Sunday, September 12, 2010

Change of Scenery

A lot of the writing I'll be doing this year will be in the context of creating and reflecting on my MFA Thesis concert. I've started a new blog specifically for chronicling the production. Follow me there if it gets slow around here.
Thanks for reading!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Shen Wei Dance Arts

The last performance of the ADF 2010 season was Shen Wei Dance Arts.  Here's the beginning of my review:

Shen Wei is back in familiar territory.  The Chinese-born artist has received numerous commissions from the ADF, and in fact, started his company, Shen Wei Dance Arts, at the Festival in 2000.  This year, the company presented two separate programs in their engagement at ADF, the final performance of the Festival’s 77th season.  Friday’s Program A included “Map” (2005), a mathematically precise investigation into Wei’s movement vocabulary; the supremely strange and lovely “Folding” (2000); and the new “Solo by Shen Wei.” 

“Map” is a relentless work, impressive in its musical sensitivity and the dancers’ stamina.  Set to Steve Reich’s repetitive, mesmerizing “Desert Music,” the dance illustrates the patterning in the score and creates visual patterns through the layering of movement.  Reich’s work has a symmetrical form in five parts (ABCBA), and Wei uses each of the sections to build up his movement vocabulary.  In each section, the dancers isolate the possibilities, bringing them together before our eyes.  The movement is quirky and beautiful, with the fluidity, precision, and sense of spiral that characterize Wei’s work.   

Read the rest here.

And stay tuned.  I hope to not be quite as silent during the upcoming semester as last year!

Thursday, July 22, 2010


This Monday I went to ADF's Past/Forward concert, where ADF students perform new and classic dance works. Here's the first part of my review:

The American Dance Festival's performance season is generally characterized by the presentation of acclaimed choreographers and dance works and the commission of new dances. However, the Festival's responsibility to the dance world extends beyond the cultivation of the latest and greatest; they also play a role in reviving and honoring works by classic choreographers. This dual role of the Festival is expressed most clearly by the annual Past/Forward concert. This year's concert was performed in Reynolds Industries Theater at Duke University July 19-21, and featured a World Premiere of "Sepia," by Tatiana Baganova, Merce Cunningham's "Inlets 2" (1983), and the "West Side Story Suite" (1995), by Jerome Robbins, all performed by ADF dancers.

Baganova's rich "Sepia" spoke of the passage of time, decay and rebirth through images coalescing with an emotional resonance, although with no strong narrative. Large hourglasses were suspended above the stage, sometimes pouring down a stream of sand over the heads and shoulders of the dancers. The dancers moved with a sensual grace under the fluid sand, undulating their arms, circling their heads, letting the stream flow down their backs. The sound of ripping paper cut through the haunting music, as hands broke through a large paper cocoon at the front of the stage. Three dancers - although it seemed many more limbs writhing beneath the paper - emerged from the yellowing paper, crumpling it up and carrying it around the stage with scurrying steps.

Read the rest here.

Just one last concert of the season--Shen Wei Dance Arts. I'll be there on Friday.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Of Glitter and Tears: Rosie Herrera Returns to ADF

July 12-14, 2010

Rosie Herrera is a bit of a magician. She transports us into surreal, ridiculous, and unexpected places and jolts us with little surprises before we even have time to guess what’s coming next. She twists our emotions, our expectations, and our associations. With a skillful sleight-of-hand, she can turn the seemingly benign piñata—parties! candy!—into a darkly symbolic object, carrying disappointment, disillusionment, and violence. Or perhaps she just exposes what is already there, in the image, in us.

A Festival favorite from last year’s Past/Forward concert, Herrera has been invited back this year with the popular Various Stages of Drowning: A Cabaret (2009), set on her own dancers this time rather than ADF students, and the World Première of Pity Party, commissioned by the ADF. With a skilled eye for the theatrical, Herrera transforms the Reynolds Industries Theater to create vivid and striking images for her work.

I was excited to see Various Stages of Drowning again, and was relieved to find the moments preserved in my memory still fresh and full of life. Besides the hilarious Titanic scene, where a drag queen lip-synchs to “My Heart Will Go On,” smashes a block of ice to the floor and “swims” off stage in a wet suit and flippers, I found myself noticing the darker veins that underlie this work. Tinkly, cutesy music plays as a tiny woman (Ana Mendez) in a short, puffy pink dress giggles and blows kisses. Three men in bow ties carry her around the stage where ten birthday cakes sit atop tall stools. The men position Mendez above a cake, lowering her gently down. “Ay!” she squeals, giggling, as the icing oozes from between her legs. As she is carried from one cake to the next, the mood turns sinister; Mendez begins to scream in protest, crying, as she is roughly dropped into each cake. It becomes hard to watch this violation, hard to watch her helpless desperation. Immediately after she is dragged off stage, a young child—two years old, perhaps—is wheeled through the ruined cakes in a bathtub. The juxtaposition of the child’s lightness and innocence with the violence just done to the woman takes one’s breath away; it feels overwhelmingly ominous—and yet, tinged with hope.

