Monday, December 24, 2012

"Someone Like You"...Melanie Mah

"Just make good art"...I find myself constantly imploring my students to adhere to this maxim for success in choreography. And yet, many would say that it is much easier said than done. I agree that mastery of technique and skillful use of choreographic tools is important, but when it comes to making "good art," nothing trumps honesty and vulnerability. There is a phrase in stagecraft that says "personal is universal" other words, if you allow the audience to see the most intimate corners of your psyche, they will vicariously relate your experience to their own. This creates a moment of magical empathy with the viewer and consequently produces good, truthful art. Melanie Mah is a fearless choreographer, who has the courage to be completely open about the pain, hesitation, frustration, and uncertainty of relationship dynamics. Much like Apple computer products, she is an artist who values design and executes a simple concept with sharp precision and authenticity.

MUSICALITY: There are a number of key moments in this piece that work so brilliantly, I find that they are etched in the forefront of my recollection. Watch how Melanie accurately conveys the longing for attention and recognition (2:01-2:09) using simple head gestures. This synchronicity of movement and music creates a palpable tension between the woman, who is begging her partner just to look her in the face, pleading for him to connect with her eye to eye. In terms of accent and rhythm, Melanie has a natural sensibility in bringing longs and shorts to life. At (2:53-2:58) she creates distinct pictures on the words "this" and "would"...but then allows the movement to languidly melt to the ground on "taste." Finally, the moment at 3:58 may be the most effective image of "hurt" I have ever seen in a dance...the male dancer's hand may as well be a hot branding iron, burning the back of her arm. Simply stunning.

DANCER SYNC: The partnering phrases, as well as the unison group sections, have a fluid cohesiveness that every choreographer should aspire to. Too many times, in an effort to be "original" or "inventive," a novice choreographer will overcompensate and create phrases that are awkward and messy. Melanie keeps the vocabulary fairly traditional, but then executes it with perfection. The unison sequence at (3:27-3:40) is gorgeous flowing example of logical choreographic choices, which allow the dancers to move through their full range of motion and explore the music deeply.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: At the beginning of this post, I talked about the idea of universality. If an artist creates material that is a genuine reflection of their life and perspective, the audience will find the pieces within the work that apply to their own experience. The first time I saw (3:23-3:26) I literally felt my heart sink for this girl. The "hurt" that she is able to convey with her body, falling into her man, and then struggling to stand, is a raw and unaffected take on the emotions "real" people feel in moments of hopeless desperation. I also love the way, Melanie took the time to "set the stage," by assiduously and efficiently creating the characters and establishing the relationship. The little preamble that occurs in the reality of Starbucks, serves to make the internal monologue of the dance that much more effective.

KUDOS to Melanie for demonstrating the "Apple Principle"...take something simple, do it really well and produce a good, sharp product that people can embrace and relate to.

Monday, December 17, 2012

"The Last Goodbye"...Isis Masoud

Mainstream media is particularly adept at categorization and association. "Pink is the new black" or "hip hop is about bling and video babes" are two examples of broad generalizations that actually hold little validity when you dig deeper into the subject matter. Pole dancing, is a excellent example of this urge to classify and stereotype. Despite the fact that pole dancing has a long and dignified history in Chinese and Indian culture (practiced by men and women alike), in the United States, there has been a tendency to sexualize the art form and project a "dirty taboo" onto a genre that requires a tremendous degree of legitimate skill and strength. Isis Masoud is a contemporary choreographer who seeks to enlighten people's perception of pole dancing, and bring attention to the unique possibilities that the vertical element provides

MUSICALITY: According to game theory, whenever you change the rules of a game, your approach and strategy must change relative to the new landscape. For a choreographer, adding the element of a new apparatus ought to inspire a broad range of creative, innovative options. Some choreographers are able to fully explore the opportunities that a new prop affords...and some are not. Fortunately for us, Isis provides an excellent example of a dance that explores this new element completely. Whether its the ability to create circular movement phrases in mid-air or the unique perspective that the pole brings to certain body lines, Isis' use of the pole allows us to see her choreography in ways we are not accustomed to. Similar to the way one feels when walking on a glass window at the top of a skyscraper, looking down through a glass bottom to the street hundreds of feet below...when we see an attitude line or arabesque suddenly suspended above us, free of gravitational constraints, it is a thrilling new experience. On a similar note, the opening phrase from (0:03-0:06) is such a simple, fetal position...yet the chance to see it rotate in motion is breathtaking.

DANCER SYNC: For a performance that is required to defy gravity, the continuous flow of momentum and energy becomes paramount. Looking at (0:40-0:44), Isis creates a logical kinetic flow that begins in a ronde jambe, into a straddle rotation, and resolves in a spiral wrap. This kind of "dynamic logic" is often lost on amateur choreographers, who become so enchanted by a "cool move" or "sick move" that they forget the flow. A good movement phrase ought to animate the dancer with fluidity and logic, never choppy or disjointed. Interestingly, a good choreographer can ALSO create the ILLUSION of chaotic, incongruent movement...while still forming a phrase that makes kinetic sense to the dancer who is asked to dance it. Watch the extended moment from (1:08-1:27) to get a feeling for just how adept Isis is at creating phrases that flow with unbroken continuity...literally a physical, visceral, stream of consciousness. Also, it is wonderful to note, that at the end the video, Isis shares the choreographer credit with her dancers, Marlo and Kyle...this type of generosity and humility is not often seen in the dance world and ought to be recognized!

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: As I noted before, the ability of a choreographer to fully explore a new medium is paramount to the resulting success. As a viewer, I found myself immediately drawn into the story and pictures that Isis creates with the pole. Moreover, I became so throughly invested in the movement and emotional arc that eventually the "pole" seemed to disappear. Call it willing suspension of disbelief, but I began to see the dancers simply levitating and rolling through midair. I imagine it being something akin to seeing ballerinas en pointe for the first time. The skill and technique of the choreographer and dancer, creates an "impossible," yet immersive dream that draws you in and entrances you.

KUDOS to Isis for taking hold of this vertical medium and allowing us to reconsider and appreciate "pole dancing" through her choreographic, artistic filter.

Monday, December 10, 2012

"Amsterdam"...Daniel Robinson

Recently, I have been asked why I have not featured such distinguished choreographers as Mark Morris, Paul Taylor, or Martha Graham. While I have utmost respect for these legends, their work exists primarily on stage, where is is best appreciated live and in person. The purpose of SERVING CHOREO, is to highlight the exemplary work of choreographers who are creating art and content online. The degree to which a choreographer is successful in translating their work from stage to YouTube screen varies considerably from person to person. However, there are some individuals who have boldly embraced this new frontier and sought to choreograph SPECIFICALLY for online appreciation. Daniel Robinson, is one such innovator. As opposed to using the internet as a marketing tool for real world performance, his choreography is intentionally formatted to be enjoyed via small screen. For him, the decision to turn a dance piece into a video project is not a secondary afterthought, but instead, an integral component of his creative process from the outset. Daniel's work is a fantastic demonstration of a choreographer making full use of the online potential for creative perspective, inventive editing, and dynamic pacing. He is a TRUE "videographer" (video-choreographer) since he not only choreographs, but also films, edits, and masters the resulting video content.

MUSICALITY: I had the opportunity to speak with Daniel about his creative process. With regard to musicality, he mentioned that "the music for a dancer is like the map - so it affects the movement of the dancer. I like to use many different kinds of music to get a range of movement quality. During the shoot we constantly discussed the story and where the character was coming from. It was a very collaborative process." Also, when using the camera as a tool for choreography, the ability to edit musically becomes paramount. If you watch carefully from (2:18-2:24) you will realize how precise Daniel edits the imagery of his movement. We see the dancer literally crippling under the weight of being "pushed to the ground." Similarly, the body is seen wrapping the pipe, like a serpentine ribbon, on the word "around."

DANCER SYNC: I am always looking for opportunities to highlight choreographers who have healthy communication with their dancers. Some choreographers are simply beastly when they make certain demands, which compromise the dancer's safety and well-being. Daniel, however, is just the opposite...actively engaging the dancer to find a solution that works in the body as well as the camera. He told me, that their process was a mix of suggestion on Daniel's part, and improvisation on the part of Josh (the dancer). Daniel said, "thankfully Josh lives in the world of improv, so you say an idea, feeling, or image and he's two steps ahead. He never judged anything or second guessed himself - it was purely forward and fearless. He's a true master. When I film and choreograph my dance films I like to let the dancer know they are un-judged and can make no mistake in front of me or the lens." This idea of "there-is-no-wrong" during the creation process is wonderfully empowering to the dancer and allows them to truly invest themselves in the choreography. (On a related side note, I recently came across another video where Justin Bieber's back-up dancers created an impromptu site specific piece in an airport terminal during a flight delay, LOL, dancers are the luckiest folks alive)

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: For the audience, it is always thrilling to see the banal aspects of life, filtered through a brand new perspective. Site specific choreography is one of the easiest ways to achieve this effect. Site specific choreography is created to exist only in a certain place and is generated through research and interpretation of the site’s unique cultural matrix of characteristics and topographies, whether architectural, historical, social and/or environmental; discovering the hidden meaning in a space and developing methods to amplify it. To this end, Daniel succeeds brilliantly. He mentioned that when he is choreographing for a filmed project "there is more freedom and you find yourself taking more risks with ideas and images. In my experience when choreographing a staged piece and then filming it - I fall in love with things from the front and fear going anywhere beyond." When I asked him about choosing to film on the roof, he said that he tends "to film many pieces on roofs, since the views and images are always so delicious. When editing a live performance, it can get monotonous. I like the not knowing of what you'll see. The roof is a magical place." When you watch the piece at (1:13-1:19) you can see an unbroken movement phrase from two different perspectives. The first is in the dancer's vicinity, while the second is from a far, framed by the raw materials of the environment. This shift in perspectives creates a sort of energetic heartbeat that compels the piece forward. Daniel also understands the key element of motivation. All of the images in the film exist for a reason. And whether or not the audience can articulate why they feel the movement is justified, they know subconsciously that it is rooted in reality. To ensure that film is authentic, Daniel studies "story formulas constantly. I am a very big believer in the western story structure. Then the choreographer's eye comes in on the places in between. The movement must communicate quietly with a point of view. The lens never lies. I love them both - dance and film. Perfect Match."

