Thursday, December 26, 2013

"Young And Beautiful"...Mayo Alanen

For most hardcore contemporary dancers, a show like "Dancing With The Stars" holds little potential for the deep subtleties that are the hallmark of somatic work. For most, ballroom dance has a long association with flashy costuming and passionately presentational competition style dancing. Very few would look to the world of ballroom for deeper exploration beyond technical footwork, fake tans, and megawatt smiles. But for every "rule" there is an exception. This piece, by Mayo Alanen, is a "contemporary ballroom" work, that illustrates that the key to authenticity lies in the execution and the intention. For every ballroom choreographer that chooses the traditional route, there is a Mayo digging into the possibilities of a road less traveled.

MUSICALITY: It comes as no surprise that Mayo exhibits an almost instinctual sense of musicality and rhythm. Ballroom dancers are expected to know the rhythmic peculiarities that differentiate the foxtrot from the quickstep, the samba from the tango, and demonstrate proficiency among all. For this reason, Mayo hears music in a manner not unlike a drummer or tap dancer, paying attention to the long and short beats, the syncopation, and the rests between beats. I was particularly drawn to the choreographic shapes that Mayo used to accentuate the words "I know you WILL" throughout his musical scheme. The first time we see this idea is (1:15-1:22), where the female dancer emphasizes the "will" with a side-tilt develope and a battement derrier, before snaking to the ground like a serpentine switchback. In an effective use of theme and variation, Mayo again alludes to this same sequence at (2:21-2:28) but with a different set of shapes. Another moment, that illustrates Mayo's deft musicality, is the almost imperceptible mirroring of the strings at (2:12-2:14) which shows his attention to even the smallest of details.

DANCER SYNC: For the purposes of this blog, the "dancer sync" condition typically refers to the choreographer's ability to create movement that is safe and feels good for the dancer. As a master partner, and seasoned pro, Mayo is an expert at providing a stable foundation for his partners to rely on. For a simple example of the trust that is placed in Mayo's hands, watch (0:55-0:57) where the female dancer literally falls into his cradle, never hesitating for an instant. There are also numerous places where he literally lofts her skyward and makes us believe that she is lighter than air, in danger of floating out of his grasp.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: Mayo has a profound understanding of the professional ballroom world, having been a world finalist and a featured partner on Dancing With The Stars. But this time around, working with Colby Massanari, he is creating a compelling new argument as to what ballroom is capable of communicating. From the very beginning, he sets the mood, not with steps or "moves," but with the ephemeral wisps of fog and smoke. This simple metaphor paints an engaging picture of beauty that is as temporal as mist, here today and gone tomorrow. Notice how he bookends the work with this wind-swept motif, ending the piece just as it began (2:45-2:53). I also felt that Mayo has constructed a high-quality structure for the work, by slowly introducing the more traditional ballroom, instead of aggressively hitting us over the head at the beginning. Observe how long he waits before "pulling" his partner and the audience, into the ballroom element at (1:30-1:32). Prior to this, the movement quality is far more nuanced and textured, and serves as a perfect prelude to the traditional partner work. Also, from his background in the competition world, he has mastered the art of shape and posture. If you look at (2:15-2:16), he imbues the entire moment with a sharp sense of isolation and emptiness, by simply turning away on the word "nothing."

KUDOS to Mayo for framing ballroom in a new and invigorating context, allowing us to see a traditional art form in a poignantly new light.

Please visit for more info about Mayo's work.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Robert Hoffman: Creating TRUE Contemporary Work

If there is one question that currently arouses hot debate within the dance industry, it most certainly is "what is contemporary dance?" As a competition judge and choreographer, I often ask this question to gauge how deeply the media has infiltrated the mass consciousness. Many times, pop culture drives this tendency to categorize and label "what is" and "what is not." Because of this, one typically hears generalizations such as "its just ballet mixed with hip hop" or "a fusion of all styles." However, these are naive attempts to frame contemporary dance within a rubric of "moves" or "steps," when in fact, contemporary dance is reaction based by its very nature. This is why Robert Hoffman might actually be considered one of the most truly "contemporary" choreographers working in the industry today.

True contemporary dance is the exploration of the "now" and the present state. When a dance is truly contemporary, it must take into account all the feelings and sensations that the dancer is experiencing in that exact moment. It is for this reason, that European contemporary masters rely heavily on the art of improvisation to create honest and authentic movement. True improvisation taps into the unique set of environmental factors that are present at any given point in time. This is the reason that many people find compelling contemporary dance "edgy" or "relevant." If a dancer is being genuine in their exploration, there is the opportunity to fail and the possibility for someone to wonder "is this good or crap?" However, the irony is this: if we deem something to be "good" then it immediately becomes a past reference and no longer exists in the "contemporary moment." In a society that revels in past accomplishments and building a repertoire of "classics," this aspect of contemporary dance can be frustrating to grasp. In essence, just as you reach your "success" you are asked to let it go.

And here is the kicker, the only way to truly access these "past references" in a contemporary context, is to view them with self-awareness and understanding that they are literally "of the past." It is for this reason that Robert Hoffman is actually creating "contemporary" work with this piece of video satire. He is expressing his "current state" of observation with regard to the subject of CONTEMPORARY DANCE. And in providing a humorous self-awareness, he demonstrates a reaction-based experience to the feeling we have when we watch this SYTYCD-style, media-defined, mass-produced, market-promoted "thing" that has been labeled "CONTEMPORARY DANCE." We all know, on some level, that what the American public THINKS is "contemporary dance" is actually a glossy, hyped-up, performance that is referencing a past idea or pre-conceived shape. And because these are shapes that are so easily recognizable, Robert's contemporary reaction hits the nail on the head and achieves his critique brilliantly.

In the early days of hip hop, the pioneers of the movement always referred to the EXPERIENCE of "breaking." However, the media always attempts to synthesize an experience into a commodity, so that it can be mass-produced and consumed. This happened before in hip hop, and is now happening within the world of contemporary dance. To hold and smell a real flower is a sensory experience and is very different than seeing a photo of a flower on a magazine page. In all probability, the original flower is probably dead and destroyed by the time you see it on the page. In the same way, true contemporary dance must be experienced in the moment. Someone could perform a "contemporary dance" on SYTYCD, die the next day, and the episode will still air one week later. And this effectively disqualifies it as being "contemporary" since it is no longer "of the now." But since experiences have little to no shelf life, corporate executives need an artificial stand-in that will give television audiences the "flavor" of contemporary, without the actual meat.

So for this moment in time, Robert Hoffman is my featured contemporary artist…because he is actively engaged in the current state of affairs. He alludes to past references with a knowing and observant eye, and makes relevant and accurate comments about the misinformation that has been fed to the American public. Robert understands that the executives at shows like SYTYCD are in the mass-produced entertainment business, and if the word "contemporary" sells advertising dollars, then they will milk that cow dry. But the experience that I felt, while watching Robert's satire, was authentic and totally present in that moment. It is for this reason that I deem it incredibly contemporary work. Interestingly though, now Robert's video itself has now entered into the realm of my own past references….and so goes contemporary dance.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Daydream"...Joshua Pelatzky

I have spent the summer globetrotting to and fro. However, I am returning to my regular blogging schedule and am excited to bring you the work of Joshua Pelatzky. This piece touched me in a number of ways, primarily since I have a strong, personal connection to Italy and the dance community there. I wanted to highlight the work that Joshua is doing there and they manner in which Italian heritage and sensibility influenced this piece.

