Category Archives: modern dance
Here is the link to a review of two new excellent reads. Check them out! Prepping for the Common Core with Two Informational Dance Texts | Dance Advantage
Here is my December article for Dance Advantage.
Here’s my November article for Dance Advantage.
As a sophomore in college I had the distinct honor of dancing Lar Lubovitch’s Marimba. John Dayger, long time Lubovitch rehearsal director and dancer, set the work in a number of marathon weekends- a process that proved to be my first REAL introduction to professional dance.
I entered college from a dance studio owned by a couple of ‘adagio’ dancers. I studied ballet, pointe, jazz, and tap. I taught classes to children. I dabbled in a little choreography. Dance notation to me, meant the notebooks filled with either stick-figures with counts or short-hand representing choreography that the studio owners created and I was to teach my classes. Choreography simply meant an assembling movement together and that movement was intended to demonstrate the skills we’d hopefully developed throughout the year.
When I interviewed for entrance into the dance major program and interviewed for a scholarship, my future mentor asked me my favorite choreographers. Having had zero dance history education apart from what I read in Dance Magazine and a book my first ballet teacher gave me, I listed Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, and…Lar Lubovitch.
At this point you might think to yourself, “huh?! These are the three she lists? Kelly (mainstream), Astaire (mainstream), and…..Lubovitch (NOT mainstream for a girl growing up in a rural town in Michigan.).” The thought strikes me as odd, too.
The thing is, my dad likes to arrive places early. And I mean EARLY (especially when he’s anxious). So, I had about an hour and half to kill in the hallways of the dance department before another auditionee arrived. There was still probably another half hour before check-in. During this time, I read every article on every bulletin board I could find. Since Lubovitch had been in residence the year prior, his company performing and teaching several master classes, there were a lot of articles about the company’s presence and about Lar Lubovitch himself. I recognized his name. Honestly. Remember, I was an avid reader of Dance Magazine. And I thought I had seen some of his work on PBS. (To this day I am not sure that is true). Yet in my mind, in the span of two hours, he’d come to be one of my favorite choreographers.
Magically, I was cast in Marimba during my sophomore year. It was the most intense dance experience I’d ever had. In fact, I think that was the most intense dance experience I have EVER had but mainly due to my age and level of training at that point. Here are some of the things that challenged everything I thought I knew about dance at that time.
Counting: Mostly 8’s. Sometimes 5’s or 7’s. Always consistant.
Lubovitch: 11, 12, 7, 5, 13, 9, 9,…..it was alllll over the place and actually had to be counted out loud by the group in order to keep track. Skipping 6 and 7 of course because the sound resonates into the house.
Composition tools: they exist
Lubovitch: they are complex, beautiful ideas that shift movement into meaningful visual pictures and contextual ideas. They may also make you want to stab your eyes with forks because they can be that complex and relentless.
Cast: the people that co-exist with you in Time and Space
Lubovitch: No man is an island and without these people, you are sunk. They are your life-line. And if someone happens to make a mistake in the fifth of a twenty-two minute piece that impacts the entire cast and the success of the entire piece, well….you better find acceptance and forgiveness because: 1. sooner or later that person will be YOU and 2. there is going to be another run of the piece in 5 minutes and anger will just get in the way.
Conditioning: there is this thing called your “center”
Lubovitch: nothing helps you find your center like running in plie for a 7 hour rehearsal on Saturday and doing it again on Sunday for 5. (Not to mention the 3 hours on Friday night). Weekend after weekend after weekend. (Which follow weeks of dancing 6 hours minimum per day). That kind of knowledge gets you through your 5 hour dance day when still moving (dancing) in the 9th month of your second pregnancy.
Dancer’s tools: shoes, mostly and then calluses
Lubovitch: Elastoplast® is the greatest invention in the world. Second only to gaff tape (maybe).
RETURN to current day…..
So, this has all come up because yesterday during dinner I had a very powerful movement memory of a section from this piece. Sadly, I cannot remember the full name of the section….it was something like Big Turns, Fast Turns, Sudden Death. It is my favorite movement I’ve ever danced, mainly because I love turns, speed, and being off-center. Then, when you divide movement by half each time it is repeated it becomes a wonderful, death-defying movement puzzle that keeps you engaged for…..umm….over a decade. Yikes!!
I dance, for most of the year, every single day. But this is the dancing I miss. The kind in which every cell of your being is engaged because your life, or the life you have dared to imagine for yourself, depends on it.
I am relatively new to Twitter but I have already enjoyed the relationships I have started to cultivate and the dialogue they have inspired.