As Pity Party begins, the curtain opens to reveal a wall of shimmering gold tinsel, hanging ceiling to floor at the back of the stage. The now-classic love ballad, “A Total Eclipse of the Heart,” plays, belted out by one of the performers and a man from the audience. The dancers fill up the drama of the song with intentionally angst-y gestures and facial expressions, pounding their fists against their thighs and clutching their hair. This over-the-top expression of emotion is countered by subtler scenes: one of the performers, Liony Garcia, bobs for Barbies, lifting the dolls from a bowl of water with his teeth and distributing them to the other dancers, who cradle them solemnly and mournfully.

Pity Party, like Various Stages of Drowning, shifts swiftly between celebration and grief, the ridiculous and the deadly serious. The performers pose in a sultry tableau, holding suggestive smiles that eventually begin to droop, until they are all weeping. Piñatas, imbued with memories of child-like excitement and anticipation, float just out of reach of the performers, who swing blindly for them; indeed, they swing with such commitment that it becomes clear it is the swinging itself that is the point, despite its futility. Later, when one of the women breaks up a dance party, blindfolded and swinging a bat, the other dancers direct her to a piñata on the floor, which she proceeds to pummel to death. The violence of this scene is palpable, as the performers’ encouraging shouts become stares of horror, and the woman with the bat swings until she is too exhausted to continue.

Although there are still a few rough edges in Pity Party, Herrera draws us easily along with her quirky touch and sense of humor. It is clear that just beneath the outrageous, glittery surface is something true, something honest. Herrera seems to suggest that perhaps the glitzy veneer is true, too. It is part of Herrera’s magic that she can offer up a landscape that feels so deeply familiar, so human, for all its strangeness.

Anne Morris

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company

Taking the Tango to a New Level—Literally

Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company flies into the Durham Performing Arts Center, July 8-10

Choreographer Brenda Angiel is no stranger to the American Dance Festival. She made her Festival debut as a student, and since then her company, Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company (based in Buenos Aires), has performed at the ADF twice, in 1999 and 2005; she has also been selected for several International Choreography Residency programs through the Festival. Widely lauded for her inventive aerial dance work, Angiel now devotes an entire evening to re-envisioning the tango with 8cho. Her dancers are joined by a five-piece orchestra playing a jazzy, funky tango score (composed and arranged by Juan Pablo Arcangeli and Martin Ghersa), and a singer, Alejandro Guyot, who appears in a few of the numbers. The dramatic lighting and separate scenes give the sense that we have happened into a vibrant nightclub. We meet several sensual couples, two men competing for the attention of a woman, a lonely man without a partner, and a woman longing for a lost love; although the scenes progress successively, I could imagine that all of this might be happening at once in various parts of the club.

Using bungee cords or ropes and harnesses, Angiel enhances the traditional tango form with sweeping spins, playful bounds, and daring dips that hover just above the floor. Most often, although not always, the woman in the couple floats and glides through the air while the man remains earthbound, directing her motion. The sensuality and fancy footwork remain, amplified through the use of the vertical dimension. The possibilities for partner work are multiplied as the pairs flip upside down and use the back wall of the stage as their floor.

In addition to taking the three-dimensionality of the dance to a new level, Angiel has found new ways to abstract the elements of tango. The opening image reveals two women suspended in a mist, arms and legs twined around each other. Slowly, the two swivel their hips and their knees, wrap and unwrap their lower legs as tango partners do. With extreme control they turn each other around and hang upside down--somehow without setting themselves swinging like pendulums. In another scene, “Footango,” three pairs of legs appear from above the top curtain. Angiel shows us how expressive feet can be as they gesture to each other, flick their feet, and play out a scene in which the two women fight over the one man.

One of the most exciting scenes is “Tangay,” in which Ana Armas and Pablo Carrizo have just finished a playful tango. She flies backwards out of his arms….and lands in the arms of another man! She bounds back and forth between them as they try to win her attention. The partners keep switching, and they even dance a tango for three, with Armas enclosed in a circle of their arms, all three of them stepping quickly and sharply between and around the others’ legs. Finally, the two men decide she is too much trouble, and finish the tango themselves.