MUSICALITY: Taking inspiration from Chopin's Nocturne #2, I found Joshua's interpretation fascinating and nuanced. As Wiki explains, "This popular nocturne is in rounded binary form (A, A, B, A, B, A) with coda, C. The A and B sections become increasingly ornamented with each recurrence. The penultimate bar utilizes considerable rhythmic freedom, indicated by the instruction, senza tempo (without tempo). Nocturne in E-flat major opens with a legato melody, mostly played piano, containing graceful upward leaps which becomes increasingly wide as the line unfolds. This melody is heard again three times during the piece. With each repetition, it is varied by ever more elaborate decorative tones and trills. The nocturne also includes a subordinate melody, which is played with rubato." With the key feature here being the element of "senza tempo," how does a choreographer imbue a sense of rhythm and musicality, when the music is intentionally languid and wandering? In analyzing the movement, it becomes clear that the dancers are relying heavily on synchronized breathing to communicate in a cohesive way. Observe the extended partnering sequence from (1:25-1:45) and pay attention to the way the dancers "feel and breathe" their way through the movement, rather than "hit their marks." This is a very advanced skill within the dancers' bag of tricks; to be able to dance in a fully present, fully tactile, fully sensory manner.

DANCER SYNC: I greatly appreciate the movement choices that Joshua has included in his exploration of the space. Rather than filling the simple landscape with overly expressive gestures or awkward technicality, he wisely allows the movements to grow out of a place of simplicity and genuine experience. Noticing that the physical space features multiple levels, curved arches, and a variety of surfaces (wood, stone, earth), he created choreography that blends the human body with these elements in a harmonious union. I love the moments when the female dancer "walks" along the diverse perimeters (0:44-0:46) and (3:13-3:17)...nothing technically tricky, but simple and completely effective.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: One of the challenges for choreographers working in an online video format, is the inability to translate sensory information via digital mediums. When you watch a live performance in a theater, the audience can see, feel, hear, smell, taste the effort and artistry of the dancers. But when you watch a dance online, some aspect of the experience is inevitably lost. However, every once in awhile, a choreographer like Joshua, will choose images, movements and sequences that have the capacity to wake up and engage our collective sense memories. When I watch this video, I am immediately transported to that palazzo, I can feel the breeze and smell the dust. As a dancer, I can imagine the cool touch of the stones on the soles of bare feet, and I can taste the salty sweat of dancing al fresco.

KUDOS to Joshua for giving us the opportunity to travel to Italy and vicariously experience a private moment with a woman and her dance. Click here to learn more about Joshua's background.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Review of "Human Metabolism"...Rhapsody James


The course of human life is a study in cyclical formation and destruction. The fact that human beings enter the world helpless and vulnerable, only to one day return to this state, is a transformative process that affects everyone, regardless of race, gender or background. It is this equalizing nature of humanity that is explored in Rhapsody James' new show, "Human Metabolism," currently presented at Dixon Place Theater in SOHO.

As I was sitting in the theater waiting for the show to begin, I curiously searched the term "metabolism" via Wikipedia. Although I remembered the concept from high school science, I wanted to refresh my memory and see if Rhapsody's choice of title might offer any clues as to what we were about to see. In essence, metabolism is the process by which a life form changes matter into energy, a shift of state from food to fuel. Employing enzymes as a catalyst for conversion, this metabolic process happens quickly, efficiently and consistently. So what change then, does "human metabolism" represent and what is driving it?

The structure of the show was a four-part construct, in much the same way that a classical symphony or concerto is composed of musical movements. Herein, Rhapsody's company, R.E.D. (Rhapsody En Dance) would expand on the notion of "temptation," "lust," "illusion," and "rage/ascension." It stands to reason that these loaded guns of emotion are the metaphoric "enzymes" that propel the human experience towards maturity. They are all moments which exist in everyone's life, and once someone has been touched by "temptation" or "rage" they are permanently altered.

Therefore, "human metabolism" is the manner in which an innocent human infant gradually learns who and what they are. They begin to take in experiences and sensations, eventually creating a fully-formed picture of maturity. In order to achieve this effect, Rhapsody's choreography was highly engaging as a fusion between the contemporary modern world, and the vernacular of street-style, urban commercial dance. I felt that her aesthetic paid homage to many of the traditions of hip hop (formations, frontal presentation, isolations, ticks, waves) yet still challenged the audience to dabble with elements outside their comfort zone.

At one point in the show, a solo female dancer performed a fluid, dance-hall inspired seduction for a group of inanimate busts. These blank faces were constantly being manipulated to gaze in her direction, except for one. This "person" would not consent to her siren dance and all of her undulations were in vain. Try as she might, she could never quite break through and make a connection or get "his" attention. I wanted to highlight this moment for two reasons. First of all, for many audience members, an abstract performance like this would typically be described as "weird-ass, hippie shit" or "crunchy granola modern." However, Rhapsody inhabits a very unique place with the NYC dance hierarchy. She possesses the commercial and "flash" credits that enable her to have a legit voice and loyal following, but also has an uninhibited mind and wild sense of creativity. She creates a trust among her dancers and audience, and presents avant guard concepts in a way that is both challenging AND accessible.

The second reason I found this moment compelling, relates to the idea of vulnerability. More than anything, this young woman, who was so desperately seeking approval and validation, allowed us to see her in a state of free-fall, out of control and grasping for something stable. Another moment in the show, entitled "Broken," explored a young man on the brink of isolation and disenfranchisement. By the end of the piece, the dancer is reduced to tears, loneliness and fear. In total silence, Rhapsody asked for complete emotional nakedness, stripping the emotions raw, real and painful. As visually satisfying as the tightly choreographed sections were, these "other" moments are the ones I remember most. They were the moments that choked my throat, punched my gut and forced me to feel a visceral, "human" reaction.

On a side note, I thought that it was interesting that Rhapsody asked her company dancers to perform barefoot. In a community where status and style are frequently conveyed through "sneaks and snapbacks," asking dancers, who are primarily hip hop trained, to dance barefoot, is revelatory in itself. Again, it requires the dancers to shed the "protection" of a shoe, and open themselves up to the potential of hurt and injury. This notion flies in the face of typical b-boy battle culture, where, under no circumstances, would you let your opponent see you cry….or quiver…or break. But Rhapsody is far from typical. In fact, within the metaphor of "human metabolism," Miss James herself is catalyst for change, transforming the lives of every person she meets along the way.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Give Me Love"...Kyle Hanagami

Kyle Hanagami represents the next generation of hip hop choreographers, a new breed of dancers who are open-minded and curious about all forms of movement and styles. One minute, Kyle can be seen throwing down fatal beats and accents, and then switching things up smooth and fluid. And then, as if to challenge anyone's doubt as to his versatility, he creates a video like "Give Me Love." This piece is pure, contemporary beauty, with a sophisticated eye for detail and nuance. There are truly only a hand-full of choreographers who have such a solid range of skills, working with equal ability across multiple genres.

MUSICALITY: Sometimes a musician is asked to play a note for all its worth. This level of intensity is known as FORTISSIMO, and the opposite quality is known as PIANISSIMO. These two extremes are the bookends of a musician's spectrum, sometimes they play it LOUD and sometimes it is soft to the touch. In a similar way, dancers have this same range of intensity within their movement. If you are dancing for Justin Timberlake at Madison Square Garden in front of 30,000 screaming fans...your movement will probably be big, loud, bold, and FORTISSIMO. However, this video explores the softer, more intimate end of the spectrum. Look at (2:56-2:58) where Kyle translates the lyrics into simple hand contact that moves up the body from the knees, to the hips, to the chest, and finally to the sky. Its neither brash or presentational...but simply alive and floating on top of the breath. Also, many hip hop choreographers feel the need to choreograph every beat possible. Notice the effective pictures that Kyle creates simply using the first beat of the 6/8 time signature (3:01-3:14) and how it helps spotlight the quick tempo change we see at (3:15-3:17). To vary the tempo in this way, is an excellent example of Kyle's keen musicality and choreographic maturity.

