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Dance Writing in the Time of Covid-19

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Posted (edited)

A couple of articles from the Fjord Review to kick things off...

Dance in the Time of Covid-19
How West Coast companies are staying creative during the shutdown
--Victoria Looseleaf

https://www.fjordreview.com/dance-during-covid-19/

"...And while the words ‘social distancing’ seem at odds with dance, terpsichores and choreographers are nothing if not creative. Indeed, they’ve been answering the call in numerous ways: Major dance organizations around the world, from ABT and New York City Ballet to the Royal Ballet and the Australian Ballet are offering free streaming performances, while individual dancers are storming social media to give free classes, dance parties and literal do-it-yourself movement fests."


Amidst Darkness, A Dream
San Francisco Ballet's screening of “A Midsummer Night's Dream”
--Rachel Howard

https://www.fjordreview.com/san-francisco-ballet-midsummer-nights-dream/

"This is a strange pas de deux, capping a story ballet with two new dancers who have no character roles and no function other than to embody mature love. But Birkkjaer takes the abstractness and makes it real and particular, partnering so gently and lovingly, his eyes always searching for Chung, and his face rippling with happiness every time he takes her hand. And Chung amplifies this by dancing as though for a force larger than herself, her gaze wincing with the pain of an invisible vastness when not grinning gratefully to peer around her back and see Birkkjaer’s hand waiting for hers. Physically, she is all lightness and articulation here—the slide of her foot from tendu to a flat fifth before she développés up again is a strange magic. Altogether, this is one of the greatest partnership moments I’ve seen captured on film."

Edited by pherank

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On 4/12/2020 at 6:36 PM, pherank said:

"...And while the words ‘social distancing’ seem at odds with dance, terpsichores and choreographers are nothing if not creative. Indeed, they’ve been answering the call in numerous ways: Major dance organizations around the world, from ABT and New York City Ballet to the Royal Ballet and the Australian Ballet are offering free streaming performances, while individual dancers are storming social media to give free classes, dance parties and literal do-it-yourself movement fests."

ABT and NYCB are offering free streaming performances?

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6 minutes ago, nanushka said:

ABT and NYCB are offering free streaming performances?

More like free ballet classes.  😉 
But there's still time for something 'magical' to take place...like 5 or 6 unions agreeing to let some film see the light of day.

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13 minutes ago, pherank said:

More like free ballet classes.  😉 
But there's still time for something 'magical' to take place...like 5 or 6 unions agreeing to let some film see the light of day.

Yeah, not the same thing really at all! I don't think Looseleaf should be making them sound like they're keeping up with the trend when they're really not.

The unions can either compromise or face possible ruin of the organizations (especially ABT, by far the more vulnerable). It infuriates me that the former seems like such an unlikely choice for them to make.

Edited by nanushka

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9 minutes ago, nanushka said:

Yeah, not the same thing really at all! I don't think Looseleaf should be making them sound like they're keeping up with the trend when they're really not.

The unions can either compromise or face possible ruin of the organizations (especially ABT, by far the more vulnerable). It infuriates me that the former seems like such an unlikely choice for them to make.

It's fascinating how much we humans want things to stay the same (even if 'the same' is relatively horrible). When the "all clear" is sounded and a crises ends, the mad rush to get back to all the old bad habits is truly breathtaking.  :)

I personally am putting as much pressure on SFB as possible to get them to see the light of day, and embrace the digital distribution of their work as a necessary adjunct to live performances. If at the end of the day it's all about the money, well then better accept this new revenue stream, or die.

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15 minutes ago, nanushka said:

I hear you, @pherank! I wish they would too.

The 3 films released by SFB so far for viewing have been as well shot as one could ask for. Balanchine would have been so happy to have such unobtrusive and respectful cinematography for NYCB efforts. So there doesn't need to be anything amateurish about the archival recordings. And there's something so nice about being able to go back and review sections of a ballet and really ponder what's going on (including the stagings and lighting effects). As fun as a live performance can be, there's no way for the eye to take in all that is transpiring. A good quality film allows us so much additional access to the scene. The ballet companies need to stop seeing that as a negative. I don't agree that it is less magical; it is only less 'live'. We all have film performances that we love and have been a lifelong joy - so let's have more, not less, of that.