KUDOS to Daniel for embracing the digital medium, not as an extension of the choreographic process, but as a fundamental component of the work, from start to finish. For more info on Daniel's work, please visit DANIEL'S WEBSITE

Sunday, December 2, 2012

"Whistling Spider"...Rhapsody James

Hip Hop, as a genre, is currently moving into new, unexplored territory. When the hip hop community was born in the late 70's, it was a subculture that served as an artistic conduit for struggling urban youth, giving them credibility and self-esteem. By the 90's, corporations and media moguls had realized the vast commercial potential that hip hop possessed on the mainstream market, and sought to maximize profits from this street credible revenue stream. But today, a growing number of hip hop artists/choreographers/musicians are looking to elevate the genre beyond a simplistic marketing gimmick. Because hip hop, at its essence, is about artistic expression. Rhapsody James, understands the history, the community, and the economics of the art form...but she also understands the need for purity in expression. As a hip hop choreographer, she seeks to use her choreography as a tool to transcend people's perception of hip hop simply being a vehicle for selling records/fashion/movies. Instead, she is actively exploring hip hop's capacity for creating mood, changing attitudes, and making it accessible to the widest audience possible.

MUSICALITY: In this excerpt, Rhapsody focuses heavily on the amplified clap effects of beats 3 and 7. While this rhythmic pattern is relatively common within hip hop loops, her interpretation of this auditory cue is fascinating. Early in the piece, she introduces a full body hop (1:27-1:28). This subtle image is wonderfully effective in suggesting an insect-like quality to the movement. Furthermore, sometimes she extends this idea by utilizing sequential quarter note runs prior to the accented hits. For example, she might do six, small isolated gestures on beats 1-6 followed by the concrete strength of beat 7. Watch the phrase from (2:05-2:11) to see this technique clearly on display. This is a fantastic demonstration of choreography reflecting (and expanding) the musical structure of the track.

DANCER SYNC: I have spoken to a number of dancers who have worked with Rhapsody, and one of the most consistent things I hear in regard to her work is the notion of synchronicity. Synchronicity is the ability to create movement that "fits" the dancer and feels good to dance. Rhapsody, is a strong believer in the philosophy that EVERY body can dance. She is one of the most inclusive choreographers I know, and seeks to inspire movement in all dancers, regardless of body type, weight, size or shape. She is truly interested in finding the choreography that highlights unique individuality. Notice how she incorporates the natural long and lean physicality of the first dancer's arms and legs to compliment the opening string section. Also, watch how the unison moments work for ALL the dancers, and no one looks out of place or made to look uncomfortable. Even though the dancers are of different shapes and sizes, each dancer is able to dig into the movement with ferocity and attack the phrase with equal intensity.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: Many people have seen modern or contemporary dance pieces and scratched their heads in bewilderment, saying to themselves, "I just don't get it." On the other hand, hip hop has often become so populist that it leaves nothing to the imagination and becomes almost cheesy and formulaic. However, Rhapsody is a master at creating pieces that are accessible to a wide audience, yet are still able to challenge and engage. This is a very difficult and delicate balance to achieve, and yet she makes it look easy. Theme and variation is one of the choreographic devices that she uses effectively to create this sweet spot. At (1:39-1:44) she introduces a simple phrase that involves hand placement on the floor. And then at (2:27-2:37) she recapitulates this phrase by building it into a frontal unison moment with all the dancers in a line. However, more than this, by skillfully exploring a concept of "spider" through movement, she is able to create a piece of choreography that is accessible to a wide range of audience members, from novice viewers to seasoned dance connoisseurs. If you need any further proof of this, check out what she does with the idea of "ostrich"

KUDOS to Rhapsody for serving choreo that is inclusive to everyone and excludes no one.

Monday, November 26, 2012

"Hope"...Lionel Hun

While Lionel Hun is not the only choreographer who is currently blending genres, particularly hip hop and contemporary, but I do believe that his genuine, authentic respect for both traditions gives his work a special quality. He is as comfortable in the joint isolation of popping, as he is in the lines and technique of ballet. But I never get the sense that the inclusion of either genre is a gimmick, but rather a true extension of Mr. Hun's interests and legit areas of training. For more info on Mr. Hun's work, please visit

MUSICALITY: The finger dexterity that is required to play a clean ascending scale on a piano, is brilliantly transferred to the footwork displayed at (0:25-0:27) and (0:31-0:33). I think that this association between the light agility of digits and the "clumsy" foot, serves to set the tone for the remainder of the piece. We suddenly see the dancer's body as an instrument that is capable of sweeping gestures and finely tuned moments of precision. This is exactly what Lionel proceeds to explore within the musicality of his body. A high caliber musician is able to produce a wide spectrum of sounds and tones from their instrument. Whether it is a staccato note or slurred sostenuto, a choreographer should also be able to translate this range into the movement...and in this regard, Lionel is a master.

DANCER SYNC: A dance solo is a special thing, it is a moment of solitary confession and vulnerability. Actors are asked to perform monologues at auditions so that the panel is able to see their range of internal character building and commitment. For a dancer, the solo SHOULD present the same opportunity for genuine, authentic exploration of the artist's inner workings, musings, and perspective. I think that this is one of the areas where Lionel is exceptionally successful. I have already mentioned his incorporation of various genres and styles, but the solo format in particular allows us to peek into his motivation. At the beginning, we see a powerful glance toward the camera, and in that moment, he reveals his soul as an individual who has seen the devastation in Japan firsthand. This single look, communicates waves of information and puts the rest of the piece into context. In this manner, Lionel creates a framework for the choreography to grow and expand on, leaving the audience to savor the perfect synchronization of body and authentic movement.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: The setting that Lionel chose to display his work is intriguing. We begin in a pagoda, suspended over an open sea. While beautiful, it is also bleak, desolate and stark. There is an air of empty, hollow hopelessness that hangs over the beginning scenes. As a viewer, this deserted landscape provides the perfect contrast to the beauty of Lionel's choreography. Similar to a solitary seedling that sprouts after the spring thaw, the choreo starts small and nuanced, and then gradually gains in range, tempo and intensity. This slow crescendo ramps up the viewer's interest from start to finish, never allowing for a lapse or lull in their attention.

KUDOS to Lionel for allowing such a personal, vulnerable look into his soul and subsequently creating a truly heartfelt tribute to the tsunami victims. Art has transformative power...and Lionel proves this abundantly.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Commonality"...Adam Parson

Recently, in discussing the work of Kate Jablonski, I referenced the idea of movement qualities. While Kate's work makes extensive use of PENDULAR and SUSTAINED movement, I thought it would be interesting to feature a non-tap piece that works in the PERCUSSIVE vein. Adam Parson's work is multi-influencial and has its roots in classic jazz, commercial street dance and afro/world rhythms. For this reason, it is fascinating how he is able to translate the vibrant hits of the 1,3,5, and 7 beats into a visual landscape you can identify in the dancers' bodies.

MUSICALITY: Its important to reiterate that percussive movement is either choreo that makes an audible noise (ie tap, stepping, gumboot, irish step, clogging) or any movement that WOULD make a noise if it were to make impact with a surface. So by that definition, it is easy to see why many choreographers forgo the usual 5-6-7-8 style of counting for a more visceral "boom gank crack pow" cueing in class. The onomatopoeia is a much more insightful way to communicate the percussive nature that the choreographer is trying to achieve. This concept is best illustrated at (0:35-0:41) where you see a hand push, three shoulder hits, and an double elbow jab in succession. Each of these movements create a visual approximation of what you are hearing musically.

DANCER SYNC: From a dancer's perspective, any choreographer who can seamlessly construct moments of breath and release into the fabric of the piece, is greatly appreciated. Notice how Adam allows for certain moments where the hips are in an isolated rock (0:42-0:46) or the head ticks with precise subtlety (0:58-1:01) or complete stillness (1:43-1:53). Each of these choreographic choices represent a consideration for the dancers' need to breathe and recover, as well as creating dynamic tension for the audience.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: Give and take, push and pull, contract and release...if you watch this piece carefully, you will notice how the PERCUSSIVE hits are only effective because they are framed by a smooth, almost sensual context. Adam's work is like an infinite yin yang relationship, every hit is followed by fluidly languid phrase that melts the dancers' bodies, only to awaken to another hit soon after. Yin is the feminine energy that you see between the hard aggressive pops, and the the Yang is masculine, dynamic energy that explodes into the percussive SMACK. Back and forth, the hits ebb and flow, transfixing the audience in a hypnotic loop.

