing it further.

  1. Make sure you are thinking about the space- where you want to be and travel- let that inform what directions your process takes you
  2. String together the studies in the most organic way and play with what the transitions could become (new material- a new section- a way to travel)
  3. Take studies into new parts of the body- change your facing/ relationship to the floor
  4. Take the sequence of a study and give yourself a clear parameter (like traveling in a line- or moving from standing to floor and back up)  
  5. Take a study and change the order of events- or retrograde the direction or vocabulary
  6. Play with tempo within a study – changing a fast motion to an extreme slowness- or vice-versa
  7. Take one movement from each study and try making them connect building transitions
  8. Attach a sentence to each study and try reciting the text at different points in the solo
  9. Look at your score- and let that determine the trajectory of the vocabulary

Blind Runner:

[from Emmalena Fredriksson]

With your eyes closed, jog on the spot for 15-30 min.

There are many ways to approach this task. 

Things to explore: rhythm, physicality, quality, variation (of movement and/or ways of running), adaptation, boredom, imagination (where/who are you running to/from), concept of "running" (what constitutes a jog/run), how does it feel to do it with eyes closed and in a group?  

(This could be done with another theme or topic of exploration, repeat for a set duration with eyes closed and see what the material become)

Energy / force / dynamics / quality:

[from 'Intimate Act of Choreography' by Blom & Chaplin; and Laban principals]

  1. Energy – the potential for force
  2. Force- the magnitude or intensity of the energy exerted
  3. Dynamics- an interaction of force with time
  4. Movement qualities- the distinctly observable attributes of characteristics produced by dynamics and made manifest in movement.


[from Laban]

Punch-          strong/sudden direct

Slash-          strong/sudden/indirect

Press-          strong/sustained/ direct

Wring-          strong/ sustained/indirect

Float-          light/sustained/indirect

Glide-          light/sustained/direct

Dab-            light/sudden/direct

Flick-          light/sudden/indirect


Passion           weight/time/flow

Vision            time space/flow

Spell             weight/space/flow


Percussive/ Sustained


Percussive and sustained are concerned with how movement is initiated rather than with the speed at which it occurs.

It is not the amount of energy but how it is expended that makes the difference.

1. Percussive- fast- high energy                          

2. Percussive- fast- low energy                         

3. Percussive- slow- low energy                          

4. Percussive- slow- high energy                         

5. Sustained-  slow- high energy

6. Sustained-  slow- low energy

7. Sustained-  fast- low energy

8. Sustained-  fast- high energy

Laban Effort-

From Cheryl Prophet

Another methodology for exploring dynamics creatively and expressively can be found in the Laban Movement Analysis system (LMA). In LMA dynamics is called Effort and as a broad term it refers to the qualitative attributes associated with movement, dance, acting, music and visual arts. Effort is a separate category in the LMA system and subdivided into four distinct components called Effort Factors- Flow, Weight, Time and Space.

Each Factor is divided into two opposing elements for a total of eight individual Effort elements that can be grouped in two and three Effort combinations to express a particular quality. Accessing the qualities is an embodied cognitive process that reflects an inner intention or feeling and this inner intent is then manifested outwardly. The Efforts are the dynamics or qualitative attributes that give a particular look, texture, tone to an artistic work and expression.

The four Effort factors and corresponding Effort elements are described below. You can choose images and situations to help the artist access a particular quality. Keep in mind that all Effort use is contextual and the LMA terminology can be interchanged with more evocative, poetic language in the process of exploring the qualities.


Free- an ongoing, continuous flow of movement has a relaxed look and feel and less muscular tension.

Bound: is more controlled and withheld, requires more muscular tension to express a careful, restrained quality. Note that bound isn’t negative, in a particular context it’s appropriate. Carrying a cup filled to the brim with hot coffee requires a bound use of one’s energy.