DANCER SYNC: This aspect of SERVINGCHOREO is based on the ability of a choreographer to work within his dancers' physical and technical limits. If a someone were working with a wheelchair non-walking dancer, and asked them to do a split jump...we would say that the choreographer doesn't understand the concept of synching the movement to the dancer's body and ability. This is an important point to make when discussing Kyle's work. The majority of the dancers in this video demonstrate a high pedigree of hip hop talent and vocabulary. This training emphasizes body control and precise isolation, instead of the extreme flexibility and extension that is typical in ballet or lyrical. And yet, Kyle is still able to create a complex, layered texture that is beautiful and authentic within the specific skill set that this group of dancers possess. Look at (1:49-1:50) and notice the round sweeping leg move. In classical ballet we call this a "ronde de jambe en l'aire" (which is French for "round of the leg in the air"), and it is typically executed at or above hip height, with a perfectly straight leg and fully arched foot. The point is, in this context the "classical" or "correct" form of this element would not have served these dancers. Whether it was a stylistic choice, or dictated by physical, technical limitations, doesn't matter. The important point is that Kyle chose a modified version of "ronde de jambe en l'aire" that best served the dancers' body type and ability. It was perfect synchronization!

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: I truly believe that dancers have the ability to say those things that words can never express. There are many times when I experience a situation or emotion which are ambiguous and undefined. However, in those moments of inarticulate writer's block, a physical expression through dance can provide lucid clarity. I felt that the prologue of this video did an excellent job showing the set up and purpose of this project. Dancers who are able to transcend the music-video-commercial-mentality and utilize their talent for a social cause, is uplifting and exemplary. As someone who is active in the fight against breast and ovarian cancer, I have nothing but humble gratitude and appreciation for Kyle's work.

KUDOS to Kyle for honoring human struggle through a deft and touching piece of art. For more info, check out Kyle's Website.

Friday, April 26, 2013

"Primo"...Lisa Brasile

While Italian hip hop culture has a deep and undying devotion to the roots of urban NYC street artistry, there has been a recent movement towards contemporary hip hop fusion. I credit this shift to the confluence of American pop importation and the open-minded curiosity of European sensibilities. Choreographer Lisa Brasile, of Florence's Meltin' Pot Company, is a perfect example of this new amalgamation. She represents a bridge between these two aesthetics and her work is fundamentally situated in the crosshairs of both.

MUSICALITY: The opening sequence of this video immediately demonstrates something peculiar to most hip hop works. Unlike most commercially sampled music that relies on a steady drum loop, Lisa's musical begins with slow acceleration of tempo that requires all the dancers to hear this gradual rise in unison. By the time the beat drops at (0:40) the entire group has been brought to tempo simultaneously and starts to shuffle in time with the percussive groove. The most lovely aspect of Lisa's musicality lies in her ability to distinguish between different rhythmic textures. Whether it is at (0:57) when we see her dabble with a series of dub step whirls and clicks, or (1:49) with her petite footwork representation of the electronic tremolo effect, she is always listening carefully to the musical messages encoded in the track.

DANCER SYNC: At (2:39) we see a moment where the dancers slide to the floor with such grace and ease, that we glimpse Lisa's recognition of the need for choreography to support the well-being of the dancers. Working on concrete could spell problems for choreographers who are not intelligent enough to think through the transitions. However, I know that Lisa is adept with breaking technique and has incorporated many of the sequences bboys use to go from top rock to down rock into her fusion choreography. Over years of dancing on the street, bboy culture has developed an ad hoc technique for moving to the floor safely and efficiently, and Lisa takes full advantage of this knowledge and works it into her choreography easily. Furthermore, her costume design for this piece also serves to support her dancers comfort. The choice of clothing a choreographer expects a dancer to use, is often a contentious point within the creative process. But Lisa understands that ease of movement and comfort is an integral part of "how" the choreography looks and flows on the dancer's body.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: Because many hip hop choreographers work within the commercial world of film and TV, the majority of their works are somewhat frontal and presentational in terms of formation and blocking. But Lisa likes to work in 360 degrees and plays with all the conventions of typical hip hop choreography. From (3:02-3:12) her dancers break off into duets and trios, working on oblique angles, diagonals, and multiple levels of high and low. Far from being homogeneously cookie cutter, Lisa's work is hip hop at its most complex. Her work is simultaneously architectural, mathematic, and three-dimentional.

KUDOS to Lisa for her reinvention of what hip hop movement implies and what it can be.

Monday, April 15, 2013

"Asking Too Much"...Lexi Dysart

After seeing her work at Rhapsody James' SIREN showcase, I was extremely excited when Lexi Dysart decided to translate her stage choreography onto film. It can be a tricky dilemma when a choreographer tries to animate spoken word poetry through the body. It is either spot on on far from the mark. However, Lexi has found a way to echo the wordplay perfectly, focusing on the nuanced cadence and dramatic pauses. The final product is a lighthearted, uplifting piece that allows the audience to peek into a girl's mind, vicariously experiencing her nervous hesitation and emotional probing.

MUSICALITY: When analyzing Lexi's piece, its important to remember the significance of punctuation. In much the same way an elementary teacher reminds students to avoid run-on sentences, Lexi's material is a case study in respecting the punctuation of a movement phrase. A choreographic sequence is very similar to a sentence, in that, it expresses a complete idea and then ends with a period, question mark, or exclamation. When we view Lexi's work in this manner, you notice the care that she has taken to preserve this naturally occurring rhythm. At times she uses the movement equivalent of a comma, like at (0:50-0:52) where the dancers suspend the word "cheek," allowing the viewer to digest that moment, before reinitiating the movement. On the other hand, sometimes it is an exclamation mark, like at (1:26-1:28). However, the majority of the punctuation marks, are thoughtfully placed periods, full stop, as we see at (1:43-1:47) on the words "god" and "you."

DANCER SYNC: The first thing that came to mind when I saw this piece, was how much fun the dancers seemed to be having. I immediately had the impression that the movement was perfectly tailored to the dancers' natural movement style and inclinations. In addition to this, safety is of prime importance when discussing dancer sync. For the video, Lexi has chosen to incorporate the natural landscape of the park and benches. The transitions have been modified and calibrated to allow the dancers to move from level to level safely and efficiently. Also, in the original version of the piece, the choreography called for a floorwork section. However, due to the wet conditions of the concrete, Lexi opted to create an alternate phrase that took advantage of the rear bench, with the two girls working in tandem.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: I have always been intrigued by creative people who can think in "big picture" terms. This refers to the ability to see "the parts" as well as the "the sum total" of the end product. In Lexi's case, for her "big picture" to make sense, every moment of the choreography needed to support the final moment. Consequently, all of her movement choices and phrases indicate that there is a conclusion on the horizon; a final answer to her string of unending inquiries. Therefore, her choreographic structure not only mirrors the spoken prompts, but compels the viewer to stay tuned in until the end. Since the subject of Lexi's questioning is not revealed until the final moments, the audience is locked into the action from start to finish.

KUDOS to Lexi for transporting us into the private thoughts of an every-girl, letting us spy on an intimate corner of someone's quiet quandaries.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

"Waiting"...Terence Then

Throughout history, artists have been the catalysts for social progress. They are the free-thinkers, whose minds are liberated from the box of conformity and limitation. Singaporean choreographer, Terence Then, is a good example of an artist using his craft to initiate change and progress. I had the great pleasure of chatting with Terence about his project "Waiting," which was a collaborative effort with INVADERfilms, a local video production unit. While the narrative structure of this piece is simple and relatable, I found that Terence's artistic goals as a choreographer are broad and expansive. I am anticipating great things from this young talent, who, far from waiting, is actively promoting change through his art.