KUDOS to Adam for beautifully demonstrating how non-auditory percussive movement can create tension and then skillfully resolving the sequence through contrasting tone and quality.

Monday, November 12, 2012

"The Motto"...Lando Wilkins

When a choreographer collaborates with a dancer, it is imperative that they both listen to each other. The history of dance provides many examples of choreographers who had a "my way or the highway" mentality. And even if the resulting work is fantastic, most dancers will tell you that working with those types of choreographers is hell. So when dancers are able to work in a situation where the choreographer is open to their interpretation, but also has a focused idea and direction, everybody is happy. Lando Wilkins is a choreographer who understands the dancer's need for collaboration and interpretation, while keeping the big picture cohesive and tight.

MUSICALITY: Drake's groove on this track is deep in the pocket of the beat. So it was important for Lando to choose movements and phrases that could fall into this groove without feeling forced. Listen carefully to the loop and you will hear a distinctive clap on the 3 and the 7 beats. This is the pocket that Lando uses to base all the syncopation and 8th note rhythms. The 3 and the 7 is like a built-in pause, that breaks the flow of the more fluid sequences. Just like a period at the end of a sentence, this structure roots the combination into the ground and helps the dancer feel the drop in every phrase. At (1:04-1:06) you can see how the 3/7 drop is like a bookend for the crip walk section, when you hear the clap, it signals a direction change for the dancer. Another aspect of Lando's choreography that is particularly musical, is his use of repetition in response to repeated lyrical phrases. At 0:55 and at (1:36-1:38) you can see how he uses the repetition of a word to inspire a phrase that looks as if a record is skipping on a single phrase again and again.

DANCER SYNC: A few of the posts on SERVINGCHOREO feature dancer/choreographers who do double duty and perform their own material. When this is the case, the choreo tends to be perfectly tailored to the dancer's body since the choreographer and dancer are one and the same. However, in this video, Lando has stated that his goal was to highlight individual interpretation of his material. Lando says, "Each one of these dancers showed their own take in style to the routine which is what i wanted. If it looks messy to you, so be it, but it is not to be clean, just to showcase various styles. Someone out there will relate to one of these dancers in the way they rock the dance. And that is the purpose of this video." This is not only a very generous attitude for a choreographer to take, but its also the right one. Unfortunately, there are many "choreographers" in the industry who put their egos above a dancer's individual artistic expression...which is a damn shame.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: Commercial dance(music videos, movies, pop concerts) is built for the camera and has to fit a frame. This is contrasted with concert rep dance which is built for the stage or site specific performance. So when we watch dance that has been composed for the camera, we have to appreciate the architecture of "the shot." This includes the framing, the edits, and the angle perspective. In my opinion, this video demonstrates a great relationship between well-composed choreography and David Moore's cinematography. Note how the zoom effect serves to highlight the repetition I previously mentioned at (1:36-1:38). In this instance, the camera becomes the 6th dancer in the group, playing with the foreground, background, and quarter-angles.

KUDOS to Lando for being a team player...allowing his choreo to be open to dancers' interpretation and fantastic cinematic collaboration!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"Falling" Kate Jablonski

Hurricane Sandy has put a damper on my blogging schedule, and I apologize. However, we are back in action and I have decided to feature another piece by Kate Jablonski, but for a very specific reason. I want to use this video to demonstrate a few very important concepts in good choreo construction...and I feel that they are all illustrated here.

MUSICALITY: Choreography that is musically dynamic, always creates contrast and color. But in order to play with differing qualities, a choreographer must know what qualities are at their disposal. Many times I feel as though people who call themselves "choreographers" have little idea as to what ingredients they actually have in their kitchen...and then try to cook something up. The result is bland and boring. But Kate has a great handle on which qualities to use and when. All choreography, whether it is jazz, tap, modern, contemporary, hip all based on four qualities of movement. You have PERCUSSIVE, VIBRATORY, SUSTAINED, and PENDULAR. All four of these qualities can be easily identified in this video, and this diversity of movement gives the choreography a good deal of dynamic musicality. Vibratory movement is like a guitar string that is plucked and vibrates back and forth, while pendular movement is a swinging motion that is like the weight on a grandfather clock. Look at the sequence from (1:14-1:18) and watch how the vibratory "scribble" resolves nicely into the pendular swings of the next phrase. Or perhaps (2:50-2:55) where the vibratory shakes in the knees transitions to the slow and sustained rise in the hands and fingertips. Percussive movement is motion that makes noise or the act of making noise...look at (0:09-0:11) where you see the body slapping against the ground with hands, elbows, knees and head, or at (0:20-0:22) where the dancers are repetitively hitting the same piano key. With this in mind, watch the video again and observe how Kate goes back and forth from quality to quality, allowing the tone and quality to change with the music.

DANCER SYNC: One of the biggest mistakes that novice choreographers make, is the inclusion of "tricks" for no reason. IF YOU PUT TRICKS INTO A PIECE, YOU MUST BE ABLE TO JUSTIFY "WHY" IT IS THERE. Kate's strength as a choreographer lies in her ability to edit. She adds tricks to the choreography, only when it supports the overall picture of the piece. This makes a lot of sense to the dancer who is asked to dance the piece. If they understand "why" they need to do the round off back handspring full or the 32 count fouette sequence, then it brings a much greater degree of artistic credibility to their performance. At (1:27-1:32) the singer repeats the word "again and again and again and again" Kate realized that some sort of cyclical phrase would best bring that idea to life. What does "again and again and again" actually look like when it is the video and you will see your answer. This is Kate's "WHY."

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: The viewer is by nature a visual elements that grab the viewer's eye are obviously going to keep them engaged. Kate is a master of constructing choreography on levels. I think that this is one thing that keeps people constantly enraptured by her style. Choreography exists on three basic levels, low, medium and high. Low is typically reserved for floorwork, medium level is for turns and standing phrases, and high level is for jumps, tumbling and releve. Watch at 1:13 and see if you can spot all three levels working simultaneously. And then, at (0:07-0:09) you can see how Kate creates a nice balance between a low phrase and a high phrase. When the viewer sees these two complimentary phrases at the same time, it immediately jumps out as visually engaging.

KUDOS to Kate for demonstrating the basic, fundamental principles of good choreography time and time again.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"Stimela"...Nico O'Connor

Recently I have been discussing the connection between principles of architecture and the dancer's body. In many ways, the design elements that apply to buildings and bridges have practical parallels for dance. As strange as it may seem, this clip from LA choreographer, Nico O'Connor, demonstrates some of these concepts beautifully.

MUSICALITY: The vocals used for this combination have an interesting geometry that flirts with syncopation, yet is grounded in an almost mechanical tick-tock riff that can be clearly identified in the opening bars. Although this underlying straight, square, marimba groove continues under the melody the entire time, Nico has different ideas and interpretation of where he wants the accents to hit. If you watch the sequence from (0:25-0:31) you can see an example of deep syncopation, working around a "short-long" rhythmic pattern where a staccato gesture is immediately followed by a brief adagio moment. This section is suddenly broken by a return to the square rhythm, hitting 1-2-3-4-hold, on straight beats. Its fascinating to watch the interplay between these two interpretations and creates a textured musicality that draws the viewer in completely.

DANCER SYNC: Good choreographers have the ability to find a logical progression in their phrases. Going back to the architecture analogy, when you build a physical structure, the construction must be executed in a logical progression. It makes no sense to jump around from step A to step D and then back to step B. In the same way, if you watch how Nico builds his phrases, each one leads the dancer logically to the next moment. Look at (0:36-0:41) and you will see how a hip touch rises to a chest touch, which leads to a higher level above the head. For dancers, this kind of logic makes the combination especially satisfying to move through.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: I really like the way that Nico's choreography supports the dancer and pays respect to the musical source material. However, the average audience member might not be able to articulate what it is about Nico's work that captures their attention, but they know that they are watching intently. The choreography is not overly lyrical or indicative, and yet it is such a well-crafted phrase that demonstrates clean architecture and deceptively complex rhythmic patterns.

KUDOS to Nico for giving the dancers a strong blueprint for constructing a beautiful, artistic structure.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"Man Down"...Parris Goebel

To follow an artistic impulse and reject the reasons why you ought not pursue it, is a courageous step for many people. However, as with many things in life, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Although I've never met Parris in person, I feel that she is the type of individual who has a very strong sense of self-direction. And when an artistic impulse reacts with a personality like Parris...sparks fly.

