The Creative Process | Part Five

Choreographer, Philp Joel

The Creative Process: Part Five – Choreography

Due to the popularity of this series, looking into the creative process across various and very different creative industries, we have decided to extend the four planned articles a little bit further.

So who gets to take part in ‘extra time’? None other than a choreographer whose credits include, Miracle on 34th Street, Rock City, Closer To Heaven and even closer to home – being the choreographer of Aladdin here in Milton Keynes.

Philip Joel began his career as a professional dancer, having graduated from Performers College in July 2007. He now focuses in on teaching and choreography and his services are extremely well sought after. We caught up with Philip last week for an insight into the creative process which has seen him deliver critically acclaimed choreography both here in the UK and overseas.

Q1. When you meet with a new or existing client, what do you set to establish from the first meeting or brief and what are some of the key questions you would typically ask them?

Depending on what project you are working the initial questions differ. For example in theatre my main questions would be set design, the size of the cast, the size of the stage. You normally go into the initial meeting with a rough idea of plot etc.

With commercials is different however, the main questions would be. Who am I working with, what do you need help with & what is the main outcome to the director from the start of the piece to the end. Sometimes they want a huge dance piece and sometimes they just want a model to walk in time with the music.

Q2. Once you have established a brief with a client, describe the creative process you go through in understanding the brief and could you elaborate on what influences the decisions you make as an individual on what will be delivered from a creative point of view?

It normally starts from the script or the music & lyrics in the music. If the plot has to advance within a song you are always remembering you are story telling and you have a start and an end you need to get through. Then throughout that you are then trying to make it as creative & exciting as possible but the story will always be the most important thing.

Q3. Do you draw inspiration for projects from similar creative work or from any other creative sources for that matter?

Seeing theatre & dance films will always be in the back of my mind for reference & previous work which has mouldered me into who I am today will always be part of my work & choreography.

I always get inspired by the music, whether that be a drum beat or a saxophone hit.

Q4. How would you define a successful project?

If I’m happy, the director or client is happy & if the audience feel they have had a good time & escaped reality for a couple of hours.

Q5. Do you feel some sense of responsibility to educate clients so to speak on what works and what doesn’t work in regards to creative output? For example, assisting the client in thinking about their target audience and providing real life examples of why a specific piece of work did or didn’t resonate with the audience?

I think in theatre there are always 1000 possible outcomes to one show so it’s always important to know where you want the focus to be for the audience.

Throwing a thousand things into a piece won’t make it impressive it will make it messy and confusing for the audience who are seeing it for the first time.

In film it’s important to know which camera angle shows off the client in the best light, what movement makes the product look best etc.

Sometimes a turn on a model can look great then on another not as much so it’s always good to focus in and make a clear choice on what works well and what doesn’t.

Q6. What’s your favourite part of the creative process and why?

The first show or the final product. You finally see the result from day one where it was a show or advert on a piece of paper or a story board into an actual piece of live theatre or on your tv screens. However it’s also the saddest as it’s a goodbye to the project as it starts its life without you. It’s like being a mother.

Q7. How do you overcome creative blocks when inspiration or suitable ideas just aren’t happening?

Film, tv, theatre, previous experiences, people’s energy, the script, the story, the music, if none of that works I go home, I sleep on it and let it go for a night then approach it again with fresh eyes and a different angle.

Q8. Songwriters often say that the songs they compose in a matter of minutes are usually the best. Do you find in your industry that the projects where the creativity comes naturally usually deliver the best end product as opposed to the projects where ideas are running dry or hard to come by?

I never make up choreography until day one of the contract for one reason only. I make something up in my living room, I put it on the cast & I look at it and hate it.

I always work better under pressure, with the casts energy and knowing what looks good on them I normally produce better work. I hate my prepared work.

Q9. When working on the choreography of a forthcoming show or performance, do you have specific performers in mind and does this influence your decision making on what effectively will become the finished product?

If I know a previous cast member is perfect for the production then I will try and get them in however I love working with new people and everyone has something different to bring to the table. It’s always in my best interest and for the product to have the best and right people involved.

Q10. What advice would you give to anyone looking to make a career in line with what you specialise in?

It’s hard work, its long hours, its not glamorous, but it is beyond rewarding and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

Tomorrow we’ll be exploring the creative process and thoughts of a best selling author.