Despite the novelty of upside-down tangos and endless spiraling spins, the material starts to feel repetitive by the end. Although the last two numbers feature multiple pairs, it seems that we have already seen many of the ways they interact with each other. While each scene starts with a strong dramatic image and intriguing uses of the aerial apparatus, the ideas did not seem to develop enough to sustain my interest for the duration of each scene. The women, weightless, usually swung around by their men, begin to feel a bit like fairies, visions—a little imaginary. Perhaps I tired of this fantasy because the illusion was incomplete; I could not ignore the ropes for long, although it seemed I was meant to.

Nonetheless, Angiel approaches—and expands—the possibilities of aerial dance with imagination and vigor. Despite some clumsy technical work in last night’s performance (and an odd snippet of eerie, electronic recorded music that plays during every transition—baffling, given the live musicians on stage), 8cho’s dancers make the enormous effort of aerial work look easy and fun, and the live orchestra is outstanding.

Anne Morris

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"Angel Reapers" at ADF

Simple Passions? 

Martha Clarke’s Angel Reapers at the Reynolds Industries Theater, July 5-7

The tension of line against curve. Hard-edged panels of light; rows of chairs, placed at right angles; a single file, stamping line of dancers crossing the stage.  And yet—the rounding of long skirts over hips; arms spiraling upward as the body twists; an ecstatic, rotating circle within a circle.  So much seems to hinge on opposing tensions in Martha Clarke’s new work in progress, Angel Reapers, a dance theater work about the Shaker community and its founder, Ann Lee.

Clarke’s dance work is set to a cappella Shaker songs sung by the dancers, and it is fortified with text by award-winning playwright Alfred Uhry; Christopher Akerlind lights the dance with simple, painterly strokes.  The dancers remind each other of the strict rules of their society (including celibacy), celebrate the chores they do to keep the group functioning, and confess their desires, their sins.  There is a loose narrative to the work, and characters distinguish themselves as the performance develops: Mother Ann Lee, the charismatic founder of the religious community, her brother William, a young couple that transgress the rules and are cast out, and a former member of the group who later denounces the believers.

The dramatic momentum of the work is really driven by the dancing and gesture more than the text.  Clarke works with a minimal movement vocabulary, mostly consisting of stylized pedestrian movement.  The dancers employ an assortment of hand gestures—sometimes clasping both hands at their chests, sometimes holding their palms upturned.  The women swish their skirts; the men hang onto their hats.  Walking patterns carve through the space as the dancers scurry, keep time, and sometimes tip and lean in a measured pass back and forth through the space.

At the heart of the work seems to be the tension between human and divine nature; the Shakers aspired to transcend—deny—their human passions, yet encouraged religious ecstasy in worship.  Clarke’s work seems to highlight the physicality of the community, emphasizing their humanness.  The singing moves the body, as air fills the chest, throats open, shoulders sway to the melody.  The rhythmic dancing this group does, patterned clapping and stomping, pitching forward as they circle the stage, is all imbued with the body’s weight, sound, pulse.  Even the work that was so central to the Shaker community—sowing seeds, washing dishes, mending clothes—requires sweeping arms, dexterous fingers, strong backs.  Certainly the worship depicted here is a full-bodied affair, complete with convulsions, energetic spinning, and even collapse.  At the end of the dance, Mother Ann Lee’s brother William confesses the inner turmoil he feels, with the soul of an angel and the body of a man, and begins to undress.  For a brief scene, he joins the other men, who enter stripped bare, and they trace a hasty spiral of turning leaps before exiting again—it is clear that these are men, not angels.

It is this tension—human versus angelic—that begins to break apart the community in Clarke’s work.  From the straight-backed, angular posture of the beginning, the dancers begin to yield, to curve away from (and towards) the touch of others.  They begin to lose the order that characterizes the beginning of the dance as their bodily desires are not always denied.  The last scene seems a fractured portrait, no longer a unified, supportive—if rigid—community, but one with deep, internal fissures.  The chairs are no longer in straight rows, but scattered in small groups around the stage; some chairs are empty, as members have left the group.  Mother Ann seems uncertain, as if questioning her own resolve.  And yet—the group hums, a droning, spreading hum, as the lights fade, still finding unity (and maybe even the Divine) in their merging voices.