MUSICALITY: If you have ever spent time in the kitchen, you know that the key to a great recipe is the interplay between flavors and spices. Food that is ALL hot or ALL sweet, is too overpowering and ends up disgusting. Instead, we love a little bit of salty with our sweet, or bitter with the zest. In a similar way, choreography needs to have a touch of interplay to give it flavor. Musicians call it dynamic...dancers call it sharp and smooth. Depending on the particular line, Parris will find hot, staccato stabs when the music suggests it (0:54-0:56) or melt into a juicy dance hall groove just to spice things up (0:43-0:53). By mixing things up, she is able to keep the movement interesting, yet so deep within the musical pocket that it seems as though they were "meant for each other."

DANCER SYNC: This is not the first time(nor the last) where I have featured a piece where the choreographer and dancer were the same individual. Recently, I have been talking to my dancers about finding movement choices that you can "wear" like a perfectly tailored pair of jeans, not too tight, not too loose...just right. One of the great things about watching a choreographer/dancer mashup, is that they almost ALWAYS make choices that flatter their technique, bodies and style. Every dancer can learn a valuable take-away message from this...find movement that is right for you, and OWN it.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: All the elements of this video contribute to the final product. I love the raindrops and the breaths of warm air in the cool night breeze. The lighting is ideal for such a noir type atmosphere and the facial close ups give you a brilliant sense of what she is about to express. I love when choreographers give their art a context and framework. To me this shows a more mature aesthetic in terms of message and signature.

KUDOS to Parris for allowing us to peek into this private moment and vicariously share in her artistic impulse!

Monday, August 27, 2012

"Cold Song"...Benoit Swan-Pouffer

France is known for many things...baguettes, the Louvre, Brigitte Bardot...and most importantly for dancers, BALLET. If it weren't for King Louis XIV, the world would not have barres and tendus, battements and degages. So it is interesting to note that some of the most innovative changes in ballet repertoire are now also coming from France, or in this case, French ex-pats living in NYC. Benoit Swan-Pouffer is the artistic director of Cedar Lake Ballet company. I simply adore the way that he plays around with the traditional conventions of the art form, while finding exciting, original material hiding just below the surface. This is your mother's ballet...and it's TOTALLY not.

MUSICALITY: The fascinating aspect of this work is Swan's ability to find accents in music that is otherwise adagio and seemingly lacking in any percussive quality. At 1:57-1:59, the female dancer creates a ticking motion with her arms that exactly mirrors the halting vocal patterns of the vocalist. Sometimes, the focus is placed on the exact moment that physical contact is made. At 0:43 there is a distinct flourish of the harpsichord that can be clearly identified as the male dancer touches the back of the female's neck...almost as if chills were running down her spine.

DANCER SYNC: Good choreography is like a good script...the "dialogue" just flows naturally, organically, without undue force or pressure. Watch the dancers at 1:42-1:46, and you will see how the arm gestures are beautifully coordinated and share the moments, taking turns "talking" to each other.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: As I said at the beginning of this piece, the element that is particularly engaging for the audience, is Swan's ability to fuse the old and new, traditional with contemporary exploration. Look at 0:21-0:32, where the female dancer begins a series of bourree balances, only to quickly melt into a contorted knock-knee position, creeping slowly across the floor. There are many delicious little surprises like this throughout the piece...and this makes for a mesmerizing viewer experience.

KUDOS to Swan for blazing new trails and expanding the notion of what movements "are" and "are not" ballet...and for challenging people to think outside their tradition perceptions of "classical" vocabulary.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"Foi" by Sidi Larbi

The dance world is chock full of comparisons and criticism. A "downtown" modern dancer will often scoff at the "commercialism" of film and TV dancers. Meanwhile, I've heard many hip hop and street jazz dancers express total confusion at the mention of performance art or deep contemporary. But the fact remains, that no matter what type of dancer you are, what particular genre grabs your eye and attention...the body is the body, and movement is movement. In hands of a skilled choreographer, surprising discoveries can be made in areas that are generally thought to be "NOT DANCE." The bane of the dance competition world, is the solo that is exploding at the seams with acro and gymnastic elements. You can almost hear an exacerbated judge screaming, "enough with the flipping...WHERE IS THE @$#%&$ DANCING?!?!?" And while this sentiment definitely carries merit, I do believe that there is a way to incorporate ANY movement, in an artful, mindful way that can be used to express some aspect of the soul. Sidi Larbi, is a collaborator of the highest degree and is constantly challenging himself to find the art, beauty and dance in movement disciplines that are not traditionally considered "dance." Whether is it working with Shaolin martial artists or gymnastics, his creations are hypnotic:

MUSICALITY: Two musical qualities jump out at me when I watch this clip. One is the rise and fall of the vocal lines, and the manner in which the movement mimics this dynamic. A note or a position will be held to its maximum length, and deftly falls to its resolution (2:38-2:42). I also appreciate the fact that there is virtually zero impact with the floor. While, the choreography is in constant contact with the ground, it never seems as though the body is thrown into the earth with force. This is interesting because the music is devoid of any percussion, no drums, no beat...just the soft ebb and flow of the voice.

DANCER SYNC: I have personally worked with so many choreographers who lack the ability and technique to create phrases that work in harmony with the floor. Certainly, many people experiment with "floorwork" but rarely do you see a sequence that exhibits this degree of fluidity and ease. He almost seems to be dancing a duet with the floor...exquisite!

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: From the viewer's perspective, there will always be something exciting about the "gravity defying" skills that are the provenance of gymnastics, acrobatics, and circus. However, when we understand that dance is an art form, used for self-expression, it is not sufficient to simply execute a "move" or "trick" just for performance value. Every moment of the piece needs to answer the fundamental question "WHY?" In this case, none of the acrobatic elements feel extraneous or unjustified. Look at 1:26-1:28...WHY did he grab this element from the b-boy hip hop culture? The answer was that if provided the most elegant exit from the twisting dive that preceeded it and allowed him to transfer the downward energy into a circular walking pattern to the front. You can look at every instance of gymnastics, every acro moment, and can justify their inclusion in this piece, making them appropriate and appreciated.

KUDOS to Sidi for opening the door to the "dance club" and inviting new, non-traditional movement choices into our vernacular.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"Michigan"...Erica Sobol

As human beings, one of the most desirable qualities we seek in others is authenticity. Nothing irks people more than the pretentiousness of a "fake" person. Interestingly, this same characteristic resonates within dance. When we see a choreographer who embraces vulnerable humanity, our breath is snatched away because we recognize the familiar...we see ourselves. Erica Sobol is what I a call a "mirror-ographer"...she creates by simply observing human beings in their natural form, and then reflects this reality back to us through the poetic filter of movement. The result is hypnotic and vicarious...because we are witnessing the moments of our own life, through Erica's eyes:

MUSICALITY: When a singer/songwriter composes music, much thought is given to the way in which the lyrics will unfold, bounce off each other, and play between. Syncopation then becomes an imperative tool for achieving this interplay. When it is most successful, it can give a choreographer a plethora of information, rhythmically, visually, and thematically. Erica understands this completely and finds numerous ways to have dialogue with these internal rhythms of the song. From 1:14-1:19 you see her painting a visual thread for the words "I wonder was it gone, now I know." However, what really makes Erica a unique voice, is that she "hears" the movement in stereo, not only digging into the lyrics, but simultaneously animating the musicianship as well. The best example of this is at 1:22, when you actual "see" what the lone pluck of a guitar string "looks" like within the dancer's body.

DANCER SYNC: Revisiting the idea of authenticity of dance, we have to examine the role of "technique" and "tricks." If someone were to watch this piece and judge it solely on the number of pirouettes or grande jetes, they would probably conclude that the combination was not particularly "hard." And yet, I would actually argue, that this combination is an example of exceptionally difficult and advanced choreography, artistically AND technically. To be able to control the acceleration and deceleration of the tempo, to gracefully bring the vocal nuances to life, and "hide" the technique into the fabric of the statement...take incredible maturity and insight. Because Erica roots her movement in the common planes of movement (parallel sagittal, frontal, and transverse), the dancer will feel at home and familiar in the sequence.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: I adore the moments of humanity that pepper this excerpt. As a viewer, we always want to empathize and relate with the dance we are watching. When the dancer walks forward at 1:49 ("keep your hands where I can see them"), we instantly recognize this moment of defiance, rebellion, or anger. And yet, since the choreography does not make it presentational (acting and mugging for the camera) we realize the genuine nature of what we are seeing, and it hits us right in our sense memory.

KUDOS to Erica for allowing us the luxury of viewing our own frailties and the permission to accept our humanity.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

"Ten Duets On The Theme of Rescue"...Crystal Pite

For those of you not familiar with the work of Crystal Pite, you are in for a treat. This choreographer sees the body in its most versatile and poetic angles, never content to just tread the comfort zone of movement. What most surprises me about her choices, is the juxtaposition between movements we would not normally associate with each other, similar to a chef using non-traditional ingredients and combinations to create something unexpected and delightful. This is an excerpt from a longer piece, but it highlights her work nicely:

MUSICALITY: At first glance, it may seem like the camera shutter speed has been "sped up" to create the effect of frantic motion. However, I assure you that it has not been manipulated in any way. This is simply the eloquent brilliance of Crystal's work. She has carefully mapped out sequences that can be executed at top speeds, yet in perfect sync with the music. Certainly, this takes hours of rehearsal to nail the precision and nuance...but then again, so does a Chopin etude!

