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 yang...an 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.