johnno

Effect of earlier career on Choreographers

32 posts in this topic

A phenomenon like Balanchine would throw off any data curve...

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Welcome to Ballet Alert, Variated. I agree with most of your thoughtful response, except that I'd like to point out that the audience has a kinesthetic response to the dance as well as a pictorial response -- and that the quality of tje movement is as important as the plastique. There are many different qualities a choreographer could want -- sometimes a jagged, stumbling action is called for, sometimes precarious footwork is the POINT. Though generally speaking in ballet, awkwardness is an effect, while well-coordinated seamless transitions are the norm. To the degree that the sweep of the phrase matters more than hte articulation of each particular step, making the dance comfortable for the dancer also makes the dance comfortable for hte audience -- since by and large, phrasing is the MOST important conveyor of meaning.

I think understanding how a ballet feels to a dancer and how it looks to the audience are not quite the same thing, and perhaps the latter is ultimately more important; it is after all for the dancer to rise to the steps rather than the steps to make life easier for the dancer. I know that composers who were pianists like Liszt write pieces that "fall under the hands" naturally , but can still be fiendishly difficult in terms of speed and other virtuous tricks. Whereas Beethoven, not a great pianist, writes beautiful piano music but it is much more "effortful" and less natural for the performer. Of course you have to know the technical limitations of the dancer's body/the instrument (I have worked on an ensemble piece by a young composer which made literally no allowance for brass players to breathe for 5 whole minutes) but within those boundaries I don't think it makes much difference from the audience's perspective - although perhaps moving the dancers out of their natural comfort zone can make for an ultimately more powerful performance.

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Oskar Schlemmer. "Dances that only a painter could have choreographed": Jack Anderson

Reconstructions in 1984

... The avant-garde legacy of Schlemmer and his Stage Workshop students would eventually influence the performance theory and work of John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Alwin Nikolais, Robert Wilson, Meredith Monk, the Judson Dance Theater, Laurie Anderson and David Byrne, amongst others.

Bauhaus Dances

I saw films of the original production, I believe, at the IBM center in NYC BEFORE the reconstruction, perhaps in the 1980's. I am pretty sure that this is what Bette Midler used to incorporate reproductions of sequences and scenes from these dances in her video of "Art or Bust." It was an excellent and unusual tribute.

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Oskar Schlemmer. "Dances that only a painter could have choreographed": Jack Anderson

Reconstructions in 1984

... The avant-garde legacy of Schlemmer and his Stage Workshop students would eventually influence the performance theory and work of John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Alwin Nikolais, Robert Wilson, Meredith Monk, the Judson Dance Theater, Laurie Anderson and David Byrne, amongst others.

Bauhaus Dances

Also, Robert Wilson. No, not ballet, and yes, most of his work is in theater or opera, but he did try his hand at choreography in "Snow on the Mesa" for the Martha Graham Company. He does gorgeous moving pictures, but he doesn't do movement. His imagination is pictoral rather than kinetic. "Snow on the Mesa" emulated the way Graham looks, but not how it "feels" in your own passive body while you watch it. Here's a clip -- it actually comes off better in a little tiny YouTube window than it does on stage:

To be fair to Wilson (who's done stuff I really like) I've seen worse choreography perpetrated by one-time dancers -- but their failures are different in kind.

Edited to add: I really do think think that there's some sort of tension and release secret sauce that only people who are experienced in expressing things with their bodies have ready access to.

And ... one cup of coffee later, Quiggin, I see Wilson was on your original list -- don't know how missed it ... I was thinking "Nikolais, yeah ..."

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Perhaps this has been discussed in an earlier thread: the issue of how ballet choreographers get trained. Mostly--in my opinion, anyway--is that they don't, and I wonder why? I mean, most modern-dance choreographers have been through some course of training, while ballet dancers seem to have to pick it up on the fly, as it were, or participate in workshops like the Carlisle Project (does that even exist anymore?). It's a funny thing: as dancers, the training is so rigorous, while choreography is supposed to issue out of people as if by magic. Does the field still hold on to Romantic ideas of Creative Genius?

I am NOT saying that choreographic training will guarantee good choreographers. I will assert, however, that I've seen the bad results of no training many, many times in my relatively short career as a dancer.

In the other arts, training in composition is rigorous, too, even if creators end up jettisoning what they've learned.

Again, apologies in advance for repetition.

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Kathleen O'Connell:

Also, Robert Wilson.

Schlemmer seems to play with near/far and counterpoint a little more than Wilson, and begins to draw the basis of a new kind of choreography.

Schlemmer's work is a real historical moment – it's in parallel to what was happening in Russia, all the great new conceptions of theater space and body movement. It may share some of the same bones or underpinnings that Balanchine brought with him from Russia and which you see traces of in Prodigal Son, 4 T's, Agon, and Rubies.

Merce Cunningham was also exposed to these ideas (at the same time Robert Rauchenberg was looking at Kurt Schwitters) at Black Mountain College, where Joseph Albers taught. You can see Cunningham's late work in this clip :

Schlemmer Pole Dance recreation

I spent my first year at a very serious Bauhaus school, a bit too serious for me – founded by Schlemmer's nemesis – and what I was really fascinated with there were these magical costumes – and later on with what I saw in films clips of the originals or what might have been post-war reconstructions ... In retrospect so much of the New York avante garde of the fifties and seventies seems to be a secret return to what happened in the twenties at Dessau and Berlin, as well as Paris and Moscow.

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Merce Cunningham was also exposed to these ideas (at the same time Robert Rauchenberg was looking at Kurt Schwitters) at Black Mountain College, where Joseph Albers taught. You can see Cunningham's late work in this clip :

Schlemmer Pole Dance recreation

Wow -- the first thing I thought of was Cunningham's "Biped," although its projections--based on motion-captured Cunningham choreography--were the work Paul Kaiser and Shelley Eshkar. (They write about their collaboration with Cunningham here. There's video, too.)

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