Edited by pherank

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6 minutes ago, pherank said:

And there's something so nice about being able to go back and review sections of a ballet and really ponder what's going on (including the stagings and lighting effects). As fun as a live performance can be, there's no way for the eye to take in all that is transpiring. A good quality film allows us so much additional access to the scene. The ballet companies need to stop seeing that as a negative. I don't agree that it is less magical; it is only less 'live'. We all have film performances that we love and have been a lifelong joy - so let's have more, not less, of that.

I completely agree. For me, watching recordings is a necessary complement to attending live performances, and being able to see recordings allows me to appreciate the live performances so much more fully. I like to know a piece as well as I can when I see it live. (I completely understand that some others will feel quite differently about that.)

Edited by nanushka

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I find that we accomodate ourselves to give up a lot of little pleasures in viewing recorded performances of dance without reaily realizing it. It's like the whittling down of the provisions of the Dashwood will at the beginning of Sense and Sensiblity. The lapse or smudging of this nuance and that one at the end of the day add up to a significant loss.

Also the artifacts of filmmaking – wrinkles in costumes, little bits of color in the background that smart contemporary visual artists would have a field day with – begin to compete with the main attraction. The art director of Renoir's The River told me – it was his first film in color – that he had to run around with a can of spray paint continually blacking out little, seemingly inconsequential, details. Von Sternberg said the same things about his films, he'd look through the viewfinder and then run out and spray something out no one had noticed before. So: everything in the frame of a film is a character and of a different order than on stage.

Also as a lapsed filmmaker, I always see film in terms of graphic art, of overlapping planes, which I find very exciting, but it doesn't convey any of the spacial depth you'd see on stage.

And as Gene Kelly once pointed out in a book on musicals called the Fantasy Factory, time rendered on stage is completly different than that in film, and he gives a formula where you mulipy one of them by two or one and a half to get an equivalent.

Also in general time in film seems rather homogeneous whereas on stage it's variable and elastic and often frought with a feeling of danger, that anything can happen, that the story can go anywhere. Whereas in film it's all a kind of a priori time.

I do think great dance films can be made and have been made but I think all these things have to be taken into account and adjusted for. Maybe starting again with black and white, some of the crude but often very affecting CBC films of Balanchine in the 50s perhaps have some interesting graphic clues for reimagining the process. Also the 1930s Kodachromes – a very coherent color process – of Cotillon and the first Violin Concerto of 1937 – had a great excitement about them. Again I think dance filmmaking has to be treated as a graphic art.

Edited by Quiggin

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Posted (edited)

I don’t think any of that really matters terribly much if one is viewing dance recordings (as I, personally, tend to) primarily as tools for gaining knowledge (of a piece, of its forms and structures, of its design elements, etc.), or as opportunities to experience at least some portion of the essence of certain performances I haven't been able to see live — i.e. as imperfect representations, rather than as aesthetic objects in themselves.

The imperfections of dance on video also point to why the medium is not a replacement for live dance (as some potential distributors would seem to fear), but essential for audience building and as a spur to viewing live dance, particularly in the current era. In that way, too, I view the medium instrumentally.

Edited by nanushka

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5 hours ago, nanushka said:

I don’t think any of that really matters terribly much if one is viewing dance recordings (as I, personally, tend to) primarily as tools for gaining knowledge (of a piece, of its forms and structures, of its design elements, etc.)

Yes, that's sensible. I was thinking of its use as the master record of a ballet or as a primary teaching tool, rather than the role flowing directly from teacher to student. I think Gene Kelly's warning in the Magic Factory (not Fantasy Factory as I cited above) re American in Paris, about the differences in time on screen and on stage is something to keep in mind. I believe he said he had to shorten the same routine for film for it to have the equivalent effect it did on stage.

My ideal director for Midsummer Night's Dream would have been Kenji Mizoguchi of the long criss-crossing tracking shots. Or even Alexander Sokurov of the Russian Ark

Edited by Quiggin

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A lot of the Dance in America performances that NYCB did in the '70's has become the record of what many people think of as Balanchine dancing.  Ideally, you'd have records of some of the first performances, if not the premiere, to see something closer to the original choreography and intent, even if that was Balanchine's intent in the '70's.  But once things get recorded, they get frozen in time.  It's a lot like Flamenco, where what is considered most authentic is less than 100 years old.  While traditions were kept close, and communities could be relatively isolated and, with discrimination in play, were less likely to absorb outside influences or integrate, that doesn't necessarily mean that was "echt" in 1930 was what was being performed in 1830 or 1730.  It was determined when other people looked in on it.