Anne Morris

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Beyond Human

The performance duo Eiko and Koma performed at ADF this week.  They have been performing together for 40 years, and are in the middle of a multi-year Retrospective Project.  As they tour for the next couple of years, they will be performing selections from their repertory (usually abbreviated from the original length) and a new work, Raven.  I had seen works of theirs (or excerpts, really) on video, but nothing live.  I had thought their work to be primarily site-adaptive, often in outdoor, natural environments, and so was curious how they would transform a standard, proscenium theater for their performance.  In some sense, they brought something of the outside world into the theater, using natural materials like feathers and straw, but also created a sort of in-between space with a canvas backdrop and floor covering; the theater space was clearly still a theater, but made into an environment that suggested a natural setting.
I was really struck with a certain quality of their work, almost a paradox of human vs. beyond human.  In a sense, the very essence of human nature and human needs seems to be at the center of their work.  They often perform with minimal costumes, and sometimes no clothes at all, so that the human body in its entirety (in its "natural state"?) is visible.  And yet, the two do not draw or pay any attention to their nakedness, seeming not to even notice.  This attitude, plus the white paint that covered their skin in this performance, made them seem almost inhuman.  Separate from human.
The work also reaches beyond human scale, where human desires and needs meet the natural world, with its internal and external cycles, development and death, regeneration.  They don't just link the human and natural world, but show them to be indistinguishable, inseparable.  I'm still wrapping my mind around how to make sense of it, in words or in feeling.

Here is the beginning of my review:

 “To live is to be fragile,” reads the poem, “A Moth,” adapted from Mitsuharu Kaneko, which is printed in the program for Eiko and Koma’s Retrospective Project.  Certainly, Eiko and Koma’s work reveals the fragility and desperation of human life, but also the fierceness and determination.  The duo presented three works this week (June 28-30) at the Reynolds Industries Theater: “Raven,” a new work, “Night Tide” (1984), and an excerpt from “White Dance” (1976), their first choreographed piece. 

 It is impossible not to think about the passage of time with respect to Eiko and Koma’s work.  Their Retrospective Project intentionally emphasizes this; displayed in the lobby of the theater are set pieces, props, and videos from their work together over the past 40 years.  Detailed program notes about their habits of recycling performance ideas, props, costumes, and music, and the literal regeneration of past work on the program reinforces the awareness of evolution through time. 

 But this awareness is also embedded in the performance work itself.  The notoriously slow pace of the pair’s movement allows the passage of time to be felt and consciously seen as we notice how their bodies move, work, and balance, creating striking movement images; we watch the evolution—development and decay—of each gesture, each step.  We have time to take in how their bodies relate to the performing environment, to consider the way time works on the environment, and by extension, the human body.

Read the rest of the review here.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Meditation on Hip Hop

Last weekend, ADF presented RUBBERBANDance Group from Canada.  The choreographer, Victor Quijada, grew up in LA, and has been influenced by hip hop styles from an early age.  He also has classical training, both in ballet and in modern/contemporary dance, and his choreography brings all these types of dance (plus a few more) together.  Here's the first part of my review:

What is the expressive potential of hip hop?  What underlies the movement vocabulary of break dance?  Is there a theory of syncopation, of inversion?  Montreal’s RUBBERBANDance Group, directed by choreographer Victor Quijada, raised some of these questions for me in their presentation of “Loan Sharking” at the Durham Performing Arts Center June 24-26.  Billed as a company that blends hip hop and contemporary dance, RUBBERBANDance’s influences actually reach much wider, including ballet, capoeira, and various forms of improvisation, including contact improvisation.  Rather than infusing contemporary dance with blasts of the high impact flashiness that has come to be associated with hip hop, Quijada is creating a hard-to-pin-down style that indicates a deep investigation into the particular nature of hip hop, into the elements that set it apart or connect it to other dance forms.

Read the rest of the review here.

Although I couldn't really go into them in the review, I found myself really taken with the questions about the expressive potential of hip hop.  Perhaps because Quijada was incorporating hip hop elements into a style that was so different than how we usually experience hip hop, I couldn't stop thinking about what those elements are, and what they could express.  Most often, I think it is the kinetic power of hip hop that is at the forefront--the pace is usually fast, the movement is powerful, often aggressive, and there are sometimes impressive "tricks" incorporated--headspins, flips, freezes.  As a viewer, I get involved in the high energy, the rhythm, my sense of awe at the power, coordination, and daring of the dancers.

