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Where Should Dance Go ?

49 posts in this topic

Do you have any thoughts or favorites ?

With physical challenges being more and more common in dance, as a Naturalist and Etherealist Lover at heart I wouldn’t mind seeing more of this sort of thing.
Yet I can’t seem to ever get away from these guys. The Space Age Gene Kellys ?
At least see the first one through to the end.
(most of these videos are available at the artists’ or venues’ own sites)

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Yeah... there are many types of dance; and that is good!

The more the merrier!

-d-

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Of the two styles here, I'm more excited by the breakers, although I appreciate the hypnotic quality of the Chinese group. But I think that hip hop is fast becoming the default popular dance form -- it's what we see on television and in films most frequently. It is, in its way, the contemporary equivalent of tap dancing -- a kind of dance that people don't have to explain doing.

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Thanks, diane and sandik, for your comments. I didn’t want to limit discussion to these two types of dance. If anyone has any thoughts about future or desirable changes and directions in dance or any favorite groups or styles, please post them.


Sandik, the Jabbawockeez are considered to be one of the more artistic, even poetic, of the “dance crew” groups today. They are also extremely good. Their creativity, synchronization, dance prowess and variety, style, charisma, etc., make them a very popular group. I consider them to be special, but my experience with this area of dance is pretty limited.


I think that you are probably right that this type of ‘street dance’ (I’m not sure what the name for their style would be) is sort of today’s tap dance. My reason for signaling them out is that they represent change, point to the future, are excellent and I really like them.


If anyone hasn’t taken a look at the second video, the dancer from China, Yang LiPing, I would definitely recommend it. She’s one of a kind. Her roots are from the folk dance of China, but her dreamlike interpretation is completely her own. She’s one of the most famous dancers in China. She represents a lyrical style, that for me, has much of the enchantment of ballet, yet is quite different. In this video she also represents an added possibility for the future of lyrically beautiful dance that transcends cultural distinctions. It’s the Naturalness and relaxed physicality that make it special as well as the lyrical loveliness, poetic expression and enchantment.

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The Jabbawockeez remind me a bit of Lil' Buck, just in terms of their control (which would probably translate to an adagio sense in ballet) and the emphasis on shape -- they're obviously aware of their flow and their line in these examples.

(Edited to add) I just saw this video (Dance A-Z) on a friend's Facebook wall, and thought it might be a good addition to the conversation here.

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The Jabbawockeez remind me a bit of Lil' Buck, just in terms of their control (which would probably translate to an adagio sense in ballet) and the emphasis on shape -- they're obviously aware of their flow and their line in these examples.

(Edited to add) I just saw this video (Dance A-Z) on a friend's Facebook wall, and thought it might be a good addition to the conversation here.

Thanks, sandik, for your ongoing thoughts and the added video reference. You have proposed some very interesting ideas. Yes, I would say that there are similarities between Lil’ Buck, who recently appeared with the New York City Ballet, and the JabbaWockeeZ. You’ve used several expressions that are like buzzwords here. One is “popular dance form.” I think that the focus of Ballet Alert! is on dance as an art form, even a ‘high art form.’ How this interrelates with “popular dance form,” now and into the future, is certainly worth considering here. Your quote above refers directly to this.

Two other expressions that you used, “hypnotic quality” and “excited,” go to the core of my examples. I tend to view them as almost polar opposites in my appreciation of dance, but it certainly doesn’t have to be seen that way. I introduced the JabbaWockeeZ for that reason. My love is for the enchantment or “hypnotic quality” and yet the JabbaWockeeZ’s ‘excitement’ and interest, for me, can’t be denied. I alluded to their artistry, but you zeroed in (relating it to ballet) and I think that this is very relevant — the convergence of ‘fine art’ and popular culture.

If you have a chance, or the interest, could you tell me what you think of the Yang LiPing performance, the second video, and how you might relate this to ballet.

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So I guess I’ll respond to the last sentence of my post immediately above. The video clip of Yang LiPing (second one above) is probably the most beautiful and enchanting non-ballet dance performance that I’ve seen. If anyone would like to mention or post a non-ballet performance that has had a similar effect, I’d really like to hear about it. I think that this is an area of dance that is wide open to future development and I’d love to see it happen.