MUSICALITY: Terence is blessed with a very sensitive ear when it comes to hearing subtle details in a track. Whether its the incidental guitar riff being synthesized into a quick footwork sequence(1:06-1:08) or the kick-drum/high-hat combo accents at(1:27-1:29), Terence has a keen way of translating musical elements into visual lines and movements. When I asked him about his relationship to the music that inspires him, he said, "Most of the time the music inspires me. I will find the music first mainly for in-class choreography. But when it comes to concerts and productions, I will think of the concept that I want to portray first, then find a song that will help portray the concept the way I want it to be. Before I choreograph I would always listen to the song many, many, many times over and get the feeling, the layers, the rhythm, the lyrics and create pictures in my head on how I want to portray it before I actually start on choreographing it." With this in mind, it is really no surprise that Terence's choreography is so intrinsically connected to the beat, melody, and breath of the music.

DANCER SYNC: Terence is a very well respected member of the Singaporean dance community, due in large part to his insistence that the movement fit the dancer, not vice versa. With that being said, I found it interesting when he said, "I feel it is VERY important for a dance to portray EXACTLY what you want it to be as a choreographer. I used to think that a dance must have fancy moves of difficult execution for it to be good. However, over time and experience, I realized that what is the most important, is the portrayal of how the music makes you feel. Therefore, in every piece that I create, it is largely based on how the music makes me (or the dancer) feel, or a message that I wanna bring across, not through words but by my body language." In other words, for Terence, the idea of "dancer sync" is two-fold. Not only does he seek to find movement that fits the dancer physically, but also emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. And to this end, Terence has a very open-minded approach as to the constitution of genre. Instead of excluding movement choices that might be outside the traditional norm of hip hop vocabulary, Terence actively looks to other genres (ie modern, contemporary, tap) for inspiration. He explained, "there isn't any genre of dance better than another. Dance is movement and we should respect all forms of dance. Dance is like Lego, it doesn't matter what color the Lego pieces are, you are still able to build an amazing Lego structure with many many different pieces and colors of Lego blocks."

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: The structure of this piece follows a classical journey of discovery. We see the everyman engaged in the most banal, wasteful gluttony, and then the channel-changer is brought into focus as a symbol of initiating shift in perspective. The choreographed portion of the video then reveals the inner monologue of the central character, as he struggles with the responsibility that social consciousness engenders. The arc of the journey is complete when we see the protagonist's final choice and resolution. When I asked about the film's potential for biographic interpretation, Terence replied, "There will always be stereotypes that will see things the way how the majority sees it. But i can only say that dance changed my life. It changed me into a better person, it gave me purpose, it gave me life, it gave me meaning to why I wake up everyday. I have personally seen dance heal a person's soul, I have seen dance create unbreakable bonds and families. Dance is and will forever be AMAZING to me and I hope the people who think otherwise try harder to understand the art, because dance is so much more than just dance. It's bigger than that." Upon each multiple viewing of Terence's work, I felt increasingly connected to his mission of social change through dance. That his motives are so altruistic and pure, makes him a unique and powerful choreographic voice for the next generation.

KUDOS to Terence applying his gifts and talents to the greater good, he is an excellent role model and sets a stellar example for others to follow.

P.S. Terence also had this special advice for aspiring choreographers, who are looking to make their mark on the dance world..."I've always tried to be myself as much as I can. I believe that is very important as a dancer and choreographer, to be yourself, to have an identity you can call your own. I do not watch alot of YouTube so I would not be influenced in my creation of pieces. I wish through my art, that I get to inspire people to be themselves and not follow in the footsteps of someone else just because the trend is there. I wish I get to share all the knowledge I have as a dancer and as a person to all my students I really hope one day they are able to be a better teacher and dancer than me. I have learnt alot from my teachers when I started dance at 18 and now that I'm a teacher, I would want to give back even MORE than what I have learnt from my amazing teachers."

If you care to watch more of Terence's work, please visit Terence on YouTube.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Review of Rhapsody James'..."Sirens After Dark"...March 13, 2013

This past month, impresario Rhapsody James ignited the NYC dance scene with her unique brand of high quality choreography and curatorial prowess. In her March 13 late-night showcase, entitled "Siren's After Dark", Rhapsody displayed her significant connections and reputation within the city and abroad. As it is, culling a broad range of talent and styles is challenging work…making it a cohesive whole is even more impressive, but Rhapsody has succeeded in creating an evening of satisfying and complimentary material. Presenting to a standing room only crowd at Le Poisson Rouge, the audience represented a who's who of talent and taste-makers. The evening began with roughly an hour of cyphers on the main floor, energized by the eclectic old-school, rap, funk mixes of DJ DUBZ…who not only felt the crowd's vibe perfectly, but consistently surprised the dancers with throwbacks that stole the moment. At approximately 11:30, the choreography showcase kicked off with opening remarks by Rhapsody herself, encouraging the younger choreographers to pay attention to the details of their craft. She challenged them to put forth as much effort on the business side of their art, as they do with creating good dances. At one point she laid it bare saying, "I know that you can hit sick moves…but can you write an EMAIL? Can you answer questions intelligently? Can you discuss your work with professionalism and clarity?" To a group composed largely by youthful talent, her words cut straight to the heart and hit close to home. With that, the evening segued into a wickedly funny opening rant, compliments of MC Shernita Anderson. This diva is a crowdpleaser who riffed and ripped on everything from faux Harlem Shakers to overly-sequined ladies in kitten heels and ballet flats…the audience was ROFL. And without further adieu, SERVINGCHOREO presents a run-down of the evening's presenters…

KELLY PETERS presents "Generation-X":
Within the NYC hip hop community, Kelly is a touchstone for cultural preservation. Through his work with "Generation-X" he is actively educating the next wave of talent, ensuring that the history and culture of hip hop is passed on. This piece demonstrated an almost encyclopedic knowledge of hip hop, old and new references throughout. Weaving a constant groove through the body of the number, Kelly easily transitioned through a variety of styles including down tempo, bounce, and soul. His young proteges also displayed an excellent ability to hit hard when necessary, and keep it loose with the mood changed. Kelly should be applauded for his work with these kids, they are the future of intelligent talent. Click here to get the latest scoop on Kelly Peters Dance Company.

With an eye for pop culture references, the piece was a bite-sized, rapid fire, slice of zeitgeist that tipped its hat to a spectrum of icons, ranging from Obama to Sweet Brown. Like a group of close friends who like to kiki on an inside joke, the social allusions came quickly and without pretension. Aesthetically speaking, the choreography was a humorous mix of punk trash and harajuku thrash, with a predisposition toward "hunty" posturing. I especially liked the rebel tutu look, which combined the feminine texture of toole and the industrial durability of Doc Martin. Jona has his finger on the pulse of pop culture and it shows. If you wanna kiki with Jona and his girls, clique here.

With a lighting plot that was perfectly germane to the opening slow jam vibe, this piece began with a sultry groove that set a sexy, seductive tone. The highlight of this piece was the intricate and complimentary moments of partnering, where the dancers' limbs interweaved and were manipulated with stunning precision. Furthermore, as it progressed, it became very clear that these elaborate sequences were achieved through well-executed isolations and spatial timing. By naming the piece "Enough Said," the choreography was immediately filtered through the idea of two individuals engaging in a powerful dialogue. The content of the conversation was not obvious or blatant. Instead, the resultant effect was pleasantly ambiguous and open-ended, allowing the audience to create their own context, characters and situations. Show some love and visit AbstraKT Beings

By far, one of the most moving and epic numbers of the evening, was "Strive." Creating a piece to an accompaniment of spoken word art, is nothing new. However, in the skillful hands and keen ears of Eric Samson, the words are synthesized through the human body and transcend basic choreographed steps, becoming words in motion. Ironically, describing the piece using mere words does not do the artists justice. This was a piece that relied on the energy exchange between dancer and viewer. In addition, we witnessed a beautifully organic arc of intensity, as the movement and words increased their tension gradually. The pace of this crescendo was timed perfectly, allowing the audience to be swept away by the growing swells of emotion. A number of moments literally brought the entire room to a complete standstill, where palpable hush pulsed through the room. (e.g. when the smoking gun was silenced by the embrace of love) Head here to see more of the Beat Club in action.