Strong: is how one applies force and physical strength. For example, in sports strong weight is required block an opponent, in martial arts to be grounded, in dance to push off and jump. In acting strong weight effort is required to convey confidence and power. In music it’s associated with exerting more pressure in the quality of touch to convey a stronger dynamic.

Light: in Romantic 19th century ballets the ballerina on pointe reveals a quality of lightness, an ethereal look. In acting a light weight effort is used for a gentle tone of voice and in music the lightness of touch produces a delicate sound.

Time: It’s important to note that in LMA Time Effort is about how one expresses an inner sense of time and not to be confused with metric time. It’s how one approaches time as in having the impulse to linger in the moment, take more time versus feeling rushed, having not enough time. It’s intuitive.

Sustained: a leisurely quality, drawing out of time as in walking on the beach on a warm summer day in no rush.

Sudden/Quick: the impulse to compress time as in moving quickly out of the way of someone about to bump into you.

Space: In LMA Space Effort is about how one directs their attention to their spatial surrounding.

Indirect: all encompassing, generous attention, scanning everywhere as in looking at all the beautiful objects around you.

Direct: more channeled, condensed quality of attention, honing in on one particular thing.

The above Effort elements can be grouped in three Effort combinations to produce the following qualities.

Float expresses the combined qualities of lightness, sustained time and indirect attention to space- the image of a balloon floating upwards, the sensation of drifting upwards.

Punch: this quality combines strong use of weight, direct focused attention and quick use of time.  A stomp action is an example of this 3 Effort combination.

Glide: expresses the qualities of lightness, direct focused attention and sustained use of time. It’s a smooth, gentle quality.

Slash: combines strong use of weight or force with sudden and direct efforts. An example – the powerful, wide and sweeping stroke of a sword.

Dab: combines a delicate, quick and direct quality. The artist dabbing a bit of paint on the canvas is an example of this 3 Effort combination.

Wring: expresses a more forceful use of weight with sustained time and indirect attention to space.  Wringing out a large towel is an action that combines these three qualities.

Flick: combines a light, quick and indirect quality as in the action of flicking a bit of lint off a jacket.

Press: combines strong, sustained and direct Efforts. An example of Press-pushing a heavy object.

Cage 1952 Remix:

[from Arne Elgenfeldt]

Inspired by John Cage and the Black Mountain College workshops in the early 1950s.

- Students bring in something to "perform" - I give an example of "a personal way/method of interpreting a line".  

- The performance last 15 minutes. A digital timer is presented on a monitor.

- My computer generates time sequences for each student (i.e. 1:33 - 1:57, 2:19 - 4:34, etc.).

They have to "perform" during their times, and sit quietly when they are not active.

The result is a typical Cage-like "happening", with everyone doing independent actions that have no relationship to anyone else's actions.

Then, I pair people up, and give them 30 minutes to come up with something in which they can perform/interact together. Ideally, it shouldn't simply be a variation on what they did before. Then we do it again as collaborative groups.

The collaborative performance ends up being much more interesting and fun, perhaps simply because they know what to expect.


[from Susan Rethorst]

Sequence is more than an ordering of unchanging entities. Sequence is a cooker, an alchemy... eventfulness comes into it, consciously put there or not. Time is more than a container; time participates.

The job is to get the distance required to perceive, to divorce things from whatever initially informed them or made them; the mood that accompanied, the instructions that were followed, the notebook notes etc etc. tune in to its itness; squint, fast forward video in your minds eye, tune into the dance's 'hum', walkey talk through, watch the eventfulness, the rhythm, the sweep, the what happens?.... look, wait, watch, try and retry until you recognize that you have something 'right'; that you have something, in the words of a student, 'the way you never knew you wished things always were'. You have to find it, not make it happen and you find it by making; making and waiting, making things that are and are not close; by reading, listening, tasting, humming that what it is-ness.

Try, try, try and trust that which is operating; that part of yourself that is waiting for that sureness, that yes! of recognition.