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Choreographer - Sian Williams

My job is to create dances specifically for the plays staged at the Globe. I work with the brief that the director gives me. I often base a dance on traditional dance movements, but then we'll work through the steps as a company to devise something original. This enables us to bring characters together, or to allow them to do funny or characteristic things.

Dance in Shakespearean theatre

It is fascinating that ‘jig’ can be defined as a ‘dance song game’, which emphasises the jig’s playful nature. Jigs combine song and dance in a frisky way, and are often about wooing or cuckolding. We have no record or notation of exactly how the dances were performed in Shakespeare’s time. We know that they were often performed at the end of the play as a way of bringing together the players and audience, for both sides to acknowledge and celebrate what they have been through together. Jigs were even performed at the end of tragedies, which would have helped lift the mood of the audience. Or they could have been more satirical, and used to mock public figures. 

Dances in Much Ado About Nothing

In this production we have got a jig at the end and the dance at the masked ball within the play. This dance is pivotal to the plot, as it gives the characters a chance to interact with others, freed from the constraints of their real identity. Not all the characters are completely successful in their disguises, making it a very witty scene. At one point they all join up and perform a conga, which is a familiar party dance to us now, and is actually one of the oldest dances we know about. It’s a fun dance that everyone can join in with, and for this performance we are going to have the group travelling down through the audience.

Choreographing the dances

How I choreograph the dances very much depends on the vision of the director, and how formal or relaxed they want the dance to be. To a great extent the development of the dance depends on the type of music that the composer and director have decided on, as the rhythm and style of the music stimulates my ideas and helps me to create a dance that fits the play. Any choreography that I do create before hearing the music often has to undergo significant alteration, and with the time constraints of rehearsals I’m reluctant to spend too long on practising moves that we might not use in the performance. Also I like to work the moves through with the actors, so that they can feel it is naturally their dance and they can enjoy performing it, I don’t want them to feel that they all have to produce an identical dance. I usually arrive at rehearsals with a certain amount already made up, moves that I feel work well with the rhythm and structure of the music. Then I incorporate certain things that I know the director wants to happen, such as specific movement across the stage or entrances and exits.

Experimenting with the actors is invaluable at this point, as often they take the basic step I have given them and develop it in their own way, and this re-stimulates my ideas in turn. I also work a lot out on paper, as choreographing is actually quite mathematical, and you have to add up the certain number of beats left over after a particular phrase. But that can be quite a puzzle, as it often doesn’t work out quite as I’d imagined when it gets put into practice! It can’t be a rigid process, as that would mean that you miss the opportunities that naturally present themselves.