Having to follow-up the power and presence of the piece prior, Jason wisely decided to present in an altogether different vein. I was deeply impressed by his witty and light-hearted concept, which re-imagined "Suit and Tie" within a men's clothing store. This decision allowed him to create a virtual wonderland of whimsical innovation, where mannequins magically come to life and "booogie" in heartfelt, funky unison. This piece brought to mind the heyday of Motown, where Barry Gordy's groups executed their choreography with panache and polish…an entirely different kind of swag. Much of the success in this piece, was owed to Jason's performance, which was genuine and self-effacing. A frontman who does not take himself too seriously, is a person the audience will relate to immediately!

Inspired by the artistry of Florence and The Machine, Emily painted a contemporary remix that was a mash-up of styles across a wide spectrum. Visually speaking, her dancers wore black bandage tops that instantly suggested a vision of inhibition or restraint. Choreographically, the movement borrowed heavily from the street jazz vernacular (whip backs, Tyra Bank's skinny arms, cinch waist posturing) but juxtaposed the urban flavor with a barefoot, modern concert sensibility. The dancers' classical technique was used intermittently and to maximum effect. Visit this link, to take class with Emily at BDC.

Responding to the recent emergence of "Harlem Shake" viral proliferation, Marcus decided to educate us on the true origins of this pop cult phenomenon. Integral to this mission, was a sense of snarky irony that played with the mainstream media's perception of what the H.S. actually represents and what it has become. Of prime importance, is his notion that H.S. is a well-documented and specific form of self-expression, unlike the chaotic, mindless gyrating that people now associate with Baauer's new generation fad-of-the-moment. Check out Marcus' Dance Reel.

If choreography had an Instagram category, Cat's slice of contemporary realism would fit in nicely. Her movement breathes with the natural earth tones of everyday life. Watching her phrases, I found myself wanting to know the minute details of the dancer's intention, backstory and motivation. Her work gives gravity and weight to the most subtle of choices. For example, at one moment we might see a luscious develope battement and then suddenly find our eyes directed to a small, unappreciated flick of the finger. Her motifs beg the audience to savor life to the fullest, to stop and smell ALL the flowers, to love the neglected things we take for granted. Visit this link, if you want to groove with Cat in person

At SERVINGCHOREO, I have often spoken about the "two beat" rule. Neil has mastered this aspect of contemporary street jazz choreography and it shows. The two beat rule, is a general formula which states that unison phrases, can be held in a formation for two beats, and then something needs to change. Whether it is the formation, a canon, or differing levels, the two-beat rule ensures that the audience stays engaged and locked into the moment. Since contemporary street jazz choreography was primarily created for film and video consumption, its important for the images to be vibrant and changing consistently. So get into it and spin the Dradle!

INTERMISSION at Siren's AfterDark is an affair unto itself. Far from a chilled out bathroom break, the energy was pulsating and electric. In house introductions were thrown out to NYC dance ambassador Ant Boogie, while the dance floor was graced by the legendary presence of Les Twins, Larry and Laurent…admiring fans crowding the cypher for a chance to see them live in action.

This piece exemplified the potential of a simple, well-executed concept. Working off the ubiquity of the plastic red dixie cups found at house parties, Lajon extrapolated this visual element into a dionysian frenzy of isolations and popping inspired ticks. He was especially successful in creating a wild party atmosphere that seemingly grew progressively chaotic, finally resolving in a burst of crimson plastic exploding skyward. Show your support and join the fans of Lajon.

Riffing on the idea of "my boyfriend's button down" sexy slow jam, Eric added a middle eastern element, thereby creating an urban-oriental fusion. Musically, the accompaniment also demonstrated this eclectic alchemy of styles and genre. The movement phrases were fluid and undulating, suggesting the shifting nature of sand within an hourglass. Whether or not this was an intentional allusion to the potential pitfalls of befriending "the seductress," the metaphor was apropos. Get into Eric's Groove.

Stylistically, A-drey's work is challenging to categorize, since it shifts between the contemporary, jazz, and hip hop vernacular, with rapid fire intensity. Choreographed to heavy, industrial drone-trance, the piece showed A-drey's maturity through the use of motif and repetition. The shapes and body lines played well with the percussive hits and accents, while the dancers' performance had laser-like intensity. The only drawback was the unmastered track levels, which resulted in volume distortion and worked against the clarity and precision the dancers were trying to achieve. To experience A-drey's moves for yourself, click here.

A duet entitled "Conversations" could have easily drifted into cliched cloying territory, but this long-limbed duo surprised and intrigued me. The movement was deeply rooted in afro-cuban jazz/soul rhythms and was a lush blend of isolated ticks, tuts and extension. Watching these two bodies intertwine and react brought to mind a sensuous and dynamic dialogue that mimicked the natural rise and fall, highs and lows, aggression and submission of human communication.

According to promotional materials, the Siren showcase seeks to be an open and inclusive environment for artists to express their perspectives and viewpoints. I feel compelled to strongly congratulate Rhapsody for sticking to her guns and presenting a choreographer, who might be considered a fringe element within the hip hop community. With his piece "Gay Bar," Filip boldly and proudly announced that the gay community is an integral part of the commercial urban dance scene. With all the recent discussion of "equality" in the media, I found this piece particularly poignant and was glad that the artists had the courage to present such an honest and visually striking piece. While many of the other numbers featured hetero-paired duos engaging in physically intimate choreography, this piece payed equal artistic homage to alternative same-sex couplings. At certain points, there was an audible audience reaction of discomfort or even disgust, which was immediately addressed by MC Shernita Anderson who laid the issue bare by saying, "OK y'all, it is 2013, get with the program people…if it don't affect you, it don't affect you…it is not a reflection of your status as a man, to support equality, freedom and justice…in fact, it makes you MORE of a man." Powerful words to accompany a powerful piece.

Being somewhat of a Nihongo-phile myself, I was instantly drawn into Tokumi's Shibuya-punk world. The crew was an all-girl ensemble that sought to prove that girls can throw down and hit as hard as the boys. Wearing baggy grey hoodies, Tokumi's girls attacked the movement with animal ferocity, which gave the impression that their diminutive stature was just a deceptive guise. Choreographically, one of the nicest moments was their repetition of the "what up" phrase. Instead of a long, unorganized choreographic stream, this recapitulation of the theme gave the piece a wonderful structure and intelligent framework. In addition, Tokumi possesses a fantastically cheeky sense of humor, which was best seen at the end, where the dancers flashed the ever-present "cheezu" fingers, while waiting for the audience to "shashin totte." Sugoi kawaii!!

Choreographers who retain a genuine and authentic sense of humor and irony, hold a special place in my heart. In order to achieve this effect, a great choreographer must be willing to look silly, unpretentious, uncool…in other words, vulnerably human. Lexi has created a light-hearted and perfectly unaffected portrait of the slightly chaotic inner monologue that races through a girl's mind on a first date. She was able to embody the sense of hope, trepidation, uncertainty, and excitement that is felt by anyone who has ever been on the precipice of finding "the one." Connect with Lexi on Twitter.