But what if hip hop was used to express more than power, speed, or aggression?  What could an inversion mean? (An inversion refers to "upside-down" poses, shapes, movement.)  A metaphorical turning something or someone on its head?  Looking at the world from a different angle?  What about the ease with which Quijada's dancers rise up, rebound from the floor?  Resilience?  As I watched the performance, I kept writing down things like redirect, deflect, replacement--words that suggest subversion, defense, turning an attack into a more positive force.  And the solo I describe in the review, where it appears that the woman is "scratching" the movement, as a DJ would scratch a record, speaks of endless repeat, rewind, replay.  Or even revision.  A starting and stopping, segmented, fragmented flow, a distorted narrative.  

Maybe I am reading way to much into all of this, but all of these characteristics tell me something about the origins of hip hop, and the people who developed it. Started in urban centers as a counter-culture street dance, hip hop grew into an alternative to actual fighting, although it often retains a "battling" structure and a competitive nature.  Redirect, upside down, deflect, rewind, replay, revise, fragmentation.  Are these characteristics inherent in the form or is my hindsight knowledge able to write these interpretations over a convenient surface?  At any rate, they speak to me of resilience, creativity, rewriting the conventional narrative.  I'm not suggesting that Quijada was intending any of these meanings or interpretations, although he may have been, but his work certainly got my curiosity going.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dance for Camera

A little intermission from the ADF reviews--
During the last semester, I was taking a course called Dance on Video. Dance for Video, also known as Film Dance or Dance for the Camera, is a growing genre within the dance world. This is not performance documentation, but rather the creation of dances specifically to be presented on film, rather than on a stage. It really is a whole separate world! The role of editing becomes a secondary (or, in some projects, a primary) choreographic task, as making "film sense" is often different than "dance sense."
At any rate, my final project was a dance film called "And in the morning..."and you can see it on the UNCG Dance website. Some of my classmates' films have been posted there, too.

This is such a growing genre that ADF curates a Dance for Camera festival, and this year, celebrated the launch of a new Journal of Screendance. I had the pleasure of seeing some of the films screened this year. Particularly great, I thought, were "Advance," by Mitchell Rose, "Box," by Ivan Rubio, "Let's Dance," by Malia Bruker and Oscar Molina, and "Derriere Elle," by Natalia Sardi and Laida Aldaz. If you get a chance to see any of these someday, I recommend them!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Dendy Dancetheater

Mark Dendy brought his company, Dendy Dancetheater, to ADF to perform a new work (commissioned by the ADF), "Divine Normal."
Read my review here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak at ADF

Last year, I wrote about Inbal Pinto's choreography for Pilobolus, but this year, I had the opportunity to see work for her own company.  The Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company performed "Oyster" at ADF June 17-19.  It was a surreal, whimsical work, truly strange and haunting.
Here's an excerpt from my review for World Dance Reviews:

"On Friday night, I happened upon a strange, sad carnival that was somehow part of the 2010 American Dance Festival. The wind whistled, a bell jingled, and a cast of knobby-kneed men, human marionettes, an organ grinder, wind-up ballerinas, armless dancers, and a two-headed man hobbled, slouched, and tiptoed through. The Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company performed the evening-length work "Oyster' (1999) at the Durham Performing Arts Center (June 17-June 19). Inspired by a short story by Tim Burton, this darkly comic and touching performance also had a touch of Edward Gorey in its dimly lit and grotesque aesthetic.
Pinto's and Pollak's whimsical choreography takes the form of a series of vignettes that feature ballet, mime, modern dance, physical comedy and acrobatics. The twelve dancers appear as multiple characters, clothed in extravagant and fanciful costumes; their faces are painted white, with doll-like make-up, and their hair stands on end. Strings of lights frame the stage and the performers' door to the "circus tent", which is built into the back of the stage. Despite the carnival atmosphere of "Oyster," there is a quietness to the performance, as if these characters might always communicate without saying a word."

Read the rest of the review here.  And don't pass up a chance to see something by this group.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Kate Weare and Monica Bill Barnes

Kate Weare Company and Monica Bill Barnes & Company shared a program this week at ADF, and I highly recommend both companies, but particularly Kate Weare.  Her work was very intimate, deeply invested in the body and relationships, and inventive.  
Here's an excerpt from my review:

"There's a surprisingly narrow distance between victory and despair, between strength and vulnerability, between intimacy and violence. Kate Weare and Monica Bill Barnes, good friends and colleagues, traced the dimensions of these spaces in a shared program at the Reynolds Industries Theater this week (June 15-16). The two companies presented wildly different works, but shared a similar intensity and commitment to the performance.