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One of the reasons that I like the Yang LiPing performance so much is that it’s rich in artistry, yet doesn’t require great physical exertion or extreme use of the body. So many fine dancers retire when their artistry is at its height and getting better because the physical demands becomes too great. Dance styles like this one could give artists’ careers at least another ten years. I’ll let you in on a little secret, known only to me and about a billion folks in China. Yang LiPing was probably over fifty when this video was filmed! Yet, if you saw her on stage you would think that she was in her twenties. (She has recently announced her retirement in her mid-fifties.)

Another thing that is very interesting is that Yang LiPing probably does most or all of her own choreography and in fact has choreographed entire shows. What she does is extremely personal and it's worth noting the value of an artist creating for the person that she or he understands the best, her or himself.

This is a video that I like very much. It’s Wendy Whelan with Craig Hall, choreographed by Chris Wheeldon. There’s a lot of ballet in it and it’s very physically challenging. It’s also immensely dreamlike and beautiful. With Wendy Whelan retiring from ballet this year, but continuing to dance, I hope that she carries this immense loveliness with her and that it encourages many other artists to do the same.

(video posted by the venue’s site)

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Sorry it took me a while to get back to this -- life intervenes.

Yang is pretty small in the excerpt you have above, so I clicked around for a couple of other examples. You can see her upper body work more clearly here in Peacock – like much of the classical Chinese dance I’ve seen, the articulation of the upper body is much more developed than the locomotion. (it actually reminded me of the Tut Fingers in the A-Z video!) On first view, it does have a great deal in common with some 19th century ballet work (the swan stuff, naturally) but where there’s more dialogue between the upper and lower body in ballet, this is more segmented. The theme, and the movement style, really reminded me of Ruth St. Denis – at times, this looked like it could be an extension of her work with Denishawn.

The use of light and shadown in a second clip (Moonlight) reminded me of the early modern choreographer Loie Fuller, as well as the Swiss mime group Mumenschantz. (and the Indonesian wayang kulit shadow puppets). Again, the real complexity is in the upper body – it’s where she’s most articulate, where she responds to music most deftly, and where most of the new movement phrases begin and continue. She uses her lower body much more sparingly, often as an accent. It’s not really about complex locomotion – she could (and I imagine has) dance very compellingly without moving from her original spot.

Although Yang’s work does share a kind of spare aesthetic with the Wheeldon, I don’t really find that much in common, especially in their attitude towards the stage space. But they both do use stillness to focus our attention in really subtle ways.

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I do think that it is important to allow for many types of dance to co-exist and if possible to help them in their existence. (that could well mean allotting tax money)

Personally I prefer watching things which take time to learn and perfect. There is something about absolute control which I find fascinating - and something about lack of control which I find boring after a very short time. (one reason I prefer some painters/composers/writers over others)

Now, this is a bit of an off-shoot, but it does have its basis in what we are discussing here:

What does bother me about many of the contemporary dance styles and techniques is the apparent lack of really good training for the dancers in a well-thought-out technique supporting the style they are to perform, so that they do not end up injuring themselves more than the normal "fatigue" or "careless" injuries.

There are not a few contemporary choreographers (those alive now) who work largely in "finding new language" and "new ways of movement".

That is wonderful, and can be indeed very exciting to watch - and fun to do.

I hear a lot about what goes on behind the scenes. (having been a dancer myself and now mother to two in the profession,)

It appears that too many choreographers working towards "new movement" are not taking into account the toll it is taking on the bodies of the dancers; who are, regrettably, "a dime a dozen" and so highly replaceable.

:)

-d-

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So I guess I’ll respond to the last sentence of my post immediately above. The video clip of Yang LiPing (second one above) is probably the most beautiful and enchanting non-ballet dance performance that I’ve seen. If anyone would like to mention or post a non-ballet performance that has had a similar effect, I’d really like to hear about it. I think that this is an area of dance that is wide open to future development and I’d love to see it happen.

I think I could fill this thread with seventeen pages of clips of enchanting not-ballet. But since you've gotten us started with something Chinese, I'll keep going in that direction ...

