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Earth Day 2021: How To Repurpose Everyday Items and Choreography

Updated: Aug 6, 2021

Created by Martheya Nygaard (kNOwBOX dance Co-Creator & Managing Director)

April 21, 2021, Dallas, Texas, USA

In September 2020, YeaJean Choi and I recorded a podcast interview with Jonathan Burrows to talk about why and how he created A Choreographer’s Handbook. As you might have heard in the episode (listen if you haven’t already) I have been a huge fan of Jonathan Burrows and have overly flagged and highlighted the handbook. As I prepared a small offering for the annual celebration of Earth Day, I wanted to share ways to creatively approach what it means to repurpose. Our conversation with Burrows and his book came to mind. Both Burrows and the handbook explore notions of self at the foreground of creativity, inventiveness, and imagination.

Top Left to Right: Martheya Nygaard, YeaJean Choi, Bottom: Jonathan Burrows

Repurpose : to give a new purpose or use to

More on Jonathan Burrows:

Jonathan Burrows is a choreographer whose main focus is an ongoing body of pieces with the composer Matteo Fargion, with whom he continues to perform around the world. The two men are co-produced by PACT Zollverein Essen and Sadler's Wells Theatre London. His A Choreographer's Handbook has sold over 15,000 copies since its publication in 2010, and is available from Routledge Publishing. Burrows is currently an Associate Professor at the Centre for Dance Research, Coventry University.

More on A Choreographer’s Handbook:

On choreography: "Choreography is a negotiation with the patterns your body is thinking"

On rules: "Try breaking the rules on a need to break the rules basis"

A Choreographer’s Handbook invites the reader to investigate how and why to make a dance performance. In an inspiring and unusually empowering sequence of stories, ideas and paradoxes, internationally renowned dancer, choreographer and teacher Jonathan Burrows explains how it’s possible to navigate a course through this complex process.

It is a stunning reflection on a personal practice and professional journey, and draws upon five years’ of workshop discussions, led by Burrows.

Burrows’ open and honest prose gives the reader access to a range of exercises, meditations, principles and ideas on choreography that allow artists and dance-makers to find their own aesthetic process.

It is a book for anyone interested in making performance, at whatever level and in whichever style.

As Jonathan said in Episode 59 of Dance Behind the Screen podcast

“I thought anybody who choreographs knows from the very outset you are overwhelmed by a multiplicity of things...physicality, physical memory, habits, the room you're in, the room you might be in when you perform it... You couldn’t deal with this by following a linear way of thinking…”

How does this connect to celebrating earth day?

For the past several years many documentaries have surfaced to remind us of the importance of taking care of our planet (Our Planet, A Plastic Ocean, and Night on Earth to name a few). Additionally there are several dance organizations and creative projects whose purpose is tied to land and culture, sites in nature, and practices of sustainability (Building a Better Fishtrap, dance to the people, and Global Water Dances, among others included below). Negotiating the gravitas of my impact on the planet coupled with my responsibility as an artist, educator, and creative thinker, lead me to research what it means to repurpose both in my “pedestrian” and artistic life. Keeping Jonathan Burrows' contributions in mind I am curious how we as artists can further explore giving a new purpose or use to the many materials we engage with in order to support the longevity and sustainability of our planet and creative life. I offer three tips to consider when repurposing everyday items and choreography.

Dance Behind the Screen Episode 59 YouTube Video

Three Tips For Repurposing Items and Choreography

Tip 1 - Reuse what you have available to you

“Visit art galleries and try to observe the ‘how’ of how each thing that was made and compare that to the ‘what’ of what you perceived from it.” (Burrows, 45)

Items: Whether it’s a water bottle, tupperware, utensils, or a shopping bag consider how you might be able to maximize your use of this item. In 2017 I committed to bringing my water bottle everywhere with me. I love my Hydro Flask 40-Ounce with Straw Lid!

Choreography: “Listening to what the material is telling you to do requires as much concentration, control and sensitivity as any other way of working.” (Burrows, 114) First, collect footage of your dancemaking (maybe from rehearsals, social media posts, past performances, those random days where you video yourself improvising - we all have those). Now consider how you can reuse this digital material to inspire a new dance. I create albums on my iPhone or Google Drive with footage from all of my rehearsals as an archive to reuse for future creative projects.

Tip 2 - Repeat Repeat Repeat

“Repetition is a device to intensify or erode something by showing it more than once”

(Burrows, 16)

Items: Read your book, share, and repeat! Downloading an ebook on my phone is one of my favorite ways to unwind when trying to fall asleep or when I’m in line or a waiting room (when I’m not on Instagram). However there is something special about holding a physical book in my hands. It’s also one of the only times I’m not staring at a screen yet sitting still. Next time you want to buy a physical book consider shopping to support local bookstores then share the book with a friend!