The Kate Weare Company presented "Bridge of Sighs" (2008), a work for two men and two women. In the opening image, a man and woman (Douglas Gillespie and Leslie Kraus) stand facing each other, a small distance between them. Slowly, she raises her head to look at him and then suddenly, sharply, smacks his chest. A held breath of a pause and then a tumble of stomps and slaps, using all possible body parts to pummel each other. Their tangled steps create a ragged tango in the silence."

Read the rest of it here. 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

African American Dance Ensemble at ADF

The first performance of the season!
Read my review of the African American Dance Ensemble, directed by Chuck Davis here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

ADF returns

I'm getting ready for the new performance season of the American Dance Festival. The shows start this Thursday and run through July 24. Here's the line-up. I'm looking forward to many of the performances this year--many of the companies I have not seen before. I'm also quite excited to see Rosie Herrera again. She's an acquaintance from Miami who presented an astonishing dance-theater work in the Past/Forward concert last year, and has been invited back for a concert of her own this year. Here's my review of her work from last summer.
Like last year, I'll be reviewing these concerts for World Dance Reviews, along with a colleague, Ali Duffy. I'll be the "official" reviewer for the first part of the season, through June, and then the last few performances at the end of July.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bill T. Jones

Last Friday, I got to see Bill T. Jones' newest work, Fondly Do We Hope...Fervently Do We Pray, at UNC-Chapel Hill's Memorial Hall.  It was a grand work, large and far-reaching, with the life and meaning of Abraham Lincoln at its heart.  It was such a complex work, with so many strands of meaning and question and possibility that it really deserved an essay, but I didn't have the time or brainspace for that.  Here's a paragraph from my review for World Dance Reviews:

"As the lights go to black, faint sounds, far-away bits of melodies, fragments of voices murmur through the auditorium.  Down the dark aisle comes Clarissa Sinceno, singing, guiding us with her lantern into the world of the dance.  A misty white curtain encircles the stage, glowing behind the tall silhouette that strides across its curving surface, a stovepipe hat clutched behind his back.  A long, African-American woman stands alone on a smaller, circular platform that presses slightly into the audience.  As she dances, a list of body parts is read aloud, moving from the top of the head down to the bones of the feet, and every joint and hollow along the way.  Does this list assemble or dissemble her?  Her movement is lyrical, mostly soft, but disjointed.  Her arms, like an extended embrace, reach away from the twist and lean of her body.   We will hear this accounting of body parts again—during a slave auction, as a man dances trapped in a circle of columns—and again—during the section called “The War,” a litany of broken bodies and fighting limbs."

Read the whole review here.

If you have the opportunity to see the work, I recommend it.  I haven't stopped thinking about it since Friday.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A somatic response

In studying Forsythe's work, we had to learn part of the dance and write about the dance, from a somatic and autobiographical perspective.

Arms arcing and rebounding, hips swiveling, propelling between tables, legs darting out, piercing the slowly lightening space. The dancers are so specific in their movements and pathways, so precise and fluid. Their joints seem to rotate beyond the normal range, even as they maneuver through the space and around each other with speed and clarity. As I watch, I picture myself in the large dim space, ceiling arching far above, the bank of high windows cranking slowly open to let in the sunlight. The table under my palm is hard-edged and solid—heavy and secure. I can see the trails left by each flung arm and fanning leg. I am ready to join in.

I am not ready at all. I spend an hour whining to myself—the computer screen is too small; my connection speed is too slow, making the video jerky, fragmenting the dancers’ fluid movement; the table isn’t sturdy enough, not the right shape, and I only have one table—a substantial obstacle. And the movement itself! I watch a few seconds, clicking back again and again, but I forget the details as soon as I get back to the table. Did his arm travel this way? Does he do a little hop before spinning around and sliding over the table? Which direction did his head move?

I have chosen to learn a short movement theme of One Flat Thing, reproduced that includes four dancers. I want to learn each dancer’s part, to know and feel the interactions between them, to sense the cues and the connections tying them to each other. In this clip, their movement has been isolated from the dance as a whole—only these four dancers are shown, close-up. Yet, still they are everywhere and I can’t keep up. I watch them from behind, watch their backs as they place their elbows—right, left—on the table, or sweep their arms across its surface. I am not included in their dance—left out, unable to follow or catch up. I long for the luxuriousness that one of the women seems to feel in the movement, the back of her wrist swiveling on the table, head draped back as her knee rises. I want to bring this virtuosity, this strength and power into my body. Memories return of older, “cooler,” more experienced dancers that I looked up to as a young dancer—or even in college. In middle and high school, I desired what seemed to be their perfect ballet technique, or the way they inhabited the stage—filled it to the edges and beyond with their personality and their energy. In college, I no longer wanted to be “the ballerina,” but to be one of the grounded, daring modern dancers. The sense of watching from the outside, a mixture of envy and awe, comes back to me now.