Culling from comic book villain iconography, Arturo asked the audience an intriguing question, "if you were to translate the legendary baddies of Batman into dance, what would it look like?" Suddenly we see that the slinky craftiness of The Riddler is expressed through a flamboyantly elaborate voguing run. Catwoman has been turned into a wacking/afro hurricane of long hair and sensual curves. And not to be outdone, The Penguin arrived just in time in time to headline his own take on the Harlem Shake. Holy Sirens Batman!!


"Conversations"…Lauren Cox and Raphael Thomas


"Suit and Tie"…Jason "Booogie" Santana


"Strive"…Eric Samson and BeatClub

Special Thanks to the "SIRENS After Dark" team:
Rhapsody James: Founder / Creative Director / Producer
Laura Sanchez: Executive Producer / Event Planner
Danee Kipri: VIP Coordinator
Terrie Foster-James: Production Coordinator
Lajon Danztler: Production Coordinator

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"UnRavel"...Tracie Stanfield

As artistic director and choreographer for Synthesis Dance Project in NYC, Tracie Stanfield has honed a unique aesthetic that blends highly technical proficiency with a deeply emotional, visceral sensibility. Her dancers are strong, physical, feminine and intelligent...they are equal parts athlete, artist and poet. The choreography that Tracie creates for her company is always consistent to this high standard and never offers anything less than polished professionalism and raw, human honesty. The piece "UnRavel," is one of Tracie's signature pieces and is a wonderful introduction to her style and choreographic perspective.

MUSICALITY: The key to understanding Tracie's movement, is rooted in the notion of textured layers. Within this musical selection by Angélique Kidjo, Tracie is able to identify the sustained, lyrical, elongated phrases, and the more percussive, beat-driven lines. Then she begins to weave the two elements together to create a dance tapestry that incorporates both seamlessly. A good example of Tracie's distinctive percussion, can be seen at (1:44-1:47) where the foot-beats on the floor interplay with the plucking pizzicato mandolin strings. And yet, even as the choreography is pulsing into the floor, the port de bras (arm movements) are fluidly engaging the folds and waves of the red fabric. It is a beautiful yin yang relationship between divergent movement qualities. In addition, Tracie has a keen sense of organic rise and fall, knowing how to pace the tempo for maximum impact at the end. Orchestral composers realize the importance of an overarching crescendo that steadily builds to a peak, and then resolves the tension with recapitulation. In Tracie's case, she follows the music's direction and gradually increases the speed and intensity of her dance, until the very end, in which we are treated to an exquisite burst of dynamic turns. The final moment is punctuated in a finely conceived manner...a subtle, but extremely effective facial close-up, that is like an exclamation point at the conclusion of a fiery sermon. Tracie's command of tempo and pacing is powerful and completely satisfying

DANCER SYNC: For choreographers of this caliber, watching the clean transitions can be informative and educational. Maintaining a dance company is challenging work, and it behooves the choreographer to create movement that keeps the dancers injury-free. However, dance as an art form, relies heavily on illusion (e.g. a pointe shoe has structural reinforcements within the shank so that the weight is distributed and the toes are supported, even though the audience may suppose she is actually balancing on the bones of her toes) and giving the impression of "danger" or instability. Therefore, Tracie is careful to construct sequences that "look" as though they are just inches from the edge, when in reality the dancer is always safe and protected. Look at (2:40-2:42) and you will see that the dancer kicks to the sky and the falls to the ground. However, her left hand (albeit hidden to the audience), makes contact with the floor first and breaks the impact of the fall. This type of intelligent design, with the benefit of technically trained dancers, makes many "impossible" feats both safe and practical.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: Interior design specialists are experts in directing the eye, telling us where to look and on what we should focus. Tracie, in a similar vein, created this piece around the idea of seduction. As any decent burlesque artist will confide, true seduction is the art of implication and suggestion. Knowing that the mind is a powerful agent of imagination and sense memory, these performers thrive on revealing while simultaneously obscuring. Tracie methodically ratchets up the tension and element of surprise, by never allowing the dancer's face to be seen clearly. Instead, our eyes are directed to the spine, the feet, the hands, the dress...essentially everything but the face. By collaborating with Cirque Du Soleil creative videographer, Elizabeth Williams, the audience also views the dancer from a number of non-traditional angles, including floating directly above. Not only does this capture our attention, but it draws us into the seduction as willing participants. We are fully invested in the choreography, because of what Tracie refuses to show us. Fortunately, the resolution does not leave us hanging and we are rewarded for our engagement.

KUDOS to Tracie for mastering the part of human psyche that compels us to watch and not turn away...grabbing our gaze and holding us in rapt suspense.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

"Take You Down"...Brian Puspos

The word "SWASSY" was recently coined by NYC musician, Mila Jam. She created this adjective, which is the combination of "swag" and "classy," to describe performers and artists who brandish a bold bravado style, but play their cards cool and easy. In this stylized piece of choreography, ABDC alum Brian Puspos and The ARCHITEKZ not only create a tone and atmosphere, but pull off the entire affair with smooth alacrity. This confluence of flavors produces a textured and engaging product, that is simultaneously lively and other words, he and his crew hit the "swassy" sweet spot!

MUSICALITY: Ever since the hey day of Midnight Star, musicians have referred to downtempo soul tunes as "slow jams." This is a slight misnomer because the rhythmic content of these types of songs, can have a visceral undercurrent that propels movement at a quick pace. In other words, although the vibe might be languid and relaxed, the music actually has the capacity to support more vibrant movement phrases. At (1:09-1:16) you can see just how forceful the bass hits affect Brian's movement choices. Starting with the strong drop to open legged straddle, the sequence then moves through a cross arm strike, a side push, and fist pump in the air. All of these musical moments serve to accentuate the notion of machismo and "swagger."

DANCER SYNC: For this video in particular, it bears repeating that, for the purposes of this blog, the idea of "dancer sync" refers to the ability for a choreographer to create movement that is safe for the dancer's body. The movement must "sync" up well with how a dancer moves naturally. In this instance, although the dancers are moving together in a very synchronized way, we are only looking at the movement as it pertains to each dancer individually. I get the sense that Brian creates his movement from an "intelligent body" perspective, in that, all his choreo matches his dancers' bodies in a logical and intelligent way. If you watch (1:39-1:42) carefully, you will see how he protects his dancers' knees by placing the left hand on the ground, as they descend into the spiral leg twist. If he were to do this sequence without the preventative measures, he would be asking for knee injuries and ligament damage.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: This piece is a perfect example of choreography that is self-aware and possesses a light sense of humor. There are so many hidden gems for the audience to discover, I was constantly finding new details with each consecutive viewing. At (1:45-1:46), (1:48-1:49) and (2:18-2:19) we see a few wonderful instances of cause/effect complimentary actions, where the choreography of one dancer visually augments the motion of another. In addition, Brian knows how to create visual illusions with the placement of the dancers. For example, at (1:01-1:02), by hiding the bodies, our eyes are tricked into seeing a solo dancer, with symmetrical triple legs; its as if we are suddenly seeing a person cut down the middle by a full length mirror. Adding to this choreographic slight of hand, are his double entendre references, such as (0:49-0:51) where he subtly lets the audience know what it is that "we came to do." It takes a mature, tongue-in-cheek sensibility to be able to execute these kinds of allusions in a manner that is "classy" and not crass.

KUDOS to Brian for providing us with a fantastic example of choreography that is both street and sophisticated...and altogether "SWASSY."

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Not With Haste"...Mariel Madrid

Influential American psychologist, Carl Rogers once said, "what is most personal is most universal." In other words, when an artist digs into the deepest recesses of her soul, the audience understands that they are witnessing pure, unfiltered truth. Whether or not they are privy to the specific details of the artist's inspiration is not important. The only thing that matters, is the authenticity of the artist's genuine is her expression through art. In this piece, Mariel Madrid invites the audience to walk beside her along life's journey. How the viewer decides to interpret the narrative will vary, but no one can doubt the sincerity of what she is saying. In this way, her work will resonate with people across a broad spectrum of relationships, and consequently, turn her personal experience into a universal connection.

