Breaking Routine & Choreographing

Alex Hernandez

The remnants of over a decade of gritty classical Ballet training shines through Mai-Lee Picard’s physical frame and stance. With one dancer flanking either side, Picard, College Scholar and Philosophy Senior, flows through a series of dance steps engineered by her own creative devices. Mai-Lee admits that the art of independent choreography can be a frustrating one to pursue: “When learning a piece, just tell me what to do and I’ll figure it out. Then when choreographing, there’s a lot of pressure to make sure everything works”.  

Throughout the challenges Mai-Lee has faced at Cornell, dance choreography has been a brand-new one for her, an undertaking fueled by the influence and inspiration of her fellow dancers in the Pandora Dance Troupe. As a result, she has developed a succinct approach for bringing visually coherent dance ensembles to life.

Initially, Mai-Lee chooses a song to work with solely based on the melody. She “imagine[s] the movement,” and for her, “it’s less about the steps, but more about the idea, and then the steps follow naturally”. Once settled in this regard, Mai-Lee dives into the song lyric and lexicon in search of further ideas to inform the unexplored choreographic avenues open for her to chart down.

Equipped with melody and lyric, Mai-Lee begins to chisel out the physical dance and mobilize her visions: “Usually, the chorus of the song really speaks to me, so I’ll tend to start there.” After “working the beginning, middle, and end” Mai-Lee tightens up her final product by fine tuning the sequence of steps. In this way, Picard strategically composes the movement of her dancers on stage as if they were paintbrush bristles being pushed against canvas.

Mai-Lee’s signature choreographic style has evolved alongside her calculated approach to dance. Revealing her motif, Mai-Lee explains, “All of the songs I pick are along a similar range. Slow, sometimes a bit sad.” For Mai-Lee, it is important that songs permit different types of movement,  “flowing movement” and  “big movement” to be exact. Observers of Mai-Lee’s dance can quickly identify the stylistic motions that are unique to her, because they come into focus as expressive and emotionally gripping.

With a knack for translating melody into differential movement, Mai-Lee has developed a natural intuition for analyzing and interpreting the patterns that coalesce before her both musically and in everyday life.