DANCER SYNC: What makes a choreographer's work particularly resonate with a dancer, is the degree to which a movement sequence makes "kinetic sense." At times, a choreographer might try to intentionally break up ingrained habits of movement by experimenting with forced exercises (eg brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand). This technique can lead to interesting conclusions that may, or may not, end up ever feeling truly at home in the dancer's body. However, what is even more impressive, is when a choreographer is able to find new paths that feel completely familiar, leaving that dancer thinking "wow, why didn't I ever think of that...that feels great!!" If you watch the partnering sequence from 1:32-2:00, you will see a lengthy movement idea that is expressed beautifully and logically, in the kinetic sense. One movement flows seamlessly into the next. When the bottom dancer places his foot on the shoulder, Crystal doesn't have him try to hoist his opposite leg over the braced one (as many novice choreographers might choose to do). Instead, she simply has him reposition the bottom leg and then brings the top leg down...simple and brilliant.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: Another facet of the work I particularly admire, is Crystal's ability to throw the audience's attention and focus exactly where she wants it. As opposed to simply throwing everything up on the stage to see, she instead makes careful decisions about what to reveal and what to keep hidden. At times you might simply catch a glimpse of a hand or foot...and this has been meticulously calibrated. At the end of the video, notice the "running man" we see the desperate feet chasing violently in one pool of light, while the calm space between the silhouettes of two outstretched hands slowly closes the gap. This technique of guiding the viewer's eye is subtle and completely effective.

KUDOS to Crystal for shining an illuminating light on what has been right under our noses the whole time.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"I Wanna Dance With Somebody"...Marko Panzic

Often, the death of a great artist causes people to reexamine their body of work, culling new details that may have been overlooked the first time around. For the choreographer, going back to a piece of music that was an important part of their personal history can be an opportunity to breath new life into old song. Marko Panzic, a talented Australian choreographer and producer, recently explored this classic track by Whitney Houston. Interestingly, her music still resonates deeply with today's dancers...and probably always will:

MUSICALITY: Marko has an exceptionally gifted ear when it comes to the vocal nuances and rhythms of Whitney's voice. Notice how he interprets the phrase "when the night falls, loneliness calls" at 0.40-0.46. This is a great example of the movement creating visual synergy with the lyrics. Whitney bites into the word "when" and Marko responds with a definitively bold forward step. On the word "falls," Whitney's voice lilts into a slight decrescendo and Marko augments this with a deep grande plie(deep knee bend). Similarly, the shoulder isolations perfectly mimic the syncopation in Whitney's delivery of the word "loneliness." This kind of interplay between movement and music is what creates a seamlessly integrated experience.

DANCER SYNC: When you write with a physical pencil and paper, you have the option of individual block letters, or cursive strokes that connect from one to the next. Working dancers appreciate choreographers who can mimic this uninterrupted flow of information. Marko's gift lies in finding pathways that move along the body in a perfectly logical natural way. Watch at 0:35-0:39 and 0:59-1:01 and you will see two sequences of movement that demonstrate this smooth, fluid transition from one picture to the next. However, it should also be noted that, at times it is important to punctuate the flow of movement with "hits" that act as an exclamation point or period at the end of your sentence. The side snap at 0:27 is one such moment. When a choreographer like Marko, is mindful about creating these well-made phrases, with fluid transitions, as well as punctuated stops...the dancers rejoice.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: As I mentioned before, it is important for contemporary dancers and choreographers to continually revisit the classic work of artists who have come before. Innovation lies on top the progress and experiments that preceded us. By watching Marko's homage to Whitney's artistry, you can see that his respect for her talent is palpable. And yet, Marko's work does not feel like a rehash or recycling of "bad 80's choreo"...actually the opposite, it has a very fun, fresh relevance and playful energy. For the viewer, the intersection of something familiar with something brand new, is a smart way to connect with the past, yet introducing new information into the art form.

KUDOS to Marko for paying respect to one of the great voices of our time, by digging into the groove of the past and molding an entirely original artistic idea.

Friday, February 24, 2012

"Finger Food"...King Bones

In this installment for S.C. we look at the "flexing" form, which is a derivative of the tutting genre. Existing at the intersection of "turfing" and contortion, King Bones creates a fluid and mesmerizing fusion of architectural lines and pictures:

MUSICALITY: Inherent to this style, is the idea of "pocket beats." If you listen to the accompanying track, you will hear a percussive snare hit on beats 3 and 7 of the 8 count bar. When the rhythmic structure is so clearly defined, it is typical for an experienced choreographer to find phrases that "sit deep in the pocket" of these hits.

DANCER SYNC: Certainly, this style of street dance requires extreme flexibility within the glenoid fossa and entire shoulder girdle complex. However, assuming that the dancer possesses the required range of motion, the movement itself flows beautifully. In fact, its interesting to watch how King Bones asks the body to create visual perimeters, and then subsequently trace within them. While some of the angular shapes, especially the 90 degree corners created by the forearm and hand at the wrist joint, are only accessible after conditioned stretching, once the carpal muscles are able to sustain the form, it can be a very strong aesthetic choice.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: As humans, we are so accustomed to seeing the body in its symmetrical, anatomic position. Therefore, when King Bones uses the contortion to create liquid asymmetry, the result is shocking. Looking at 0:59 and again at 1:55, we see the entire dance taking place on one side of the body, its simultaneously eerie and breathtaking. Also, I found the intercuts between dance and pedestrian train rides, both surreal and necessary to maintain pacing throughout the piece. Inventive partnering, between the dancers, as well as the side of the subway car (0:38), also lend to the site specific exploration of King Bones' work.

KUDOS to King Bones for experimenting with various forms and location, to concoct a deliciously puzzling and intriguing piece of urban avante guard fusion!

Friday, February 3, 2012

"Hibiki"...Sankai Juku

Today's video is a compilation of moments from Hibiki, a piece by Sankai Juku. This is a Japanese company that plays with the idea of silence and contemplation. Amagatsu Ushio, the company's founder, has taken the "butoh" dance form of the 1960s and re-mixed it for the contemporary viewer. Ushio has stated that "butoh" is a "dialogue with gravity. While other dance forms tend to revel in escaping from gravity, Sankai Juku is based on sympathizing or synchronizing with gravity." Sometimes choreography is complex and in constant motion, and other times, a choreographer may want to explore the bare minimum. Even though the dance here is not at a breakneck pace, the images will imprint themselves on your brain forever:

MUSICALITY: I have often said that good choreography is the marriage of body, breath, and music. However, at times the musical accompaniment is a harmonizing compliment to the body's natural breathing. When you inhale and exhale, an audible rhythm is created. It is very subtle, almost silent...and yet, a rhythm with an assigned tempo is present. Sankai Juku relies heavily on this fact. Watch how the breath informs every movement they make. Nothing happens without the presence of breath...and this is the music that moves them. Its also important to point out, that this natural inhale/exhale is a kind of reverse action, yin and echo. Its not surprising then, to find that "Hibiki" is the Japanese word for "echo."

DANCER SYNC: Many of the movements in this piece would be considered "pedestrian." In other words, they use the natural range of motion and movement vocabulary that is available to the average person. Interestingly, many times people watch this kind of dance and say "well, what's so HARD about that...I could do that." Aside from the fact that dance is an art form and not meant to be a trick competition, the difficulty factors comes in with the synchronization of said "simple" movement between multiple dancers, commitment to the moment, and integrity of performance. The human body is fascinating even in its static form. Suffice it to say, while the choreography might not endanger the dancers' bodies in any way, Sankai Juku has found a way to sync these "common" movements in a way that is highly pleasing to execute.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: The measure of audience engagement is the ability to capture the viewer's attention and imagination. Using this criterion, Sankai Juku always succeeds. Even if the viewer is a bit confused as to what they are seeing, the point is that they are engaged by a visual stimulus so strong that it is nearly impossible to shift focus! Whenever Sankai Juku performs live, audience members will inevitably leave the show discussing the images and ideas they were exposed to. People will interpret the performance differently...and that is the goal.

KUDOS to Sankai Juku for having the courage to embrace the silence, speak to gravity, and using an "average" movement vocabulary to to create extraordinary pictures and concepts.

Monday, January 30, 2012

"Nonetheless"...Korhan Basaran

At SERVINGCHOREO, we strongly believe that choreography should be a seamless duet between body and breath, music and motion. This perfect symbiosis is in the spotlight when Korhan Basaran creates his phrases.

MUSICALITY: One of the major elements that distinguishes great classical musicians from technically proficient ones, is the ability to take a piece of music and breathe new life into it. The gift of interpretation is what separates the good from the great. Korhan is able to make a parallel statement in his choreography. He finds the moments in the music where his movement rides directly on top of the melody line. At other points, he is dancing in counterpoint to the musical phrase. His choice of Bach as the accompanying track is interesting in that the majority of Baroque music taps into this idea of two or more artistic, musical ideas moving in alternate, yet complimentary, directions. I watch his dance the way that I hear a prelude or fugue.