One of the threads we’ve created is the comparison of contemporary dance to modern (look for #comodance). I have biases. Know this. But also know that while I consider myself a modern dance artist, my roots are firm in the jazz idiom. Allow me to clarify: Jazz created by people that were investigating the possibilities of the body with applied theory and clear purpose. Jazz dance that actually related to jazz music and shared rhythms and the percussive qualities that resulted in those rhythms. Jazz that sculpted space as well as the body. Jazz choreography that was new each time based on the music, the lines, the feel for the piece. Jazz artists branded their styles yet offered unique perspectives with new works and demonstrated a development of an idea, a motif, and strong movement selection. In these ways, artists working in jazz were working as deeply and as intellectually, I think, as many modern dance artists- which were then often using the term “contemporary”. Yet, the “contemporary dance” of Martha Graham is nothing like the “contemporary dance” being presented current day on shows such as Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance.
I will be the first to admit that modern dance, like jazz, has suffered an immense departure from its origins that so clearly identified its belonging in the dance world; like it or not. I will also be the first to propose that we need a revision ( a RE- VISION) in order to perpetuate this idiom into the future. But the same goes for all dance idioms, wouldn’t you say? Wasn’t there huge discussion about six months ago about whether or not ballet is dead? The same could be debated about modern (also touched on in the #comodance thread). I have some theories as to HOW this might be done but they need some refinement before I share. I also have some theories as to how all of this should relate to dance education but I am also not ready to show those cards. For now, I will keep them close to my jazz vest (of which I wore A LOT in my jazz days. )
Okay, so here goes. My attempt to fairly explain contemporary dance to the non-dancer. Gulp.
- Contemporary dance is a category of dance which borrows movement from the disciplines of ballet, modern, and jazz dance and places an emphasis on virtuosic athleticism.
- Contemporary choreography often demonstrates one of two themes: direct/indirect narrative or movement for movement sake yet both approaches are usually dependent upon musical selection and often rooted in popular culture references.
- As in everything, there is good and bad. Contemporary dance aspires to be aesthetically beautiful or aesthetically ugly, relying on body rather than embodiment to make the concept clear.
What do you think? I chose my words carefully…..
Here is a brief list of contrasting ideas that may provoke further thought regarding the differences between modern dance and contemporary. This is not to say these concepts don’t exist in both classifications, these are just general comments to the trends I see in them separately.
Re-Creation of Mvt (embodiment ) Imitation of Mvt (line/shape)
Again, what do you think?
If you are interested in joining the conversations about dance online, check out Jordon Cloud’s recent post here and “like” the Terpsichore: Movement as Muse on FB here. Also check out this article by Nancy Wozny on this very topic!!
The Verbal Challenge: Describing Modern Dance As Succinctly As Possible While Evoking Visual Image and Possible Definition of Intent
Yeah….It can be that difficult to maintain brevity when attempting to describe modern dance to the non-dancer.
This is by no means the first time I’ve visited this puzzle in my work but this is a most recent stab prompted by the impressive Jordon Cloud.
So, here goes. My meager attempt to describe modern dance with attention to creative intent, technical expression, and aesthetic. Gulp.
- Modern dance IDEALLY seeks to convey meaning which may or may not include direct narrative.
- Modern dance IDEALLY relies on organic, natural, and technical movement vocabulary, which supports that expression and which may or may not be codified.
- As in everything, there is good and bad, but in modern dance either may be ugly.
What do you have?
There are plenty of semantic issues in dance, such as the definition of “contemporary” dance. But the one that may frustrate me the most is the term “interpretive” dance.
This is commonly used to describe modern dance when people (audiences) don’t seem to understand the artist’s intent. In many instances, I think it is the lack of cooperation on behalf of the viewer to give in to the experience and try to engage. It is simply written off as “weird.” And, it can be. I do recognize that it can also be the fault of the artist, particularly those creating dance works that leave little room for dialogue and instead dance to satisfy their own egos without much attention to the craft or the responsibility of the artist. I think of this as self-indulgence, best done in a darkly lit studio in the middle of the night as in all of the best and worst cliché dance movies.
The term “interpretive” dance is also assigned to dance improvisation. Okay, here is where most people, dancers and non-dancers, conjure prompts as the impetus of movement. The joke then becomes, “be a tree.” Ha ha ha.
I find improvisation, in the wrong hands, to be dangerous. As a dancer, improv experiences can be exhilerating. But when the participant turns facilitator, and attempts to recreate their “feel good” experience for their students, without an educational or artistically based motivation, things can quickly revert back to self-indulgence. (I actually witnessed a choreographer- in all seriousness- invite auditionees to progress across the floor as a sand bag!!! No partnering. No expectation that this should halt movement. Ugh!!) It is this kind of work that viewers tend to think of as “weird” when really we should all simply understand this to be BAD dance.