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On 4/14/2020 at 1:04 PM, Quiggin said:

I find that we accomodate ourselves to give up a lot of little pleasures in viewing recorded performances of dance without reaily realizing it. It's like the whittling down of the provisions of the Dashwood will at the beginning of Sense and Sensiblity. The lapse or smudging of this nuance and that one at the end of the day add up to a significant loss.

Watching video of dances made for the theater will always be, as Suzanne Farrell said, "ghosts of ballets."  The music is flattened, the movement is flattened. People may say they learn from them, and I'm sure many do - I have - but often as not they may be learning something wrong and never realize it.  Still, recordings are as a rule very much better than nothing, and I'm grateful for what we have and the opportunity to see ballets and dancers I may never get to see live.

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Posted (edited)
6 hours ago, dirac said:

People may say they learn from them, and I'm sure many do - I have - but often as not they may be learning something wrong and never realize it.

True, but that's also true of virtually any source of knowledge transmission, not only video, and not only when the subject is dance. No single source of knowledge — primary, secondary or tertiary — should be assumed to be infallible. Knowledge is always a work in progress, subject not only to expansion but revision.

Edited by nanushka

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11 hours ago, dirac said:

Watching video of dances made for the theater will always be, as Suzanne Farrell said, "ghosts of ballets."  ... Still, recordings are as a rule very much better than nothing, and I'm grateful for what we have and the opportunity to see ballets and dancers I may never get to see live.

They are and they are a different thing. Time and presence exchanged for a different kind of immediacy. 

5 hours ago, nanushka said:

True, but that's also true of virtually any source of knowledge transmission, not only video, and not only when the subject is dance. No single source of knowledge — primary, secondary or tertiary — should be assumed to be infallible.

The problem is that we live in a culture where the secondary and tertiary versions are given significant precedence over the primary.  Where the actress or actor who plays the role is studied and revered over the person she or he plays. At best it's a kind of screwball comedy script where the original is left out and sulking at the side of the scene. There's a Nabokov story where a Rimbaud-like poet, old and disheveled, shows up years later to accept an award, but no one will believe him because he doesn't fit the image they have of him.

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Faye Arthurs -

Notes from Quarantine
https://www.fjordreview.com/notes-from-quarantine/

"I feel terrible for the current crop of professional and aspiring dancers—I can’t imagine how stultifying it must feel to have one’s already brief career, and attendant income, suspended indefinitely. To see dancers trying to approximate classes in tiny kitchens and living rooms breaks my heart. It’s like watching caged lions prowl around at inhumane zoos. (Perhaps because of this analogy I can’t bring myself to watch the Covid sensation Tiger King.) Like some physics experiment gone terribly wrong, so much potential energy is being wasted in massive quantities all over the world, every second of the day. It’s infuriating, and tragic."

EDIT: If anyone knows where the video link for the Joyce Theater's "Soledad Barrio & Noche Flamenca’s short pas de deux Dutchman" can be found, I would appreciate it.

Edited by pherank

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Can Ballet Come Alive Online?
American Ballet Theater and New York City Ballet offer virtual seasons. The reigning screen gem: Balanchine’s “Diamonds.” It’s like you were there.
--Gia Kourlas

'When Sara Mearns wavered for a millisecond during a supported pirouette in George Balanchine’s “Diamonds,” my breath caught in my throat. I forgot where I was: in the kitchen drinking coffee on a rainy Saturday morning.

I cherish performances by Ms. Mearns and Russell Janzen, her partner, but I didn’t think “Diamonds,” which New York City Ballet streamed in May, would be the ballet to sweep me into the sensation of liveness — losing track of time, the chills, the whole nine yards.'

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/05/arts/dance/new-york-city-ballet-american-theater-online-coronavirus.html

EDIT: Here are the two podcast links mentioned in the article:

Diamonds Part 1 with Merrill Ashley
http://podcast.nycballet.com/episode-251-hear-the-dance-diamonds-part-1

Diamonds Part 2 with Sara Mearns
http://podcast.nycballet.com/episode-252-hear-the-dance-diamonds-part-2

Edited by pherank

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