Here is my December article for Dance Advantage.
Tag Archives: choreography
Here’s my November article for Dance Advantage.
Is there anything as inviting and intimidating as a blank page or an empty studio.
I am sorry for my negligence in writing….it has been a very full fall.
My pages have been filling of notes on the differences/observations/musings about teaching dance in the K-8 setting instead of high school and college. And I have recently been in studios that don’t seem to stay empty long but fill with many ideas, discussions, reflections, oh and bodies in movement, of course.
I began the season preparing a piece to be included in ArtPrize, an enormous installation of visual art throughout the downtown area of Grand Rapids, MI. As the name suggests, it is a competition with a large sum of money awarded to a winner, smaller sums to subsequent winners, and moderate controversy over quality, artistry, motivation, and exploitation on behalf of some artists, some hosts, and the ArtPrize organization.
I created a work titled Process/Progress that was designed to illustrate the creative journey in making dance. We were to begin with a 2 hour open rehearsal followed by performances over the span of three weeks that changed in order of content, music selection, and presentation based on when the performance fell within the 3 week journey. Therefore, it would never appear the same way twice and the process would continue to progress.
Well, the vendor that agreed to serve as host for this performance (and other live performing arts works) presented these works on an outdoor stage in the parking lot of the establishment, which also hosted the work of other artists. The establishment also entered their own “art” presented next to the stage. Their piece (basically a boxcar that opened to serve alcohol with go-go dancers on the roof) required large club music which the owner would turn off while we were “performing” but not during our two-hour rehearsal. They didn’t seem to understand, nor care once it was explained to them, that the two-hour rehearsal (which was only scheduled to occur once within the 3 week span) was part of the performance. So. After careful thought, I pulled the piece.
I was fortunate to have had premeried the piece, in draft form, in an event produced by local artists committed to raising the community aesthetic of dance and art. This event, Salmagundi produced by Dance in the Annex, Wealthy Theatre, and Art Peers, featured performances in dance, theatre, music, and film and I enjoyed it the most of many “local” performances I have seen for a very long time. A very, very long time. I enjoyed it more than some events I attended when living in NYC and Chicago. The whole evening- the performances, the audience, and the conversations I had with varying people afterwards made me think.
I found myself comparing this to other community arts events and trying to put my finger on the difference. What I was able to place, was my frustration with the typical local arts (perhaps it would be more fitting to specify dance, here) scene.
I am so bone-tired of people applauding bad dance/art just because it is “local”. This may be really really snobby, but I am tired of bad taste being put up for all to see/hear/watch. As consumers, why do our expectations drop because the artists live among us. Why are some artists that present work locally celebrated as pillars of our community yet create under-conceptualized, under-developed, under-reflected work. Why do we allow this? What can we do about it? Who cares?
Read this by Meagan Bruskewiscz. I love this article and know I will read it a few dozen more times.
In Michigan, I think Amy Wilson (Dance in the Annex), Erin Wilson (Wealthy Theatre), and company are on the right track. They have put their money where their mouths are and have identified ways to make a positive change in their community. There are others, too, in other parts of the state although I think they are working a little less comprehensively. Anyway, thanks to these artists and more for daring to hold artists and audiences accountable.
I’d like to propose a toast to the unsung heroes of local art.
To those that strive to change the mentality of “since it is local it must be inferior”.
To those that commit to quality and mastery and teaching the people around us the difference between good and bad art.
To those that invite a dialogue and an honest exchange of ideas and know we aren’t too old to learn or experiment or play.
To those that make the sacrifices- giving up shifts, distracting children, pausing “normal” life to be involved in a process that usually results in a product that could inspire further discussion and enlightenment.
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!!
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.