MUSICALITY: At Broadway Dance Center, I am often heard telling dancers that their breath is their best friend. I tell them that your breath is a constant companion, and is the only friend that will be with you your entire life. Your breath was with you when you were born, and it will be with you until you die. Dancers need to understand that movement is completely dependent on breath. You can dance for about three weeks without eating, about three days without drinking water...but you will only last about three minutes without your breath...and then dancing/movement ceases to exist. So any choreographer who makes the musicality of the breath a priority, is someone I immediately respond to. Notice how Mariel begins this piece (0:18-0:23)...nothing but mindful, conscious inhale and exhale. This simple, yet profound, action sets the mood and intention for everything that follows. This pulsating breath becomes a heartbeat (0:36-0:38) and then expands to the footwork. I love the way Mariel rhythmically and deliberately places her feet, as if she were leaving prints in the sand (0:48-0:52). On top of this foundation, Mariel then embellishes the movement with some of the most exquisite details I have ever witnessed. Watch the sequence at (1:01-1:04) and notice how she subtly mirrors the musical phrase, which features a pattern of descending octaves, by touching her head, elbow, hips and finally a low second position plie, just as the music hits the lowest bass note...this moment is lush!

DANCER SYNC: "Effortless transfer of momentum" is a concept that seems to be lost on many choreographers, and yet Mariel masters this aspect of her movement. At (1:51-1:55) we see her launch her body into the air only to blend the kinetic energy of gravity into a rolling spinal twist. Although the sequence is over in blink, its important to point out her intelligent choices. This short phrase is a dynamic example of a smart choreographer using the rebounding action of one movement to propel and energize the next section. If more choreographers were to approach their movement with this concept in mind, we would see far fewer injuries and more dancers with happy smiles on their faces.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: I don't know if Mariel has ever worked with or collaborated with Pina Bausch or Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker , but her work bares significant similarities to these woman, in terms of aesthetic and subject matter. However, the element that really makes Mariel's work stand out, is her background in the hip hop community. Here we see a choreographer who is using urban movement vocabulary (isolations, ticking, popping) and applying a deep and layered subtext to the material. This fusion of intention and internal research is really exciting and visually grabs the audience's attention. Compare this moment of Pina Bausch (0:34-0:38) and Mariel at (0:54-0:58). Whether this homage was intentional or coincidental, Mariel makes this contemplative moment unique and fresh, by embedding her own story and history into the action. As film director Jim Jarmusch once said, “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to.” Mariel is a perfect example of an artist who is actively pushing progress forward and advancing the art-form into new and uncharted territory. This is the true definition of an INNOVATOR!

KUDOS to Mariel for creating with a unique and authentic voice, a voice that is hers and hers alone...she is an inspiration for the next generation!

Monday, February 4, 2013

"The Window"...Elizabeth Williams

Here at SERVINGCHOREO, I am always on the lookout for choreographers who value the importance of fluid transitions and movement justification. In this stunning piece of aerial dance, choreographer and Cirque Du Soleil artist, Elizabeth Williams, literally builds her art from the ground up. Working from the lowest possible level and then gradually ascending high into the air, Elizabeth carefully crafts a cohesive and luscious experience that comes full circle for the audience. The movement is never incongruent to the moment, the breath informs every shift of weight, and her lines allow her to express a deep and textured story. For more info on Elizabeth's work, please visit

MUSICALITY: Aerial dance has long had the unfortunate reputation of being "trick" based and overly dependent on the "ta da" factor. Hokey circus acts would perform in a highly indicative and obvious manner, essentially begging for the audience to applause. However, nouveau circus aesthetic sought to change this by blurring the fourth wall and, in many ways, turning the audience into voyeurs who witness a private moment in the air. Elizabeth skillfully demonstrates this dynamic, by inviting the viewer into her world and giving them permission to observe her detailed and nuanced performance. One thing that I admire about Elizabeth's style, is her ability to carefully edit the movement and accent the moments that really need to be emphasized, as opposed to choreographic overkill. She understands the power of adding the RIGHT amount of embellishment, instead of trying to accessorize ad nauseum. She chooses subtle points like (0:54-0:57) and (1:32-1:35) and (2:35-2:37) to synthesize the simple piano motif in her body, first with her hands and then with her legs. Since choreography is, at its core, about making a series of choices, Elizabeth's judicious selections show maturity and confident artistry.

DANCER SYNC: Much like traditional ground-based dance forms, aerial dance depends on the choreographer's ability to place the body in a supported position at all times. This is doubly important for dancers who work in the air, since the slightest misstep can cause a catastrophic fall or injury. Elizabeth expertly "hides the preparation" for many of her extended acrobatic sequences. Notice how she uses a crossed legged bind to set up a ronde jambe to hanging side flag suspension at (1:50-1:58), creating a seamless, smooth transition from sitting to hanging. At times, she even paints a picture of contorted immobility, only to unfold a perfectly coordinated final extension (3:54-3:59). This type of mindful sequencing shows her commitment to dancer safety, without sacrificing artistic integrity.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: As I mentioned before, the visual construction of this piece is highly organized and thoughtfully executed. The audience might not even realize that the majority of the dance will occur high above the ground, since the movement begins at such a low perspective. Working with videographer J. Dooling, Elizabeth smartly decided to begin with the chalk on the ground, ascending to the fingers, exploring the mid-level with lunges and contractions, elevating onto the pointe shoes, and then finally rising into the air. The piece reaches its literal climax at (3:13-3:15) when Elizabeth ventures to the highest point of the apparatus, and immediately begins the descending resolution back to earth. Notice that piece ends in the same place it begins, from earth to heaven and back again.

KUDOS to Elizabeth for crafting a genuinely spell-binding dance, that is wholly artistic as it is safe and well-constructed.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"Only"...Mark Haines

Director Bridget Palardy had a dream for her video project. The concept was to play with depth and perspective, foreground and background, and the passage of time. She then teamed up with California based choreographer and teacher, Mark Haines. The resulting collaboration is an amazing example of creative alchemy between two highly innovative minds. I wanted to dig a little deeper into the process of Mark's work to give the SERVINGCHOREO readers a behind-the-scenes peek into their creative process. Enjoy:

I noticed that this project is a fusion of dance film and music video, how did the actual musical track affect your choreography?
This video is really the "brainchild" of the Director, Bridget Palardy. I met with her a few times prior to the shoot and hashed out her concept and found ways that movement and dance could enhance her original was a true collaboration. As far as the choreography was concerned, I used the "feel" of the music and key imagery words from the Director ("rough", "smooth", "streaming", "cacophony", etc) as inspiration as we were creating movement phrases.

That's fantastic...I noticed that the video has a wonderfully organic, loose naturalism to long did it take to achieve that level of cohesiveness?
Usually I would take more time to work with dancers to make sure they "represent" the movement in the way it is/was intended - but in this case, we were under HUGE time and budget constraints, so many of the dancers (all but 8 or 10 of them) I didn't meet until the day of the shoot! At that point, it was a matter of refining and editing the movement so everyone could do it and then finding the dancers that I could "feature" in certain sections of the Music Video.

One of the most interesting aspects of this piece, is the sand. How much did the "dance surface" affect your movement choices?
This had the MOST impact on the choreography. My assistant, Megan, and I worked on movement in the studio but spent an equal amount of time (if not more time) reconfiguring the movement so it could work in the sand. The "softness" of the sand was great for floor work, but WAY more challenging then you would think to prep for jumps....and, of course, any kind of turn was out of the question.

