Often at post show talk-backs, we are asked about the relationship between movement and music. Most frequently, people want to know which came first. Then, they want to know if all of the movement is choreographed "to" the music, i.e., is everything we do connected to a particular beat or whether it's felt timing that just "happens" to end when the music does.
I'm really bad at talkbacks... but the Wizard reminds me that understanding this question is important: the answers provide a way of understanding or at least accessing much of what happens on stage. Opera: libretto vs music? Musical: words vs music? Films: audio, visual, script, acting? All of these ask how the different creative processes that go into complex artistic production relate to each other.
The answers range from "yes, all of the above" to "no, not quite any of the above" and sometimes include "yeah/no .... little bits of some of the above." Different people work in different ways. Sometimes, a choreographer comes in with music; then, the company has to get permission for the rights. How the music becomes a part of the work is then entirely dependent on the choreographer. Sometimes, everything happens to or on an explicit beat, and there is a clear correlation between music and dance -- one might express the other. Sometimes, not so much -- for either the beat or the interpretation. I've done pieces where the music is slow and sad and the dancing fast and furious. I've done stuff with an action for every beat. And stuff where we have "markers" by which we know whether or not we are late or not. If we end early, the music fades. In one piece, I like it when the music fades and there are a couple of seconds of dance in silence. In yet another, the fading of the music is a cue for the improvised movement to end. Variations are limitless.
Sometimes, a choreographer gets to collaborate with a composer. I like this process most of all. It's absolutely fabulous to watch how choreography and music grow together. Again, though, how this works depends on everyone involved. I've been in a process where the music arrived a week before; it was made at a distance from rehearsal video. It was FABULOUS (but unnerving). My favourite way is when the composer and choreographer spend time together during rehearsal. That way, we dancers get to hear and observe a little bit of the collaborative process and learn more of what the choreographer is thinking. From hearing about what the composer sees, we learn something of what the piece conveys.
I continue to think of the thing as a whole, though -- even though dance can happen in silence. I need to. It makes no sense for me to be thinking of dancing "to" the music. I know this isn't a musical performance -- no one has come for the music specifically -- but keeping my ear (and eye) on the piece as a multi-stranded work of art in which music and dance are intertwined. It's a rich and complex feast.