The Synchronous Objects website is designed to encourage participation in this dance. Each window into the dance illuminates a different angle, a new way of experiencing or viewing Forsythe’s choreography. Dancers and non-dancers can find a way in— a way to interact with the movement or the structure. I notice now, however, that this interaction seems limited—as outsiders, we are meant to watch and interact in an intellectual and visual way with the dance, not physically. The movement is intricate, complicated, and virtuosic; kinesthetically, we may feel the rush and flow of the dancers’ movements as we watch, but we are not really meant to do.

I’ve learned the sequence of one of the men and gotten my movement almost up to his tempo, but I know I’m not doing it right. Despite the different interpretations I see in the various bodies of the dancers, I know I have missed key information about the performance of this movement. My frustration grows as my questions mount. But I can’t question a computer. I hear myself, in class and rehearsals, asking questions to get to the movement, the words of the question and the answer filtering into a physical understanding. My questions have caught others off-guard sometimes, required them to be more specific, to break down a whole into parts, or to admit they’re not sure. I remember the sudden exasperation of a choreographer—“I don’t know, Anne! Ok? Sometimes I just don’t know yet!”—my shock and hurt dissolving to understanding. These days I try to not ask all my questions—to trust what my body knows and the sense it makes of movement. In the studio now, I decipher what I can from the video and let some of the questions hang, unasked and unanswered, as my body figures out what makes sense.

Forsythe’s dancers have to trust not just their own bodies but each other’s. Although the dancers are each doing something different almost all of the time (not much unison or syncing up), so much of One Flat Thing, reproduced depends on shared timing, cues, visual and physical connections. The woman trusts that the man with the ponytail will be right behind her to scoop her off the floor as she leans back. The man in grey depends on his partner’s back being at just the right height for him to roll over, onto the tabletop. After the kind of rehearsal that is required for this choreography—extreme sensitivity to place, time, weight and momentum—the dancers are free to move through the space with abandon. I admire their bravery, their fluency with the contours of the movement, their environment, and other bodies.

Alone in the studio, I don’t have a partner to trust, and the table is not quite reliable, either. I ease myself onto the top of the table, lower my back down to its surface. My legs stick off the end, and my shifting around has started the table wobbling. The table is sturdy enough—it can hold my weight, but I hesitate to drop my weight towards the ground, support myself against the table, let my hips and legs loosely swivel. Instead, I hold my own weight and rely on myself for balance and stability. I have made this decision many times before: group projects in middle school where I did most of the work rather than struggle with uncooperative group members; dancing with a partner that I couldn’t quite let support my weight. But that sense of trust is not foreign to me. I have danced with partners that I trusted completely—even with our eyes closed. My marriage is both a product of great trust and a source of stability. I am able to believe in that relationship entirely. How much of finding that sense of stability and trust in others is trusting myself?

In learning the dance of this quartet, I started with the male phrases. Why did I choose to follow the men first? Is it because the women are the ones who are slid around or lifted through the air (trickier to learn on my own)? Watching the work as a whole, I started to pick up on this dynamic—from what I can tell from the occasional chaos of the dance, it is only the men who lift the women. No women lifting women and no real lifting between the men; there is a rare sliding pull between men or between women. All cue each other, all initiate movement in some way, but the physical interactions seem to maintain the traditional ballet partnering rules. Did I isolate the phrases of the men because they are less intricately detailed? More broad strokes, fewer quick turns and reverses and snaking spines? As I do this movement, I can find the sense of purpose and strength I see in the men, but not quite the softness, the fluidity of the women—a switch from how I tend to characterize my body’s movement.

I discover that without at least two tables, it’s impossible to physically perform much of the movement, so I learn the shape of the phrases, rest my arms and legs on imaginary surfaces, and mark the movement the best I can. I keep up a constant hum of cues and murmurs as I walk through the phrases, reminding myself what comes next: then hands push down against the table, jump! Left, right arms windmill around…look over at the other guy, and together, elbows down, swipe the left arm around…right leg on this table, fouette around to face the diagonal…arm carves forward, looks like he hits the other man—bam!—then pulls back and crouches…reach up for the woman, bring her down to the floor….

