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.