A few years ago I had the good fortune to see Taiwan's Han Tang Yuefu Music and Dance Ensemble at the Joyce and it was perhaps one of the most sheerly lovely things I'd ever seen in a theater. To my western-trained eyes, it looked like a style entirely grounded in subtle micro-adjustments of the head, hands, and posture. (The work that I saw was a reconstruction based on Tang dynasty materials, some still part of a living tradition, some retrieved through scholarship.) The lower body -- which is entirely covered in floor-length robes during performance -- seemed a kind of moving pedestal on which to display the upper body.

Go here for a video with the dancers in costume: http://www.carnegiehall.org/chinafestival/events/13980.aspx

But ... don't miss this series of videos of the dancers demonstrating their moves in street clothes for a very interesting contrast -- you can see how much work the entire body is really doing to create the effect of not doing much at all:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVQqgRyg1fc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVQqgRyg1fc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kL0YW2IF_f0

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Sorry it took me a while to get back to this -- life intervenes.

It’s interesting, sandik, that I see dancers, such as ballet dancers, turning themselves into works of art for a performance. On the other hand I see someone like a true Geisha from Japan as turning her Entire Life into a work of art. “Life intervenes” differently. “ Where Should Dance Go ? “

Diane and Kathleen, I had most of this written before your posts, but will certainly look at them and try to respond as soon as I can. Thank you both very much for what looks to be very interesting comments and points of view.

Sandik, thank you very much for your response and interest. I agree with much of your analysis and do appreciate it. I especially agree with you about the importance of the upper body, especially the hands, in Far Eastern dance. Interestingly the upper body is also what I pay the most attention to in ballet along with flow and total body shape or line. I would have agreed with you about the minimizing of the lower body until I saw Kathleen’s post stating that a great deal is actually going on there. I’ll certainly read all this more carefully and look at the videos as soon as possible.

I chose the Yang LiPing video that I posted above because I thought that it had a more ‘universal’ quality to it and folks such as ourselves could relate to it more easily. From an interview that I read she seems quite aware of ‘Western’ modern dance and probably has many similarities, but she also has a sometimes different conceptual outlook. She views her art as being an essentially joyful one in message. Also the roots of her art, as in much Far Eastern dance, seems to focus on the simple life, natural beauty and the beauty of nature.

Your mention of Ruth St. Denis is also related to what I think about a lot. From the little that I know about her, she took very natural dance style and attempted to give it the graceful aura that we associate for instance with ballet. As I’ve said before, I’d love to see much more of this sort of thing.

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you can see how much work the entire body is really doing to create the effect of not doing much at all:

I had to laugh -- a good friend of mine was a high-level competitor in synchronized swimming for years, and this sounds exactly like her description of the discipline.

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you can see how much work the entire body is really doing to create the effect of not doing much at all:

I had to laugh -- a good friend of mine was a high-level competitor in synchronized swimming for years, and this sounds exactly like her description of the discipline.

I think this is true of Baroque dance too, no? I gather all that quarter point work is rather taxing ... which reminds me: I meant to mention in my post that the Han Tang Yuefu performance reminded me of Baroque dance in its elegance and civility.

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Absolutely true of baroque work -- I had very, very strong feet back when I was doing that work and it took every inch I had.

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I think I could fill this thread with seventeen pages of clips of enchanting not-ballet.

Okay, go for it, but it has to be really Enchanting ! flowers.gif

The Han Tang Yuefu Music and Dance Ensemble is a very good start. Thank you! I’ve watched a large number of videos of dance from China, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this. It’s something that I’ve been searching for. It’s absolutely lovely and certainly worth appreciating for its subtle detail (“To my western-trained eyes, it looked like a style entirely grounded in subtle micro-adjustments of the head, hands, and posture.” — Kathleen). These dances certainly show a refinement worthy of the ‘high art’ status that other forms, such as ballet, command. I believe that the Tang dynasty (618–907 AD) was considered possibly the high point in Chinese artistic culture and dance in particular, although I’ve read that singing was always combined and dance was not considered separately.