But, back to the language of dance. Shouldn’t we be promoting accuracy in the description of dance just as we do (arguably) in the acts of dancing and creating? Let’s get specific. We do in visual art and it is pretty universally accepted: impressionist, expressionist, minimalist,….. The masses seem to understand those examples. Let’s take what they already know (“accessing prior knowledge”, for those teachers out there) and deepen their understanding. Dance, by nature IS interpretive so to call it “interpretive dance” is redundant. Isn’t the purpose of art to interpret? And let’s start with the dancers….I REALLY don’t want to come across another sandbag incident.
And speaking of prompts, here are some of the things that inspired this rant:
First, a clip of the brilliant and prolific Margie Gillis being raked over the coals by a Canadian talk show host. Disgusting. Assuredly, there are plenty of items to discuss regarding this interview and I’ve not selected the most important with this entry, but I need to reach a place of calm before I can put tips to keys and write about the rest.
Second, a clip of some seriously beautiful and interesting dance created by Helen Simoneau (and danced by one of my grad school colleagues, He Jin Jang). Stunning. Many words and prompts come to my mind when I watch this, which I find myself doing over and over and over and over……
Oh, and since we’re talking about dance….how about the Deborah Jowitt’s departure from the Village Voice?! More on that (probably) soon…..
I wrote “A Passion Observed” over a month ago although it was only recently posted. Last week, Bill T. Jones was interviewed by Tom Ashbrook for NPR’s On Point radio show. I always love the show, but when my favorite liberal artist/choreographer in on….I REALLY love the show. (Last week also featured a show on knitting…another score for me!) We listened to this on our drive to Ann Arbor to see the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s Legacy Tour. What a wonderfully dance filled Saturday.
One of the things Tom Ashbrook was perseverant in getting Bill T. Jones to answer regarded the significance of dance; why use dance as a vehicle for expression instead of literature, poetry, etc. Mr. Jones commented with a few, well-selected words: “it’s real people, in real time, using the most basic of instruments.” He explained that this is the power of live theatre- “the exceptional moment.” He likened dance to life by outlining the journey of birth, growth, and death. Essentially, it is what we all have in common and dance may serve as a metaphor of that. Hmm.
The body tells our story, whether we like it or not. It relates us to one another in a way that language and culture can often fall short. Dance is visceral, kinetic, and binding. In watching dance, we respond first instinctually and then intellectually.
In watching the Merce Cunningham Dance Company on Saturday night, I was keenly aware of the body- the isolation of it, the explosiveness of it, the control of it, and the development of it. At times, I was also aware of the absence of these things. None where more noticeable, however, than the absence of Merce Cunningham or at least his critical eye and the coaching that inevitably would have followed. I enjoyed the performance and I thought the choice of program was insightful. Yet, something was missing. It was a little as though the glue holding these elements together was a little less gripping than it used to be. It seemed to me that liberties in movement were taken. Some personalities shined through while others felt a little dull. For me, the latter were dancing bodies not necessarily engaging fully in the “exceptional moment” and I had never seen that happen in a Cunningham performance before.
Appreciating Cunningham’s movement, for me, has been a journey of an acquired taste. Yet, his methods for dance making and commitment to longevity had me from the beginning. In watching Squaregame (1976) and Splitsides (2003), I recognized his ability to reflect and redirect without sacrificing any of his integrity in movement or commitment to his philosophy. He seemed simply to be able to change with the times and continued to explore and develop his work accordingly. I hope when I am approaching 90, I am able to be so open and yet still so focused. He seemed to see his dancers for who they really were, physically, and put their strengths to use. Don’t get me wrong, a Cunningham dancer will still stand out as a Cunningham dancer in a studio of branded and non-branded movers, but he seemed to embrace their cross-training in his later work more than I think he would have in his beginning.
What I appreciated most, however, was our collective sense of mourning. If I can read into the patchy personal performances, I would be inclined to think that by now, this tour must be brutal. I wonder if, in an act of self-preservation, some of the dancers have started to emotionally separate themselves from the work. Performing these dances without the motivation of having Merce’s approval and winding down to the end of it all must be excruciating. Dancing for people that are attending because it is the last chance rather than a brave new start as a Cunningham supporter must be difficult. After seeing the company in 2004, I can safely say the wind has been taken out of the sails. But we were there in the theatre together, remembering. Dance brought us together again to recall, reflect, and re-inspire. Dance allowed us to re-member our Cunningham community, our dance community, a facet of our greater arts community. I needed it.
