Trust Accelerates Growth - Emily Jerant-Hendrickson on Rehearsal Direction
Updated: Feb 21
It’s not pretty when an entire rehearsal team hits the wall. The dancers are so tired it’s questionable whether they are executing choreography or tripping, the Artistic Director is overextended with the duties of planning, overseeing, and executing creative vision, the executive team has 35 major deadlines coming up the next week, the choreographer has left the building, and to top it all off, it’s snowing.
In these moments, it feels reasonable to assume that the entire establishment of art may collapse. For any venture, particularly small collectives or solo projects where the dancers also don the hats of artistic directors, executive team, choreographers, documentarians, producers, curators, and managers, this oncoming sense of collapse crests with a particularly seismic sense of stupor. There is, however, an antidote:
Cue the rehearsal director. She is one part missing jigsaw piece, one part cat herder, two parts translator, one part mood enhancer, and three parts game changer.
For us, she’s Emily.
Today, we are thrilled to bring you the wisdom of Emily Jerant-Hendrickson, CoGRAVITY’s Rehearsal Director for the New England branch of our US road-tour extravaganza. Emily is not only a brilliant rehearsal coach with a keen eye for detail and a dialed in understanding of how to push dancers deeper into choreography, but also an active performer, teacher, and creator. She understands the art of preparation and can turn a 5 hour cleaning rehearsal into streamlined magic.
We hope you enjoy learning from her as much as we do.
J&J: We’ve got a varied audience on here from up and coming dancers to folks entirely outside of the dance world still trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up (hi mom!), so let’s start with some basics - What is a Rehearsal Director (RD)?
E: A (helpful) rehearsal director is many things, first and foremost, she is someone who the dancers trust, that is capable of offering feedback in a supportive and productive way. The rehearsal director serves as a facilitator for artists to question and think more fully about what is going on inside their own body of work and can offer an outside perspective to a process that the artists have only been living inside of. RDs can ask questions, make suggestions, and think more critically about the material that artists may be too attached to tackle without a mediator. A rehearsal director can also set boundaries for a rehearsal and determine which sections are most important to look at, in what order those sections need to be addressed in order to preserve the mental and physical energy of the dancer, and when to move on when the rehearsal is becoming stuck or otherwise non productive.
J&J: Yes! Trust in your RD is essential. That’s one of the reasons we love you. Solid vision and care but without any fluff. Having both been in other people’s works as dancers and now filling both the roles of performers and creators in our own bubble, getting too close to the work as artists is definitely a trap you’ve helped us clear on multiple occasions. What are some of the tools you use to help make this magic happen in real time?
E: It is always helpful to have someone from the outside look at what you’re working on, and the more skillful that person is with their delivery of feedback, the more potential the work has to grow. Teaching has been monumentally helpful for me in terms of understanding people and what language opens what doors for them. I love using imagery and metaphor to get points across but I have to be willing and able to tailor what I’m saying based on who’s in front of me at that moment in time.
J&J: And how about preparation outside the studio? What does that look like for you?
E: I spend a lot of time with the notes that I have about what is important to the choreographer, notes from rehearsal, and the video. I will comb through the video, jotting down questions and suggestions along with detailed cleaning notes and then go back a second time to watch and take notes on what I see in the lens of what is important to the choreographer. I’ll then go back a third time and look again for anything I might have missed before re-writing all of the notes I’ve collected thus far. In the re-write process I pay attention to what notes repeat and start to create a level of importance scale that is a life saver if time starts getting short during the following rehearsal.
J&J: In addition to rehearsal directing, you are also a teacher, dancer, choreographer, yoga wizard, and cat mom, do these aspects of your life play into your RD role? If so, how?
E: My roles as dancer and a teacher have both strongly influenced my work as an RD. My experience as a teacher has honed my ability to control a room, ask questions that force people to think, clarify and articulate points quickly, and understand when to spend more time on something and when to move on. Having been in rehearsal processes as a dancer, I have first hand knowledge of the mental and physical fatigue that comes with intensive days in the studio as well as an experiential understanding of what makes for a productive or unproductive rehearsal. Working as a dancer has also given me an understanding of the language dancers use, both verbally and physically, which helps me articulate body movement.
J&J: We should clarify that performing and teaching came before your dive into the art of rehearsal direction. How did you come to be an RD?
E: I became a rehearsal director after an injury forcibly removed me from an upcoming performance. Through teaching dance and yoga for the last four years, I have developed a knack for delivering information in a clear and succinct way, so teaching my role to another dancer from a chair seemed plausible and fun. Because I had worked with the choreographer for several years, I had the benefit of understanding the role and the piece that it lived inside on a deeper level, so offering ways to approach the work came quite naturally and ultimately led to me rehearsal directing the entire piece. I don’t think it’s necessary to be a dancer in the work in order to rehearsal direct it, but having this as my first experience definitely helped me understand how I might approach this role in the future.
J&J: You mentioned that you don’t think it’s necessary to be a performer in a particular show or dance in order to rehearsal direct it though many small companies do use this approach of sourcing their RDs from the inside. What are some pros and cons of working this way?
E: Having a dancer inside the work is great because they understand it and have lived in it enough to know what is important to the choreographer on a deeper level. However, they do not have the same freshness of perspective that a person who is coming from the outside might. It's the same reason why artists need to put their work down sometimes and come back to it later—separation provides clarity.
J&J: And how about from the outside? If a choreographer were on the hunt for an RD for the first time, what is the number one thing to look for in identifying a great fit?
E: Trust is key when picking a rehearsal director from outside of your work. Find out about them from other people they’ve worked with, call them up and ask questions. I am biased in saying that teachers make great rehearsal directors but from my own practice of teaching I know that it is a monumentally helpful skill in doing the job of a RD.
J&J: Em, it’s been a pleasure as always. Before you go, one of our goals at CoGRAVITY is to spread resources that help move dancers forward. This includes giving artists access to the team of people that we love to work with. If someone wanted to connect with you about your work as an RD, what is the best way to get in touch?
E: I’m available by email firstname.lastname@example.org
Emily Jerant-Hendrickson is a Boston based dancer holding a BFA in contemporary dance from The Boston Conservatory. She has worked with various Boston and New York City based artists and has created several works that have been presented at Gibney Dance Center NYC, Manhattan Movement Arts, The Boston Conservatory, The Canterbury Shaker Village, The Dance Complex, and Green Street Studios. Emily began teaching dance and yoga in 2016. Since 2019, she served as rehearsal director for little house dance, Jenna Pollack, and CoGRAVITY. Click here for Emily’s full bio.