Kathleen, thanks very much for the videos. The last group does indeed show the use of the lower body (in particular the end of videos 1 and 2 and the beginning of video 3). At first glance I actually prefer seeing the dancers in bluejeans. It’s more interesting. Also for a culture that’s seems sexually conservative, I’ve hardly ever seen bare legs in a dance, these dances, in their subtle way, can get pretty sensual.

I hardly know a thing about Baroque dance, so maybe someone could get into this a little more. I believe that choreographers, like George Balanchine, understand these kinds of dance quite well.

Diane, I’m 100% with you in wishing to see dance as healthy a pursuit as possible. Dance would seen like a natural for promoting good health and I can’t see any reason why the choreography couldn’t be brilliant. Perhaps you could mention some examples of this. Fred Astaire? Savion Glover claims that he can tap-dance for hours and not even get a blister. Certainly worth thinking about.

I’m also a big fan of the idea of letting dancers, from little children beginners to adult professionals, choreograph for themselves and contribute as much as possible to the creation of a work. I know very little about formal dance technique, but I’d love to float ideas to dancers and let them create from this. I’m sure we all would.

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Since we are still looking at dance from China this might be interesting. From my very limited knowledge of this history, ‘classical’ dance-singing sort of disappeared, being absorbed into Chinese Opera. This is an example of Chinese Opera today. It might be more dance/music theater with mainly music at the end, but you do get a sense of dance permeating everything. I can’t tell you a thing about this work’s authenticity, but it does have a beautiful charm.



Xian Tang Dynasty Opera


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Kathleen and sandik, I guess the internet gods are following this discussion because I just found this. It’s an overview of a French production combining Chinese classical and 16th century European Baroque dance, featuring the Han Tang Yuefu Dance Company (references posted by Kathleen) and a group of French ‘renaissance’ performing artists, Doulce Mémoire (Sweet Memory). I’ve watched it once and only partially understood the narrative in french. The production probably explains itself, one of the beauties of dance and music, but if I hear anything particularly interesting I’ll try to post it. The production is quite lovely.


Mémoire des vents du sud (Memory of The Southern Wind Instruments)



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Thanks for the Mémoire des vents du sud link! I haven't been able to find much Han Tang Yuefu out on the interwebs, so this is welcome (although, frankly, I could live without the French Renaissance intrusion ...)

So, speaking of enchanting Baroque, I'm reposting something that kbarber linked to in this thread: http://balletalert.invisionzone.com/index.php?/topic/38660-some-beautiful-baroque-dance-lullys-atys/

Dormons, dormons tous ... The opera is Lully's Atys, performed by Les Arts Florissants, led by William Christie. (This same production made its way across the Atlantic to BAM a couple of years ago.) The link should take you to the right place, but if not, go to about the 1:33:50 mark. First you'll see the entrance of two dancers portraying (I think) little Zephyrs. After some exquisite solo and ensemble singing, Gil Isoart enters and dances an equally exquisite -- and very expressive -- solo. I've linked to a YouTube post of the entire opera: there are worse ways to spend three hours, but if you don't have three hours, I urge you to scroll back to the 1:28:00 mark and watch the whole "Le Sommeil" scene. Its gorgeous start to finish.

PS: this is, of course, not "not-ballet" ... but it is most definitely enchanting.

PPS: I should have mentioned that there is more dancing in the "Le Sommeil" scene after Isoart's solo, so don't stop there. If you want to cut to the chase go here, here, and here.

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The internet gods are indeed smiling on this thread today, because I just happened to stumble across this. It's a clip of two of the best dancers I've ever been privileged to see, Surupa Sen and Bijayini Satpathy of the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble. They're performing Vibhakta, a duet choreographed by Sen in India's classical Odissi style. The dance is set to a Sanskrit hymn honoring Ardhanarishvara, the half male, half female manifestation of Shiva. Sen has recast the hymn as a love song between Shiva's male and female halves. Sen is the female half, Satpathy the male; even though they are costumed alike, you should be able to sort out which is which. (Hint - early-ish in the clip Satpathy parades around Sen with swaggering warrior steps.) I've seen them perform this a couple of times (they come to NYC fairly often), and it's one of the most glorious depictions of harmony I've seen -- in no small part because of the tremendous sympathy between Sen and Satpathy, who have been colleagues for decades. The video quality isn't great, alas ...

