Bird Set Free — Choreography With Kathryn Higgins

birdsetfree_ins3It’s nerve-wracking.

Choreography is personal, its an expression of what’s inside me, so if people don’t like it, it can feel as though they don’t like me. I chose the song Bird Set Free by Sia because it spoke to me instantly. Creating a piece for the Army On Its Toes Dance Company (or simply… Company) to perform at Fuego, was an exciting but weighted prospect. It’s purpose was to bring to life the scripture for the weekend:

Jeremiah 20:9
But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.

I could see clear images in my mind; formations and movements already choreographed by Sia’s lyrics. She tells a story of keeping something shut up inside; a scream wanting to get out. For my purposes – it was the fire of the Holy Spirit, wanting to fly, begging to be set free. I got the goose bumps.  Although a secular artist, Sia always eludes to something more, The Whisperer, The Voice, You, Him . . . 

Scribbling pictures and formations from a birds-eye, I repeatedly listened through the song. So many of the lyrics have a naturally suggested movement to them:

…the line had been crossed…birdsetfree_ins1
…struggle to fly…
…scream inside we all try to hide…
…eats us alive…
…hold tight….
…shout it out…
…bird set free…

All of these lyrics jump off the page as being physical; they beckon us to do just as they say. Dance can be an extension of our natural expressions. Everyone dances whether they realize it or not, the way they: wait for the bus, stir their coffee, or clench when they get angry. When lyrics speak to our humanness it’s easy to draw out movement from a natural physicality. For me, that is a great jumping off point

Flight was the clear motif of the piece. There’s a lot you can do to mimic that imagery. My favorite part has to be after minutes of exhausting, thrashing movement, the dancers suddenly snap into a flying-v formation and in slow motion step towards the audience, creating large, expressive wings with their arms.

Video was a huge component of the storytelling. Scriptures and lyrics were displayed in kinetic typography to clarify the plot. Sia is not known for her clarity of diction, so a little visual help went a long way.

Company rehearsals were crammed into a two day intensive on location, leaving the dancers bruised and exhausted.

birdsetfree_ins2Evelyn Stickland comments, “Rehearsals for me were wonderfully brutal. Brutal because there were a lot of physically demanding components to this piece that show the struggle of feeling voiceless and in bondage; unable to speak the message that the Lord has given us or be who he created us to be because of sin. We had actual bruises and sores from the creation of the piece. The wonderful part of that process is that as a group we were able to go through a journey together that really mirrored the message of the dance.”

I thought the piece was a success, but there’s still work to be done. We will be adding and adjusting Bird Set Free for upcoming Army On Its Toes appearances. so, if you missed it at Fuego, you may still have a chance to catch it live!

By Kathryn Higgins, Army On Its Toes Dance Company choreographer

Company dancers for this performance listed in alphabetical order: Luie Colon, Natalia Cruz, Evangeline Miller, Abigail Pastin, Emily Pastin, Olivia Renkel and Evelyn Stickland.

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