The remnants of over a decade of gritty classical ballet training shine 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. Learning a piece requires instruction and memorization; choreographing is the telling of a story: everything needs to be intricately worked out.
Throughout the unfamiliar challenges Mai-Lee has faced at Cornell, dance choreography has been a unique one for her, an undertaking fueled by her fellow dancers in the Pandora Dance Troupe. As a result, she has developed a succinct approach for bringing visually coherent routines to life.
Initially, Mai-Lee chooses a song to work with solely based on the melody and her personal emotional response. She uses certain songs “because when I hear them I immediately want to move to them… It’s less about the steps, but more about the idea. The steps follow naturally.” Once inspired, Mai-Lee studies the lexicon of the lyrics in search of ideas to further inform explorable choreographic avenues.
Equipped with melody and lyric, Mai-Lee begins to mobilize her vision of the physical dance. “The chorus of the song speaks to me: I start there,” she said. Working through each stage of the choreography, 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.” Many of her song choices, such as A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera’s “Say Something”, are about loss. “I don’t want everyone to have the same response,” she said, but she does want the performance itself to elicit genuine feelings from viewers. For Mai-Lee, it is important that songs permit different types of movement: “flowing movement” and “big movement.” Observers of Mai-Lee’s dance can quickly identify the stylistic motions that are unique to her because as they come into focus they are 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 informally.