And, if you'd like to see more Odissi, check out Sujata Mohapatra's YouTube channel here. Parts III and II (in that order) will give you a taste of Odissi in its narrative mode. (There are subtitles to help you follow along.) In terms of where dance should go next, Mark Morris has already gone there: there's a section in his setting of Dido and Aneas that is a clear homage to Indian Dance's narrative tradition. Parts IV and V are more pure dance.

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Your mention of Ruth St. Denis is also related to what I think about a lot. From the little that I know about her, she took very natural dance style and attempted to give it the graceful aura that we associate for instance with ballet. As I’ve said before, I’d love to see much more of this sort of thing.

St Denis was one of the foundational generation of American modern dance, but her work generally used dance material from other cultures (both actual and speculative) to create works that were often described as "exotic." Some of her choreography was more abstract (less narrative or figurative), especially the work she did in music visualization, but her most influential choreography was primarily narrative and character-based, creating a simulacrum of ethnic dances. In a way, her work created the same kind of fascination with "the other" in the US that Diaghilev's ensemble had in Europe.

Although she had some training in ballet, any actual resemblance was more coincidental than intentional.

(She and her husband Ted Shawn choreographed the dance sequences in Cecil deMille's Intolerance, and performed in the big temple scene)

Suzanne Shelton's biography "Divine Dancer" is a very readable work.

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Diane, I’m 100% with you in wishing to see dance as healthy a pursuit as possible. Dance would seen like a natural for promoting good health and I can’t see any reason why the choreography couldn’t be brilliant. Perhaps you could mention some examples of this. Fred Astaire? Savion Glover claims that he can tap-dance for hours and not even get a blister. Certainly worth thinking about.

Glover may be able to dance without injury now, but the training he's had up to this time was every bit as grueling as high-level training in ballet, modern dance, jazz, etc. Astaire frequently worked to exhaustion, Rogers danced with blood in her shoes. In general, dancers train to have an enhanced physicality -- more range of motion, more strength, more articulation. They are quicker, stronger, stretchier, have more control over their bodies and more options for action. This takes intense training. Choreographers are looking for these extremes, create work that takes advantage of them and in turn find more challenges.

I recently saw a documentary about Elizabeth Streb, a post-modern choreographer who works in a style she calls Extreme Action. It feels like a cross between Cirque style gymnastics, parkour, and martial arts. It is very dangerous, and represents an extreme version of the general intensity I'm talking about, but it's a question of degree, not of kind.

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Kathleen and sandik, thank you once again for your very interesting replies.

Kathleen, thanks especially for the beautiful videos. Some of this is totally new to me and there’s so much to absorb, appreciate and enjoy. Would you have anything from Japan? Please post and/or discuss more of your favorites, if you care to, because they are indeed Enchanting.

I’m appreciating very much the pure dance and personal depth of the Surupa Sen and Bijayini Satpathy performance.

At the moment I’m also very much appreciating the dance solo of Paris Opera Ballet's Gil Isoart in Lully's Atys (originally posted by kbarber and referred to by Kathleen). At that topic Stage Right relates her Baroque dance class experience: “….it took a great deal of ankle control, an extremely resilient and controlled use of pile, a very specific coordination between head, arms and body. (Hands too!). Not to mention the musical issues….. But this clip is probably the most expressive use of Baroque dancing that I've ever seen.”

I’m also very captivated by the Expressiveness of this performance. For me it looks very personal and relates beautifully to the Yang LiPing video clip (second video, page 1) in quality of dance and depth and nature of personal poetry.

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Most people talk about the technical skills that ballet has inherited from baroque dance, but I've always thought that there was a connection between them in terms of expression as well. One of my baroque teachers used to refer to the period as the 'age of emotion' -- the expression is subtle, as is the virtuosity, but it is most certainly there.

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Oooh, Nrityagram -- thanks for the links! They come through here every so often (local Odissi contacts) and it's always such a treat.

Morris is indeed a colleague of theirs -- has spent time at the school and has absorbed elements of the style, as he has with so many other dance forms that have a complex relationship to music. He's such a refined sponge!

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