DANCER SYNC: While I am usually opposed to choreography that involves undue impact, when it is executed skillfully and safely, it can be particularly exciting. At 1:00-1:18, Korhan begins with a controlled impact to the floor. What follows though, is really quite stunning. The floor work is creative and finds interesting solutions to the locomotion challenges.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: I really like the way that Korhan emerges from the audience at the beginning. Its an interesting and captivating way to kick the piece into gear. By starting this way, the audience experiences the piece in a somewhat vicarious way, as if to say "he is one of us." The use of fall and release method, along with his wide legged straddle motif, creates continuity and rhythm within the movement, despite the track lacking an audible percussion.

KUDOS to Korhan for his hypnotic phrases, loose and fluid interpretation, and quality of composition.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Panlong"...Phillip Chbeeb

As a dancer and choreographer working across different genres, I have particular respect and affinity for the work of hip hop and contemporary choreographers who allow their choices to be flavored by a wide spectrum of influences. Although, most people in the dance community would identify Phillip Chbeeb as a "hip hop" dancer, I find that his work, intellect, aesthetic is far more complex than the typical commercial street dancer. To me, Phillip's work has a maturity and artistic integrity that is rooted in hip hop culture, yet explores many other territories.

MUSICALITY: Of this work, Phillip has said that he "wanted to manifest the human persona of "Panlong," the coiled water Dragon from Chinese mythology. Attempted only with my movement to embody the entanglement, fluidity, and strength of this specific type of dragon." Choreography can have its genesis in a number of places. Most commonly, a choreographer will hear a piece of music that particularly inspires them to move and create. Other times, the movement choices are dictated by the costume and textural limitations(think about a Brazilian Carnival dancer or Vegas showgirl dancing with a massive feathered back pack and headdress). However, in this case, Phillip was motivated by a conceptual, thematic catalyst. Working in this way, finding the music to compliment pre-existing movement can be one of biggest challenges. In this case, Phillip ended up using a song that actually has an East Indian origin, but it sits on top of his movement phrases perfectly. Indian music has a vocal quality known as "Taan gesture," which to many people sounds like a cross between singing and ululating. This technique is very foreign to classical western singers, but works seamlessly with Phillip's movement. Watch his inventive footwork at 1:25-1:31, to see this in action. As his body undulates and recoils, the singer's voice constantly modulates pitch and mimics the visual dance form. Also, Phillip has a keen ear for syncopation, at 1:14-1:17 he could have easily barreled through the transition, but instead, placed the steps on the swing beats in the track...excellent choice.

DANCER SYNC: Phillip knows how to employ the body's structure to create surprising pictures and angles. While this may seem awkward to the casual viewer, dancers will tell you that the way that Phillip transitions in and out of these moments, are the key to doing a dance skillfully and avoiding a broken ankle. Phillip is careful to find the path of least resistance and maximum safety, yet never compromising the artistic innovation.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: On a directorial level, I appreciate the way Phillip introduces the piece and then builds tension. As opposed to simply dropping into floor work or throwing a wave, he takes his time and layers the anticipation and suspense. By the time the track drops into that dense, deep groove, the viewer is glued to the screen and ready. From there, Phillips sequencing and choices propel the piece and maintain the pace!

KUDOS to Phillip for weaving a variety of styles and techniques into a compelling piece, I expect to see very experimental fusion projects from him in the future.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"Lost In Motion"...Guillaume Cote

When someone like Guillaume Cote SERVES CHOREO, you know it's going to be unique and exquisite. I like to think of this particular video as a beautiful collaboration between a choreographer, cinematographer, and a technically refined dancer. As I have said before, it's important to draw a distinction between performance and choreography. In this example however, the choreographer is ALSO the performer, yet we must not confuse the dancer's ability with the actual choreographic choices made by Mr Cote.:

MUSICALITY: Although the video is edited at certain moments to maximize the emotional effect, the majority of the piece allows us to see the choreography as it was paired with the music. Mr Cote skillfully finds the simple moments that reflect the melody lines of the composer. For example, watch at 0:21 where the high note of the melody is matched by Cote's decision to pique in to a high releve sous sus balance(translation for non-ballet speakers LOL, "pique - pee kay" is to extend the foot out in front of the body and then shift the weight up onto this leg..."releve sous sus - reh leh vay sue sue" can be described as balancing on your tippy toes, one foot directly in front of the other).

DANCER SYNC: For me, I really appreciate Mr Cote's ability to work within the classical ballet vocabulary, yet never allows the technique to restrict his movement. Ballet technique is like a seatbelt in the is meant to protect your body and extend the life of your instrument. Practicing proper technique, especially when executing advance dance maneuvers, is essential for avoiding serious injury. HOWEVER, its easy for that seatbelt to get SOOOO tight that is does not allow you to move, breathe, express, and feel. Everyone has had the experience of sitting in the backseat of the minivan in a seatbelt that is choking you to death....NOT COMFORTABLE. Watch at 0:23-0:27 and 0:39-0:41, notice how Mr. Cote is just as adept moving from a very classical, "held" position, to a rounded, organic, expressive shape.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: There are many visual elements here that were intended to grab the eye of the viewer! Even the most jaded, ballet-phobe will be mesmerized by the "matrix" moments where we get to see the airborne bravura portions in slow motion...if anyone doubts the "athletic" nature of dance, show them this video and they will eat their words. Choreographically, I like the ways in which Mr. Cote plays with our expectations. At 1:41, it looks as though he is preparing for a turn of some sort, and then suddenly he begins a low level floor sequence on his knees. For the audience, we are attracted to this little unexpected surprises and appreciate not knowing exactly what is coming next.

KUDOS to Guillaume for shattering the stereotype of the rigid, stiff, cardboard ballet dancer, who is only capable of moving though the requisite positions of the ballet syllabus. Through Guillaume's interpretation, ballet is alive, sensual, expressive and human.

Monday, January 16, 2012

"I Was Just A Card"...Kate Jablonski

Although it may seem as though there is a dearth of good web choreo at times, it is primarily due to the flood of half-baked, under-cooked, amateur material that is floating around. I had initially planned on featuring a choreographer's work only once, to highlight the breadth and spectrum of quality work that can be found online. However, when I saw a recent posting by Kate, I realized that I my plans would need to be reexamined. This girl is a gift to the dance and off. What she is bringing to the table, in terms of reevaluating the truly important aspects of dance education, is revolutionary. She is proof positive that kids are capable of using dance to make important artistic statements. Her students understand that dance is far more that trophies, dance moms, competitions and ribbons. She is not churning out trick monkeys and spin junkies...she is fostering the growth and evolution of tomorrow's ARTISTS...bravo KJ&BW:

MUSICALITY: A novice talent would be tempted to take a literal approach to the lyricism of the track. But Kate's aesthetic is neither novice nor typical. She choreographs to the actual timbre and tone of the singer's voice. Watch at 0:44-0:51 how the choreography augments the lilting vocal pattern with pendular, swinging motion. This quality of movement is then punctuated by more linear gestures when the vocalization shifts to the staccato phrasing. Kate's work has a sophistication and subtlety that many choreographers lack. For example, at 2:32, she highlights a single snare tap with an isolated jab to the side. When it is done in unison, and following a moment of calm stillness, it is unexpected and electric.

DANCER SYNC: I have never seen a piece of Kate's work that made me question the safety or health of her dancers. She never puts them in harm's way by asking them to do something that is going to cause long term damage. For many choreographers, partnering is an area fraught with potential hazards. I have personally seen dislocated shoulders and concussions occur because some idiot-ographer decided to "get creative" and just have their dancers "go for it." However, Kate's partnering is both FULLY SAFE and FULLY INVENTIVE. All of the lifts have been carefully manipulated for constant connection between the base(s) and the flyer.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: If I were to list all the engaging elements of this piece, which add to the complexity and texture of this work, I'd be here all night! So a few of my favorites will have to suffice. First of all, I love the interplay and visual impact of the contrasting skin tones in the opening sequence. By focusing our eyes on the hands, fingers and arms, we key in on the light and dark hues of the two principle dancers, thereby foreshadowing the struggle to come. Secondly, she isn't afraid of repetition and understands that this is a structural concept that resonates deeply with the viewer. At 1:44, Kate revisits her first choreographic motif, but from an alternate side angle. The first time we see the motif, the dancers are frontal and then angled toward each other, but the second time we see it, they are at combative and diverging. And in this way, the audience understands that there is both a progression and cyclical nature within the passage of time. Finally, I really appreciate how she incorporated the corps dancers into a piece that began as a duet. In Greek theater, there was a chorus that would provide commentary and emphasis to the action on stage. In a similar way, the ensemble dancers are fully integrated into the action, without ever pulling focus from the principle dancers...a very challenging feat to achieve, and Kate does it masterfully.

KUDOS to Kate for transcending the typical studio model, and embarking on a new direction in dance education...I predict that someday we will be interviewing numerous acolytes who grew up under Kate's guidance and mentoring.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

"Le Balon"...Junior Almeida

Junior Almeida is a choreographer who uses the body as an instrument, it has percussive qualities like a drum, it has lyrical qualities like a violin, and when it is appropriate, he can blast you with movement that looks like the pop of a trumpet...he is music in motion:

MUSICALITY: Junior's history as a "perform-ographer" is legendary. He is considered one of the founding members of the Parisian hip hop community. If anyone knows and appreciates the history and culture of French hip hop, it is this man. Consequently, every nuance of his movement is informed by this history. When an artist studies and understands how and where his art form originated, the musicality of the resulting choreo is flavored and complex.

