Liz Gerring Dance Company

Musings on abstract choreography

Translated into Italian and printed in Equilibri, Rivista per lo sviluppo sostenibile, “Corpo senza limiti” issue, 1/2008, Anno XII, no.1, aprile 2008, pages 47-51.

Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei
Photos by Vitoria Chierici


I have been creating & presenting works on my own company, The Liz Gerring Dance Company, since 1998. In my choreography I focus on precision, physicality & athleticism combined with gestures that reflect universal images — all presented without drama. The structures of my works are based on movement narrative which evolves from cause & effect rather than storytelling. My performances are usually “intermedia works” where the aspects of dance, original contemporary music and video — are integrated into the set design.

Musings on abstract choreography by Liz Gerring

how a piece is born

In the beginning walking into the studio to start a new piece I enter a 3 dimensional blank canvas. Prior to the dancers & myself taking our first steps I have often been day dreaming of what will be. Most new work follows a break from rehearsal during which my imagination has had free reign. At this point anything is possible. It is only later when the reality of physics intrudes that I am forced to concede. Every piece begins with certain concrete facts which determine much of how it will develop. The number of dancers will determine certain relationships that become unavoidable: a trio has a specific tension distinct from a quartet. There is also the personal matter of which dancers are taking part in the process. Unlike ballet which strives for sameness of body type and skills, modern dance relies on these differences for texture & dimension. Often I will visualize a particular dancer performing a step or phrase. The dancers I use are all technically proficient as demanded by the choreography however each dancer compels me differently. It is always a goal of mine to bring out the best in the dancer physically as well as encouraging them to express much of themselves through the movement.

approaching the movement — tackling the technique

Certainly all modern choreography involves the development of a personal language of movement. After years of ballet & classic modern dance training I took a few years to ‘unlearn’ what I had been taught — trying to discover who I was & what I was trying to say in physical terms. Working for years alone in the studio to determine what movements were unique to me, what my body does differently from others - this was the beginning. While I now continue that personal exploration, the job of translating my movement to the dancers makes up the bulk of the rehearsal process. Endless hours are spent watching, copying and analyzing a movement. One aspect of the unique relationship between dancer & choreographer is the often arduous process of the dancer working to grasp the essence of a step until it becomes their own; understanding the unique style of the choreographer often takes years of work on the part of the dancer. By definition abstraction is non-linear. Unlike a story the piece has no narrative - beginning, middle & end are determined by time rather than plot. My primary concern in choreographing is representing relationships & states of being rather than places or elements of nature. Behind every piece is an underlying level of my own experience that I am hinting at if not declaring fully - love, lust, despair, anger, aggression, defeat &triumph are all present in the movements. It serves as an outlet for what every artist must share: unfulfilled passion, dreams, desires. However ever since childhood I have eschewed the obvious expression of these feelings.


Music is often considered the most central element in dance of all forms - and this is certainly true for me. My first steps in childhood as a dancer were a response to music and that response still exists. Music is often the initial inspiration and the guiding force behind my choreography - in modern abstract dance this music is often referred to as ‘sound’ and sometimes created on the computer with few recognizable ‘instruments’. This sound works well with modern dance — allowing the choreography room to assert itself without having to adhere to a set score. For me, the music is vital even though in the dance there may not be direct correspondence between note and step. I work with many different musics in the rehearsal process, not the specific piece the composer will make for my dance. The dance is made first. Sound is then added as the composer creates the original score - thus the brunt of the work falls on the composer to manipulate his or her sounds to support the structure of the piece. Music will infer the choreography by having an effect on the dancers as well as the audience: a certain kind of sound will impact how the dancer emphasizes the execution of the steps even though the choreography remains fixed. The set can also contribute to the tone for the piece. Often I have used a video projection, which has the benefit of moving along with the dance. This combines with the music to add volume to the image of the dance, the elements forming a whole. While both must adhere to the primary focus — the choreography, and thus support the movement - they add layering to a work that is minimalist in nature. Music & set also serve to define the space, to create an environment from which the audience member can better grasp the intent of the dance.

the result

Lately I have been asking myself what the audience will leave the theater with after seeing my work. As a dancer, wife, mother I wonder what my contribution is via dance to the world at large, what extends beyond the personal gratification choreography provides me. With the current state of global affairs it is easy to get discouraged ‘making art’ — art that can with difficulty take a concrete stand on issues. Surely there must be something more than steps existing over time, however cleverly executed or composed. How does one derive meaning from abstraction? My intent is an emotional one and the end result should reflect that. This has been my challenge, trying to extract the feeling behind the steps and gestures. I believe this is the only way that my art can have value.

Liz Gerring, NYC, February, 2008

Italian version