On our drive home, we listened to the remainder of the Bill T. Jones interview. At one point, a caller relayed something that Bill T. Jones had said in a class she was attending at The Ohio State University in the 1990s. He apparently seemed frustrated with the class and sat the dancers down. To paraphrase, he told them they wouldn’t all become dancers. But regardless of what they did do, if they dug deep and kept true to what dance requires, they would still be dancers. If they went to places that challenged them, where they were uncomfortable, but were fully present, they would still be dancers. This touched me. Hmm.
As I think about it that was exactly what happened in the theatre last night. Cunningham allowed us that. I had been looking for the “exceptional moment” to happen under the lights but it happened in the dark. It was my “exceptional moment.” It happened in the attendance of live theatre. To Merce, his dancers, and the rest of our community, Bill T. Jones and the OSU grad included, I am forever thankful.
Woman watches a stage full of eccentricly collected performers saturated in power, expression, individuality, character, and grace.
Instead of seeing each detail, woman feels her way through the action, the story, the statement. The experience transcends vision, permeates the body, infects the core, stops and starts the beating heart.
Unable to speak, tears brimming, woman witnesses the creator take the stage and command his dancers to proceed, recede, bow, and exit. The show is over. The impression made, is not.
Eleven or so months later, woman watches the creator’s intensity as he feels his way through the exerpt of this powerful work as he is recognized with one of the nation’s highest artistic award, the Kennedy Center Honor. As soon as the movement begins, tears start streaming down her face. She immediately re-enters the “place” she was in when watching this moment of this piece live, but this time there are pregnancy hormones to contend with, accounting for her tear soaked shirt. The man is Bill T. Jones. The woman, of course, is me. The piece was Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray.
I first considered calling this piece, “The One” but I thought that might not sit that well with my husband, although he is fully aware and supportive of my feelings for Bill T. Jones. So maybe, “The Other One.” Or, “The First One” since I did discover Bill T. before Scott D. Nah,…better to preserve feelings and marital bliss. (Honey, you’re the real deal.)
Bill T. Jones changed my life. I had appreciated his work upon introduction through a 20th century dance history course. But it was watching the PBS Bill Moyers documentary about Still/Here in a Senior Seminar class that really rocked my dance existence. Bill T. Jones scared me in the most exciting and positive way. His work spoke to me aesthetically, but more importantly demonstrated the power of physical, non-verbal communication and the responsibility of the dance artist to guide others through this process. I became very aware of my comfort in pretty, visually interesting but “safe in meaning” movement.
Still/Here, Jones’ work referencing terminal illness, struck/strikes a personal chord for me. My mother passed away at the age of 48; when I was 13. She had severe asthma and emphysema and in the years she was ill, I remember the frustration she could not verbally express. Language simply didn’t cover it. While her body would not have been helpful, she was winded after walking from one end of our small ranch-styled house to the other, I can’t help but think structured movement in a contained way, may have offered some form of emotional relief.
As an adult, I realize that dance may not have served as an outlet for her, but it certainly did for me. I have always easily recognized that dance has been my constant. In a life full of change and multiple directions, dance has always been there.
As a dancer, I am familiar with muscle memory and the ability of the body to recall movement. After researching the role of the body in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (and the success of using structured movement experiences to alleviate the physical symptoms of PTSD) I also understand the ability of the body to recall emotion. Having these two elements present themselves through two bodies over the same experience, was striking to me. In watching the Kennedy Center Honors, I had an emotional recall response while watching Bill T. Jones have a physical recall response to the performance of his dancers. Once again, I am reminded of the power of dance. I am aware of the prism that dance provides: opportunities to see, to feel, to consider, to live.
In a recent interview with Tom Ashbrook of NPR’s On Point, Bill T. Jones discusses briefly the state of our current union, citing his feeling that we are in “an undeclared civil war” with no clear boundaries or sides. I agree. Often in the last few weeks/months, I have felt the world has lost its mind. Much of what my husband and I count on- in our community, in our careers, and in our consciences- seems under attack. Our perceived road to stability never felt fully paved, but feels more and more like a dirt road filling with potholes. Maybe those pregnancy hormones are getting to me again, but this is certainly an interesting and sometimes disconcerting time to live.
Ironically, in some ways, this brings me back to my constant: dance. For the first time, perhaps ever, dance has not been the first constant in my life. Over the last two years as my career has suffered some bullets, as programs or hours have been re-organized offering a sense of instability and related anxiety. But, in hearing Bill T. Jones express in words how our current world relates to the dance he created about our world’s past, I am comforted if not encouraged. He articulated physically and verbally, my emotion. He found the language I was seeking. It explains my response when seeing the work live, and again on TV. Once again, the power of dance prevails. This time, however, it didn’t have to be my physical body in control in order to make peace. It was done through bodies I’ve never met but understand on an intrinsic level. Bill T. Jones continues to change my perspective and thus change my life.