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.

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