Don’t forget “Having fun isn't hard, When you've got a library card”!

Library Card Song!

Choreography: “When you repeat a material try changing it on two parameters. If your materials was to jump, the repeat could change direction, bend low and jump.” (Burrows, 9) First start with a short phrase. Now explore all of the possible ways you can repeat this same phrase while factoring the choreographic elements of space, time, and energy.


Consider the below questions:

  • Level: Is the movement on the floor, or reaching upward? Are they performed high, medium, or low?

  • Direction: Does the movement go forward, backward, sideways, right, left, or on a diagonal?

  • Place: Is the movement done on the spot (personal space), or does it move through space (general space, downstage, upstage)?

  • Orientation: Which way are the dancers facing?

  • Pathway: Is the path through space made by the dancers curved, straight, or zigzagged? Or is it random?

  • Size: Does the movement take up a small, narrow space, or a big, wide space?

  • Relationships: How are the dancers positioned in space in relationship to one another? Are they close together or far apart? Are they in front of, beside, behind, over, under, alone, or connected to one another?


Consider the below questions:

  • Clock Time: We use clock time to think about the length of a dance or parts of a dance measured in seconds, minutes, or hours.

  • Timing Relationships: When dancers move in relation to each other (before, after, together, sooner than, faster than).

  • Metered Time: A repeated rhythmic pattern often used in music (like 2/4 time or 4/4 time). If dances are done to music, the movement can respond to the beat of the music or can move against it. The speed of the rhythmic pattern is called its tempo. \

  • Free Rhythm: A rhythmic pattern is less predictable than metered time. Dancers may perform movement without using music, relying on cues from one another.


Consider the below questions:

  • Attack: Is the movement sharp and sudden, or smooth and sustained?

  • Weight: Does the movement show heaviness, as if giving into gravity, or is it light with a tendency upward?

  • Flow: Does the movement seem restricted or bound, with a lot of muscle tension, or is it relaxed, free, and easy?

  • Quality: Is the movement tight, flowing, loose, sharp, swinging, swaying, suspended, collapsed, or smooth?

Tip 3 - Reimagine your routines

“Habits are the things you do which have been repeated so often that their action is rendered unconscious, and the meanings and feelings attached to them become less visible to you.” (Burrows, 7)

Items: We are awake on average 6205 hours a year. The time we spend awake makes a difference! We all have our daily routines wake up, brush your teeth, work, cook, repeat. Have you ever stopped to think about those “in-between” moments? What do you do in between turning the faucet on and putting toothpaste on your toothbrush? How many times do you use the empty candle votive before throwing it away? What do you do with all those empty amazon boxes? After engaging with The Artist’s Way Workbook by Julie Cameron I took up the practice of the morning pages. Every morning (mostly) I wake up and free-write and fill about 3 pages in my journal. After several months of this practice I started to become more aware of how I was spending the little moments, sandwiched in between working, throughout the day. I noticed that on the days where I was intentional about what I did during the little moments had long term effects. For example, I noticed when I used one day a week to prepare meals I created less waste and freed up more time. Consider how you spend your little moments!

Choreography: “Try making a piece using only your habits.” (Burrows, 7)

In our interview with Burrows he talked about how for their piece “Rewriting” he and his longtime collaborator Matteo Fargion reimagined choreographic material from a work they were never able to perform. Burrows shared “I had left in my body this really intricate patterned work that I’d memorized that had completely lost it’s context…” (DBS, 40:34). I am curious about finding different strategies to generate movement vocabulary and reimagining my own movement preferences excites me! Consider how you can investigate your movement patterns to create new choreographic material.

  • First, video yourself improvising for 1 minute.

  • Repeat this 3-5 times.

  • Now grab your notebook and watch the videos you recorded. Pick out 5-10 movements that you notice are similar in each of the videos.

  • Use these 5-10 movements to begin the next phase of your process!

Rewriting is the first full length solo performance by Jonathan Burrows. The piece started with the question what to do with an embodied movement sequence from a performance which has been abandoned. What might it mean to hold within you the memory of something which has lost context and meaning? These movement sequences are collided with a simultaneously memorised talk, drawn from 108 postcards each with a statement or question from Burrows' A Choreographers Handbook.


Choreography, International Dance, Dance Making, Sustainability in Dance

References and Recommendation:

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