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.