The Empty Canvas is that magical place we step into with our
dogs to present a Freestyle performance. It is similar to a stage
and within its boundaries many of the theories relating to stage
use also hold true. The presentation space according to CFF rules
is an area 40 X 50 feet, with the space defined by markers at
the corners and midpoints of each side. There is always one long
side which is considered front. In a competition this is the
side where the judges are seated.
There are two aspects of space which need to be clarified.
The first concerns the visual image, the shape or picture of
the movement the handler and dog create as they move through
space. This is the picture that remains in the mind of the spectator;
it can be momentary or remain long after the performance is completed.
The second involves the patterns the team makes on the floor
as they travel from one place to another. I call this the floor
pattern. The corner and midpoint markers are very important to
this pattern because they help define and clarify the pattern
for the spectator. The markers frame all of the choreography
and without a frame of some kind movement and focus are lost
to the spectator. However, the shape of the frame can also cause
certain problems for the choreographer.
Let’s take a moment to look at different sized frames
for the presentation space and see what problems they can present
to you as the choreographer. The shape of the presentation space
has a far greater effect on us, the human element of the team,
than we would like to admit.
If your space is a square, or very close to being a square,
you will find yourself repeating most movements because the symmetry
of the space forces you to conform to its balance. The middle
of the space will be where most of your movements begin and end.
Your choreography will tend to focus on you, the handler, while
the dog becomes a moving object around you. The dog becomes secondary
to your movements instead of you enhancing the dog’s movement.
Now, let’s look at the other extreme: a rectangle, but
in this case it is extremely narrow on one side and very long
on the other side. This frame creates an entirely different effect.
All movement seems to move forward and back either near the long
sides or up and down in the middle. This effect is particularly
evident if a judge is placed at a narrow end and the spectators
are placed along the sides. Diagonals are either extremely short
or very long. There also appears to be no center. You, the choreographer,
will feel that you are simply passing through the space. Alternatively
you will feel the need to confine your movement to several smaller
areas, moving between them to balance your choreographic design.
However, the final result is still a picture of movement traveling
back and forth from one end of the space to the other.
For our last examples let’s briefly look at a frame which
is circular or oval. With the oval frame we have a center but
all movement seems to be curved. Straight lines seem to work
only when passing through the center point. There is a definite
pull to focus along the sides of the oval. On the other hand,
the circle seems to pull the focus into the center or around
and around. Movements can pass through the center but seem to
always stop at the edge of a circle, which gives the illusion
that everything is even or equal.
In general, in any frame with no orientation toward a front,
it is difficult for the choreographer to focus movement, and
the choreography will appear to meander through the space. It
might be helpful for you at this point to set up framed spaces,
similar to those just discussed, to aid your understanding of
how the shape of the space influences choreographic design. Improvise
in the different spaces to experience how the shape of the space
affects your movement and focus.
Now let’s look at the presentation space of CFF. It is
a 40 X 50 rectangle. This is a space with which all obedience
people are familiar and one we have been in frequently. There
is a definite front and all breeds, toys through giants, seem
to perform comfortably and well within that area. There is space
for both single and multiple dog teams. Handlers have many choices,
permitting them to present movements that will fill the space.
The choreographer can showcase the dog’s movement in different
directions to create a visual image which focuses on the dog’s
grace, beauty and athleticism. In this space the center area
is the strongest focal point, followed by the upper and lower
diagonal corners and, finally, by upstage (back) center and then
downstage (front) center. Knowing these focal points, you as
the choreographer, can stage your movements for the greatest
The corner and midpoint markers become your guides both technically
and creatively. For instance, imagine you are heeling on a diagonal
line from the upper left corner to the lower right corner and
include a series of back steps. Not only will the straightness
of your dog be seen relative to your body position, but it will
be clarified and emphasized by your relationship to the two corner
markers. The symmetry of a serpentine heeling pattern is visually
improved when observed relative to the framing markers. The same
principal applies for contrasting movements such as large versus
small. These are just a few of the possibilities. There are many
more. Choreography which does not relate to these guideposts
appears to the spectators as wandering or meandering. Consequently
the movement design becomes muddied or vague.
It is important to choreograph and to practice in a space which
is exactly the same as your performance space. This permits the
team to hear music cues and to know exactly where they need to
be in the space for the greatest visual effect. If you practice
in a smaller area, then in the actual performance space your
movements will appear confined to one small area. The visual
effect is to accentuate the handler’s movements while the
dog becomes secondary and the team relationship is lost. On the
other hand, if you choreograph and practice in an area larger
than your performance space, the dog is forced to adjust to the
handler’s change in stride which again changes the visual
image and the team relationship is again lost.
There is a special kind of magic which exists in the presentation
space. Before you begin your choreography get to know that space
framed by the markers. Walk around the space with your canine
partner, put on a musical selection and improvise in the space.
Once you are comfortable in that space the movement ideas will
flow, but always remember to determine which side is front. As
you choreograph think first of the visual image from the front
and then from the sides. Do not be concerned about the area behind
you. If you fill the space with movement that area will also
offer interesting visual images.