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"...here 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.