The Competitor's Edge

In this edition, the focus is choreography.

There came a critical point in the last 15 or so years when choreography transitioned from a novelty and a nicety to a borderline necessity for competitive a cappella groups. After all, Varsity Vocals, the largest a cappella competition body, instituted the practice of 40 percent of a group’s score being evaluated on visual performance, and went so far as to make Outstanding Choreography superlatives an institutionalized part of most shows.

But does that mean that successful competitors should all choreograph?

To choreograph or not to choreograph? That is the question.

Plenty of groups find themselves asking if it’s better to choreograph, knowing that movement isn’t their greatest strength, or to not choreograph and risk losing points for appearing static or uninteresting.

For me, this question comes down to end, net result. If your group looks uncomfortable or self-conscious with it’s movement and especially if the movement takes away from the group’s aural performance, that’s a huge red flag that choreography is more distracting than valuable at that point.

On the flip side, if your group can really move, inspiring excitement with its choreo, energizing the group itself, or perhaps even hiding musical shortcomings through an awesome visual presentation, than the group had might as well choreograph away.

How much is too much?

The question groups need to ask themselves is why they are choreographing in a given moment. If the movement is complementing or enhancing the music, then it is doing exactly what it is supposed be doing. If a group is choreographing just because they think they “should,” due to today’s conventions, that tends to result in a performance in which the movement that is transparently tacked on and not adding inherent value to the set.

Groups should also be wary of overly literal or repetitive choreography. Not every lyric needs a gesture to illustrate it, and regardless of how impressive a movement may be, if it becomes predictable or redundant, it will quickly lose favor with the audience.

Visual presentation over choreo

In my reviews of a cappella competitions, I’ve started renaming my superlative for staging to “Outstanding Visual Presentation” rather than “Outstanding Choreography.” To me, visual presentation encompasses choreography, but it’s also about creative staggering on stage, and reconfiguring in ways that service the music. It’s about telling a visual story without necessarily putting on a musical theatre number.

What are your feelings on choreography in competitive a cappella? Do groups need to do it? How do they succeed? Let us know in the comments