DANCER SYNC: If you ever have the opportunity to study with Junior, you will very quickly realize that his movement were made for the dancer, not the other way around. It does not suggest that they are "easy" or "less challenging" in any way, but rather, they are always rooted in the body's natural tendencies. Science tells us that the human body is roughly 60% water...and now watch Junior's ability to translate this fact into actual gestures in his spine, shoulders, and arms.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: In this example, Junior has decided to incorporate at prop into his choreo. What gives the piece dimension, is his ability to imbue the inanimate object with a spirit and soul. Through Junior's manipulation, the balloon becomes his accomplice and counterpoint, creating a wordless dialogue between two "friends." See if you, as a viewer, can guess what is being said between them.

KUDOS to Junior for exploring the dynamic between the living, breathing organisms of the human body, and the structural, architectural features of an unlikely partner!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"Please Don't Stop The Music"...Keone Madrid & Mariel Martin

Progress is the intersection of what has come before and the spark of something new...nothing in choreography is TRULY original, every individual movement has been done before. However, what is unique and fresh, is the mind and eye of each generation, the historical context that flavors the work of the present. In this video, we see elements of the past, combined with a contemporary perspective and the result is electric:

MUSICALITY: Throughout the years, I have heard many complaints from dance enthusiasts, bemoaning the "noise" that typically accompanies hip hop movement. While I don't personally feel that this is a valid criticism, I understand where they are coming from. However, this piece offers a beautiful example of the versatility that is available within the hip hop genre. Working with a track by Jaime Cullum(who is somewhat of a musical fusion artist, blending hip pop and jazz standards) Keone and Mariel breathe funky new/retro life into an over-played Rihanna original. The original music and video choreo was a hard hitting club dance track...and it is now transformed into sultry, sexy blend of old and new.

DANCER SYNC: I particularly enjoy the partnering interplay(1:35-1:37) and the movement dialogue that occurs between the two dancers. Although some of the sections are perfectly in unison, the male and female energies are strongly defined and exectured.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: Structurally, our eyes are drawn to clearly depicted lines and shapes(1:41-1:45) and when they occur organically, it makes for a very pleasant visual surprise. This video is also a good example of concept consistency...from the costumes to the choice of movement and music, all the elements support each other and augment the final product.

KUDOS to Keone and Mariel for reminding us the classiness and maturity that is possible within the ever-changing, ever-evolving genre known as hip hop.

SERVINGCHOREO EXTRA: I have added a fun little extra feature, this is a video of Keone and Mariel in rehearsal for the piece, notice how the addition of cinematographic elements layers of the complexity of the source material.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Brothers"...Daniel Ezralow & David Parsons

After yesterday's adventure with Les Twins, I thought it would be interesting to look at another piece, with two dancers who are not genetically related...but have an almost identical dance vocabulary and choreographic style:

MUSICALITY: The music that was chosen for this piece fascinates me. In our culture, we typically associate classical music with classical ballet movement. Yet here is an example of classical music being married to movement that works across many genres. The playful quality of the track matches the theme of sibling rivalry perfectly. One can almost imagine two playful puppies wrestling and aggressively trying to move into the superior position.

DANCER SYNC: Since this piece was co-choreographed, it is apparent that a great deal of dialogue and communication allowed them to find a movement language that complimented both dancers. It is always helpful, when the dancers are well matched in terms of physical and technical ability. Aesthetically, from a casting perspective, I would imagine that the piece would always need two dancers who were fairly similar in build and appearance.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: Watch the opening phrase of movement, and then see if you can identify the recapitulation of the phrase at 3:50. This repetition grounds the piece in a cohesive through line, so that the piece can diverge into new territory, but always come back to its central idea. Without this, the piece would "ramble" and lose its sense of tight composition. They also use symmetry to great effect. Notice how many times within the piece, the movement is in "mirror image," consequently reinforcing the idea of the two dancers sharing a unique, identical bond.

KUDOS to David and Daniel for giving us such a pristine example of compositional structure, and a dynamic, playful interpretation and performance.

Monday, January 9, 2012

"World Of Dance"...Les Twins

Ah...Les Twins...this French duo is doing phenomenal things for the hip hop community! In addition to being brutal technicians, they bring a sense of humor, curiosity, eccentricity, and exploration to the genre. Although this clip is more of a "demo" in terms of structure(as opposed to a fully realized piece of choreography) they still exhibit a number of noteworthy elements:

MUSICALITY: As performers, Les Twins(Larry and Laurent Bourgeois) are living, breathing manifestations of rhythm and musicality. Being genetically linked, they share an almost psychic musical connection that is compelling and jaw-dropping. Its almost as if they are "hyper-musical," connected by an intrinsic beat that transcend what the human ear has the ability to "hear." As an audience, you are invited to "see the music."

DANCER SYNC: One of the challenges that all choreographers face, is to find movement that works as well on the dancers' bodies as it does on their own. If you have a choreographer who is 5 feet tall, who is creating material for 6 foot has the potential to get a little frustrating, much like an NBA player trying to use an airplane bathroom. But with Les Twins, we witness the odd coincidence of a choreographer who almost has the opportunity to choreograph his clone. Simultaneously, Larry and Laurent, as performers, find numerous ways to spotlight their individuality and self-expression....its a beautiful thing to watch.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: The element that strikes me as most important, is the use of dynamic. Akin to an orator who balances his speech between highs and lows, louds and softs, Les Twins are able to find the spectrum between big and small movements, fast and slow tempo, rowdy and quiet moments. Watch at 0:58-1:00 where nothing but the head is ticking, suddenly transitioning into full bodied extension. This constant shifting and juxtaposition is what allows the piece to be almost 8 minutes in length, and maintain a high level of audience engagement throughout!

KUDOS to Larry and Laurent for approaching the hip hop genre with an open mind and pushing the boundaries of experimentation.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


For more than twenty years, MOMIX has been giving us inventive new ways to think about bodies in space, using the anatomy as a structural building block for complex images and pictures.:

MUSICALITY: Some choreographers work "music first," taking their cues from the rhythm and melody, dictated by the musicians structure. While this is probably the most common way to create choreography, MOMIX has found many other, less typical ways to arrive at the final product. Moses Pendleton, the artistic director of MOMIX is a visually astute artist, and therefore the images take first priority. Once the images and sequence begin to gel, Moses begins to look for music that will compliment his vision. Then, working in tandem with his dancers, he starts to sew the choreography together with the music. In the end, both processes are capable of producing good choreography that is musical and organic. However, the advantage of the MOMIX approach, is completely unfettered creative movement, that is not limited by a pre-selected musical choice.

DANCER SYNC: Much of the MOMIX repertoire looks physically intense...and it is. However, with time and practice, Moses and his dancers have found highly efficient ways to manipulate the movement and positions, allowing for a multiple performance touring schedule. Make no mistake, the dancers are exhausted by the end of a MOMIX show. But potential for injury can be greatly decreased by finding the most economical and safe methods of execution.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: WIthin our contemporary, pop culture, mental iconography, we have images of hindu gods, with multiple fiction creature from different planets...greek sculpture...and to see these ideas referenced and brought to life before our eyes is stunning and riveting. Also, repetition and variation of the "back spinning corpse" theme serves to anchor the piece within a framework that gives our brain a beginning, middle and end.

KUDOS to Moses Pendleton and the MOMIX crew for always looking beyond the box of the body's anatomy, to the shapes and pictures that lie outside.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"So Hot"...Anne-Claire Parlebas

This video is from Anne-Claire Parlebas, who is a choreographer in Paris, France. Watch how a lighthearted sense of humor elevates and permeates all the movement. By being an approachable artist and not thinking too highly of herself, she creates an experience that gives the viewer the desire to get up and dance themselves. Her choreography is simultaneously complex and accessible. One aspect of choreography that is often overlooked, is the ability to have a sense of humor within your work. As in life, many choreographers take themselves WAY too seriously and usually…it shows. Pretentious choreo is one of the biggest mistakes a choreographer can make, and it is bad for two reasons. First, it does not allow for vulnerability in your dancers, or within the work itself. The audience may not be able to articulate it, but there is a lack of authenticity and a great deal of posturing. Secondly, it typically results in a audience experience that disconnects, rather than engages:

MUSICALITY: This piece oozes musicality all over the place! Watch at 0:19 how her movements mimic the sound of a percussive snare drum into the shiny reverb of a cymbal. Going back to the idea of humor within the choreo, look at 0:44 and notice how she incorporates a "wink wink double entendre" on the phrase "do things"…and then resolves the naughty joke by feigning embarrassment, looking surprised, and placing her hand over her mouth.

DANCER SYNC: For the dancer, there are little choreographic tricks that can help sink a phrase into the pocket so nicely that it feels like it flows without any effort. Anne-Claire uses a fun little traveling step at 0:36 that shows this technique in action. By keeping the foot movement the same, but shifting the dancers positions, she creates depth and shifting perspective for the audience, and a sense of cohesiveness between her dancers…they are dancing as a unit, as opposed to disjointed soloists. Also, at 0:55, she maintains the footwork again, but changes the upper body every two counts. When these moments are so much fun to dance…it impossible not to smile.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: For the audience, the humor and joy that exudes from this piece is palpable and unmistakeable. Not only does the choreography draw you in using the techniques mentioned above, but her carefree attitude as a choreographer brings out the best in her dancers…resulting in a truly, genuinely, positive audience experience.