The rhythm and hum is akin to one of the sound options that can accompany One Flat Thing, reproduced: William Forsythe’s Sing Through. His low voice swings up and down with the movement, punctuating the moments of attack and plunge with sharper, stopped sounds. He clearly has a sense of every second of this dance; perhaps he can even see all the dancers at once, somehow. I wonder if the dancers themselves have that kind of awareness of the landscape of the work. Do they run a constant monologue in their own heads, as I’m doing? A list of their own cues and notes or corrections from Forsythe? Even now, ten years later, I coach myself through dance classes in the voice of a once feared but much-loved ballet teacher, Mr. Paulk. He saw everything and knew when you weren’t thinking about the movement as you should—and called you on it, pushed you farther than you knew you could go. I still feel the light sting of his hand against my sweaty back—a reminder even now to move my arms from my back.

These dancers work together as a close-knit community— each glance, each shared step a strand in an intricate web. The movement theme, likewise, fits into the dance as a whole, tied to other themes and variations in complex permutations. I am not a part of this community. Stuck in the space between first attempt and mastery—a place I don’t inhabit gracefully—I am both isolated outside of the smooth operation of this dance—alone with my single table—and trapped in the middle of these darting, pulling, connected dancers. The uneasy, hesitant version of the dance I have found for my body only feels tangled and out of place here. I miss the communities of dancers I have been a part of—current and past; worlds where we used our knowledge of each other to align our energies, to work together rather than as individuals. I want to find that moment of relief after tension, when the awkwardness of impossibly foreign movement dissolves and my body feels at home in the dance.

I begin to notice the subtle phrasing of the dance. Rather than the constant motion I saw at first, I start to feel the brief pauses, a light exhale before the next burst of movement. Each dancer is riding on his or her own wave of motion, a rising and falling, a crashing in and pulling back. Sometimes the waves flow together, or reach their height simultaneously; other times, the motion crests and drops with a more individual dynamic, giving the work as a whole its chaotic, constant feel. I haven’t quite found my own flow within the dance, yet, but I’m starting to sense the potential.

The tangle and the strand

The first approach (Forsythe's One Flat Thing, reproduced. )

How to build a dance? How to know a dance?

Take it apart, reassemble, translate, rearrange, regenerate.

I am both witness and participant.

Pelvis elbow arc and slide

Expanding the definitions, the definitive answers, the contours of movement, the boundaries between art and science.

Spin arm pull drag stop dive arc

Is there an illusion here? Or does it deconstruct the illusion, lay bare the inner workings, the cogs of the machine?

Is the truth just under the surface? Not just split into its individual components,

but layers made visible.

Rushing elbow pull slide swoop pelvis slap

Complex web of connections, dense, too tangled for my eye to pull apart, but each strand quantified, arranged, known.

I am defined by my geometry, the lines and shapes that fit together,

defined by my motion through space, through my life.

Defined by my relationships to others, by the inner workings of my brain—

the patterns generated, the creative potential.

Surface (swoop and slide) and under and between

The creation of form; non-divisible wholeness. The experience and the data. The table and the palm. The arc and the line. The cue and the reaction. The tangle and the strand.

20 word sets:

Under which surface?

Explore! Look! Participate!

Arrange boundaries

to quantify strands.

Choose tangles between contours.

Geometry knows.

Connections superimpose—


Rearrange landscape, generate space

Create motion!


translate tangle

under surface strand arrange

choose rearrange quantify know

participate motion create look landscape

generate geometry contours space

explore connections between

boundaries superimposed

Monday, January 4, 2010

Catching Up

I've been swamped by the semester, and haven't gone to any performances outside of the Department this fall!  
However, I've been doing plenty of writing about dance.  One of the classes I was taking this fall was called Dance: The Phenomenon, and over the semester, we studied one dance in great depth and from a number of perspectives.  We wrote a description of the work, we learned part of the dance and then wrote about what we learned of the dance from a somatic/autobiographical perspective.  We researched the dance from a particular theoretical angle, and wrote a review of literature surrounding the work.  We taught a 2-part lesson on the dance to a Dance Appreciation or Intro to Dance class.  And finally, we put all of our writing together in one big paper about the dance.  Whew.
The dance work I studied was One Flat Thing, reproduced, by William Forsythe.  Specifically, I studied the version on the Synchronous Objects website (, but you can also watch the dance here (this is Part 1) and here (this is Part 2).  This version is the dance for camera version, directed by Thierry de Mey.

Stay tuned--I'll be posting some of my smaller pieces of writing I did on this dance throughout the semester.