Choreography 101: Symmetry vs. Asymmetry

Choreography 101: Symmetry vs. Asymmetry

Choreographers are a special people. It takes an intuitive, creative, brave, inspirational individual to create physical art. It takes a vision and a will. There are many dancers and only a fraction of them are practicing choreographers. The choreographers of our time were revered and idolized. Take Balanchine, Graham and Fosse for instance; all of which are pioneers.They, among their successors, pushed the envelope of dance to another level and changed the landscape forever. Their visions became reality which spoke to a generation of artists and art lovers.

There are many aspects of choreography that are important and note worthy. One basic choreographic property is the principle of symmetry and asymmetry. This is a simple idea but one to focus on and one to consider. This very basic principle is one that will dominate every dance performance you will ever see. Everything either falls under the category of symmetrical…or asymmetrical.   Each property has it’s use and effect. A balanced body position, spatial pattern and relative balanced design features encompass symmetry.

Symmetry is a calm, logical and simple design factor in choreography.   Symmetry is found in many early ballets, where the dancers are lined together, equally in number and spatial distance on the stage… It also is when all dancers are doing the same movement in the same space in time. Quite a few ballet positions are symmetrical. First and fifth position, for instance, are symmetrical.   Symmetry is predictable, familiar and fun to watch sometimes. It presents harmony. Many dances are based on this principle.

Take the old musicals for instance; like Ziegfeld Follies and Broadway when the dancers were the set. These dances relied on symmetry for a grand design scheme. Although used often, a choreographer that uses too much symmetry falls into the pit of monotony. This almost always will cause the dance to lose life. It has a place and time of necessity, and symmetry cannot be highlighted without asymmetry close by.

Moving away from symmetry, as an art community in general, led to the creation of some very innovative and memorable works of art. This spans from modern art and architecture to of course dance. Many modern works developed the use of asymmetry though it already existed naturally with movement. The spatial pattern, count of dancers and the sets or body positions started being overwhelmingly asymmetric.

Today we see more of a balance of symmetry and asymmetry.   Asymmetry presents some interesting patterns and possibilities that symmetry doesn’t. It is unpredictable, interesting and odd. It represents nature and roots. It gives movement more possibility. Too much asymmetry is not going to keep a dance interesting though. There needs to be a balance as to not suggest randomness of everyday life.   We see asymmetry everyday, but oftentimes no symmetry. A balance of the two can bring together a dance in a desirable way.

Of these two divisions are subdivisions; oppositional and successional.   Either can exist within the divisions of symmetry or asymmetry. This means the lines are in either in opposed angles, or flowing curves. Oppositional asymmetry is a more forceful, angular pattern and successional symmetry is more of a soft curved line that still flows though it may be in opposition.Knowing these properties prior to choreographing can help to define the movement for you to arrange.

There are so many more movement properties from a choreographic perspective, that are important and need exploration as well. These two basics though, are ones to know when building the basic structure of the dance. Knowing the most inevitable perspective outcomes will ensure a fair and clear presentation that will more likely be interpreted as you wish. The more you know about spatial relation, the more power and control you have over your vision. No go finish your piece!

Reference: The Art of Making Dances by Doris Humphrey & Learning About Dance by Nora Ambrosio


Photocredit: Rodrigo Carvalho via photopin