KUDOS to Anne-Claire for understanding the importance of living life to the fullest, not getting caught up in the drama and ego, and inviting us to come along for the ride…as she dances through life.

"Home"...Brandon Cournay

What happens when you combine a dancer who exudes clean, precise technique and extensive ROM, with a choreographer who has a mature understanding of theme, variation, phrasing and structure...well SERVINGCHOREO presents the work of Brandon Cournay :

MUSICALITY: Brandon is a Juilliard graduate and is a rising talent in the NYC choreography scene. One of his dynamic strengths is music selection and the blending of the "right" movement choices to the musical framework. Notice how the initial phrase is rooted in the instrumentation and vocals, and then through repetition and sequencing, the phrase is layered with complexity.

DANCER SYNC: Ryan Steele, who is the dancer in this video, is a incredible technician and YAMGP champ. In the past few years, his performances have deepened in their individuality and expression, that is impressive considering his young age. Brandon and Ryan trained together when they were growing up, so its evident that their styles of movement are considerably similar. Nonetheless, Brandon has done an exceptional job of utilizing Ryan's technique, without exploiting or cheapening it by over-emphasizing bravura "tricks."

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: By making sensitive placement choices as to where the "flashy" elements will fit into the bigger picture, Brandon preps the viewer carefully through mindful sequencing. A phrase is introduced, and then a variation is added, and then the initial phrase returns...creating a very pleasing experience for the audience. In this manner, when we finally see something that takes advantage of Ryan's technical ability, it is cohesive with the bigger artistic opposed to a jarring and obnoxious advertisement for DANCE SPORT TRICKS GALORE!

KUDOS to Brandon for demonstrating how exceptional technique can be integrated skillfully into the bigger artistic vision...the sum of the parts, is greater than the most "fierce" trick.

"Animatronik"...Storm, Robozee & Mio

One of the most important goals of a choreographer, is to use movement to make an artistic statement. Storm was one of the original innovators of hip hop, working with Rock Steady Crew from the beginning. He now uses the hip hop vocabulary as a skillful tool for self-expression:

MUSICALITY: The track is in the "glitch" genre of music, so consequently, its stands to reason that the choreo will be highly influenced by the sounds and textures. If they were not to match up, the effect would be lost and highly ineffective. So its a bit of a given that this type of piece will be greatly influenced by the auditory aspects.

DANCER SYNC: Since Storm and his crew are the creators and the performers, it makes sense that the moves fit their bodies so well. Its hard to imagine that a choreographer would ever ask a dancer to do something that they themselves would be unwilling to do...but unfortunately, it happens all to often.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: This is like watching a high-brow work of Banksy graffiti step off the wall and come to could you not be totally enthralled!

KUDOS to Storm for being to true to what Jean-Luc Godard said: "It's not where you take things from—it's where you take them to." Storm has elevated popping and hip hop to a higher art form...brilliant.

Monday, January 2, 2012

"Kiss Kiss"...Tucker Barkley

Tucker Barkley is SERVINGCHOREO out of every pore in his body...this is short clip of his work:

MUSICALITY: When we talk about choreography, its important to make a distinction between the dancer's performance and the actual choreographic material. Its been said that some actors like Dustin Hoffman, are so talented, that they can make reading the phonebook dramatic and interesting. In a similar vein, sometimes talented dancers are asked to make "crap-ography" look good. So they layer on the charm, technique, tricks...sometimes it works, but usually we just feel bad for the dancer and wish the choreographer went back to their day job. In this case though, technical facility is matched with Tucker's incredibly precise ear and the result is astonishing. Watch the video once, from a choreography standpoint, and you will see that the movement is so deep in the groove of the music that they are inseparable. And then watch it again from a performance perspective, and watch Tucker blow your mind. PS he was a classically trained dancer, before delving into hip his pirouette at :19 and you will see why dance teachers stress ballet to ALL their students, hip hop or not.

DANCER SYNC: Tucker pushes his dancers to the limits of speed and precision, but its never jerky or awkward. Simply because the tempo is at a breakneck pace, never gives Tucker an excuse to "just throw something in."

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: As I said before, when a choreographer deftly puts this much information into a short amount of time, its like an avalanche of intricate design...welcome to the thrilling world of Tucker's swiss timepiece choreo!

KUDOS to Tucker for actually listening to the track, and finding a way to elevate the music to the next level, with the addition of movement.

"Nicest Thing"...Kate Jablonski

At SERVINGCHOREO, we believe that great choreo can be found anywhere! Take a look at what student, pre-professional dancers are capable of, when they are matched with a choreographer who has a sensitive ear and keen eye:

MUSICALITY: The underscoring musical choice is an integral component to Kate's work. By analyzing different layers within the score, she mines various phrases that are rooted in the vocals, percussion, strings, etc. And Kate's work is literally wrapped in the musical information she gets from the track, its always a perfect compliment

DANCER SYNC: Although these are highly trained, technical student dancers, who bring an immense degree of maturity and sensitivity to the piece, it is Kate's ability to match the movement with her dancers' facility that makes this piece a worthwhile watch.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: Kate possesses a masterful ability to take a theme and find the variations that augment each other, similar to the way harmony works in music. This colorful connection between the phrases is the quality that grabs the attention of the viewer and maintains our focus until the resolution!

KUDOS to Kate for creating movement that actually enhances the dancer's technique and devising creative ways to intrigue the eye

"Weightless"...Erika Janunger

Sometimes at SERVINGCHOREO, its what you DON'T do that makes a piece stand out! Let's take a look at "perfect restraint":

MUSICALITY: So much of this piece depends on letting the music inform the pace and organic growth of the action. Too many young choreographers are quick to blow their best "tricks" straight out of the gate, in a naive attempt to impress the viewer. However, the more experienced choreographer knows that surprise elements must be revealed in a way that is natural and slips into the viewer like smoke. The movement is fairly freeform, but its obvious that the dancers were deeply informed by the mood and tone of the track.

DANCER SYNC: Sometimes the most effective choreographic choice is seemingly the simplest, notice how the choreographer just asked the dancer to push her chest forward (1:33-1:39 minutes) with full commitment to the illusion...pure magic was created. Imagine a less experienced choreographer who probably would have had her do a front flip on to the wall...restraint achieves so much more!

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: Going back to the idea of perfect restraint...Erika knows how to play her audience! She could have easily thrown out the best visual elements right off the bat...but instead, she reveals the secret little by little. We don't actually see the full effect of the illusion until 4:11...this takes a lot of guts and self-control. However, for the audience, the tension builds slowly and methodically, and we slowly absorb the clues and hints. Consequently, by the time we see the entire picture of her vision, we are prepped and satisfied with the conclusion!

KUDOS to Erika for using restraint and maturity in developing an idea, piece by piece, bit by bit...and not getting side-tracked by the novelty of the plot twist.

"Stilhed"...Dana Foglia

Dana Foglia is a trendsetting choreographer in NYC...combining contemporary dance with hip hop and street jazz. She worked with Beyonce extensively, and brings a mature, mysterious sensuality to her work:

MUSICALITY: Although there is a fair bit of camera editing, it is still very apparent that the music interplays with the choreography intimately. Whether this was choreographed this way from the beginning, or synced in post-production, is irrelevant, since this was created as a video performance piece. In any case, the symbiosis between music and choreo is tight and defined.

DANCER SYNC: For dancers who are versatile in various styles, Dana's work is challenging as it is fulfilling. How often do you get to channel Mr Wiggle's Wiggle Walk (2:52 minutes) and then go into a full modern contraction? Also, floor work has the tendancy to be clunky and cliched, but Dana found creative solutions to move her dancers on low levels.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: Between the visually arresting costume choice, quick camera frame changes, video in reverse trickery, and the jerky, focus/unfocus cinematography style...this piece was specifically engineered to grab the viewer and hypnotize them! From the moment it begins, the audience is asking questions, "who or what are these girls?" "what do they want?" "what will the resolution be?" etc...and this continues all the way to the end.

KUDOS to Dana for fusing styles and creating something entirely cryptic and mesmerizing!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

"Everybody Nose"...Tony Testa & Jillian Meyers

So, this short little video exemplifies many of the qualities that we look for at SERVINGCHOREO! Let's break down the elements:

MUSICALITY: As you can see, the dancers are literally reacting and responding to the musical cues in the track, nothing is forced or artificial, it flows with a natural, organic rhythm.

DANCER SYNC: The choreography fits the dancer's body and frame like a tailored suit, the dancers never look like they are "fighting" the movement.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: Notice how the syncopation and rhythmic elements compel the viewer to continue watching all the way through, nice use of multiple levels and playing within the frontal plane!

KUDOS to Tony and Jillian for creating a cohesive work of art within the hip hop vernacular!! Dance is more than a bead string of sequential movements, it is an artistic statement. Working in the hip hop genre, Tony and Jillian are pure artists making an expressive statement...something that all young hip hop choreographers should aspire to.