I feel that "on-site" situations like this could cause problems for younger, less experienced choreographers, who are obsessed with THEIR choreography. How did you maintain a good, positive experience for your dancers, despite the challenges of working outside, for long hours, in the sand?
The best advice I can give a young choreographer to inspire their dancers is (pardon my language) "Don't be a Dick!". In my experience, I have found that most dancers (if not all) prefer "respect" over a "dictatorship". If you can establish some sort of bond with your dancers (no matter how superficial it may be....remember, a majority of these dancers I met the day of the shoot), they will intrinsically/subconsciously WANT to work for you and WANT to perform your choreographic work with all the passion and energy you ask for. Aside from spending the day teaching choreography, re-staging things for the Director, and re-creating movement that wasn't working, I spent the rest of my time making the dancers laugh, making sure everyone was having a good time and thanking them for what the "magic" they were bringing to the video.

That sounds like a great piece of advice for all kinds of "site-specific" work, eh?
Hmmmmm.....I'm less inclined to think of this dance as a true "Site-specific" piece and much more apt to say it was a "Music Video/dance piece that happens to take place on the beach". Obviously, there would need to be some major modifications if the piece were going to be set on a Proscenium stage, but I'm not 100% sure what those changes would be....each performance space and every group of dancers brings forth new and different challenges, ideas and experiments.....we'll have to wait and see.

As someone who works both on stage and in video work, what shifts do you make to translate dance for an online audience?
The choreographic process changes immensely because you are taking a 3-dimensional art form and applying it to a 2-dimensional medium. Many subtleties and nuances found in live performance are greatly reduced....but if you are working with a Director and film crew that understands movement and dance (as I was lucky enough to), certain allowances can be made to bring life to the filmed choreography.

Many online choreographers rely on quick camera shots and flashy editing to maintain the tempo and pulse of piece, but I was fascinated by your ability to keep the viewer engaged, while never moving the camera angle. How did you achieve this?
Again, the fixed camera angle and the the elongated view of the horizon and the ocean was part of the original concept of the Director's. ...she really wanted to play with the idea of visual depth within a one-take-continual-shot fixed camera angle. But because the camera only moves once from it's original spot to the overhead shot, the dancers had to do A LOT of running!!! We had taped lines and markers all over the sand to remind the back-up singers and the dancers where their site lines were for the camera. We started filming around 5:30pm and did our 7th take around 7:00pm. The dancers were exhausted, to say the least.

KUDOS to Mark for assessing the situation and skillfully adapting the movement for the dancer's safety and still creating a visually engaging, exciting piece of video choreography.

Monday, January 21, 2013

"Le Sacre du Printemps"...Pina Bausch

For people who visit SERVINGCHOREO regularly, a common theme of "variety" is apparent. I believe that hip hop choreographers and dancers need to open their minds and expose themselves to the world of movement that exists outside the video and commercial mentality. Instead of "diluting" your quality, this process of cross-polination will actually make your hip hop journey resonate more fully with authenticity and artistry. I also believe that it is important for street choreographers and dancers to be given respect and academic inquiry. This is also an integral aspect to the SERVINGCHOREO mission. To this end, today we look at Pina Bausch. Although, this master choreographer passed away last year, her work is still dynamic and alive. Exploding from the intersection of classical theater and modern dance, her work pulses with a visceral drive and is a perfect mirror of human experience. Her work lives in a suspended state of dance-theater, where it is just as much about the dance technique as it is about internal motivation and story. When you watch this clip, you will feel as though you are watching something as dramatic as Downton Abbey or Walking Dead, and yet all the relationships are expressed through impeccable dancing. And who doesn't love a good thriller movie? You will notice that once you start watching, you will get sucked in, and before you know it, the video will abruptly end...something akin to the suspenseful cliffhanger ending to your favorite weekly episodic TV program.

MUSICALITY: When Stravinsky wrote the score for "Rite of Spring" audiences were outraged, as it did not conform to the musical structures and habits of that time. However, the strident and discordant timbre of his orchestral vision correlates perfectly to the anxious tension that circulates through this piece. Pina understands this uneasiness and plays it to maximum effect. Watch the disturbed crescendo at (1:34-1:40) as the dancer raises her arms and the ensemble melts into the dirt. Again, at (2:55-3:12) the music and movement simultaneously build in chaotic intensity until the abrupt halt, when all the dancers shift their focus to the red silk. I love how the most powerful musical moment (3:45-3:56) is matched by the unison force of the group moving together as one. In a strange allusion, I am reminded of Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation" video, where the group makes a similarly unified statement of strength and solidarity.

DANCER SYNC: It goes without saying that Pina's choreographic choices are always unique and surprising. However, they are never created from a place of gimmickry or populism. When Pina made her shows, she would spend countless hours with her dancers, researching the internal motivation and psychological impetus for the "moves." It was never sufficient for her to include a step, simply because "it looked good" or was "a catchy trick." Every moment needed to be justified with the question "why?" Why are they whipping their hair to the sky? Why are they covering their faces? Why are they kicking to the side with a bent leg? All these questions have already been answered internally by Pina and her company. It is left to the audience to cypher the solution to her mysterious quandary, by using their intuition and sensory receptors.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: The narrative arc for Pina's material is marvelously balanced. She clearly demonstrates her ability to hook the audience and keep them wanting more by gradually turning up the heat and raising the stakes. First, she introduces the idea of purity versus rubbish, higher calling a banal tendencies. Suddenly, at 5:05 the masculine energy invades the picture and ups the ante considerably. I encourage you to watch the concluding second half of this piece and observe how the drama unfolds. Everyone will watch this work and interpret it differently, and yet, no one can see these bodies in motion and not recognize some aspect of human nature.

KUDOS to Pina for translating the experience of life into a visual, tactile masterpiece of motion.

Monday, January 14, 2013

"Lois Lane"...Keone Madrid

Good art is authentic and vulnerable, like an actor who pours his heart out on stage and allows us to see humanity in all its gritty detail. Think about the difference between an over-produced pop tune and ANYTHING that was recorded by Etta James or Nina Simone. The artist who is BRAVE enough to show us the personal highs and lows of life, is the artist we are drawn to and compelled to watch. Interestingly, hip hop artists who are true to themselves, also find their capacity for genuine confession and confidence with the audience. In this clip, Keone Madrid brilliantly expresses his love for the woman of his life, extolling her virtues and praising her qualities. This is a far cry from the swag and bravado that is typically associated with hip hop battle culture, but it is just as legitimate...because it is REAL.

MUSICALITY: For the purposes of this blog, the word "musicality" implies a broad definition, a range of inspiration that extends from a simple heartbeat or breath, to full blown orchestral production with gospel choir...and everything in between. Poetry is spoken word that abides to meter, has rhythm...and by extension, musicality. The opening prelude is a fantastic example of the collaboration between the spoken word and physical movement. The manner in which the dancers embody the words (0:24-0:32) and create pictures that augment what we are hearing, is as "musical" as is gets! Another highly musical component of Keone's work, lies in his ability to hear staccato AND legato phrasing in the SAME line of music. Legato notes are held and sustained, while staccato notes are sharp and short...when you watch (3:13-3:29) you will notice one group of dancers following the legato phrasing of the held chords of the keyboard, while another group simultaneously mirrors the staccato tempo of Robin Thicke's vocal line. This kind of musical juxtaposition engenders a sort of visual compliment that works for our ears, as well as our eyes.

DANCER SYNC: Generally speaking, one of the great contributions that hip hop has had on the evolution of contemporary dance, is the notion of "groove" or "funk." Often, you will hear hip hop choreographers talking about "being in the pocket of the beat" or "putting some stank on it." These are synonymous ways of saying that the movement is generated internally, deep within the human soul. Similar to the way traditional African and Native American dancers work themselves into trance-like frenzy around a fire, the hip hop tradition is also intrinsically connected to the root of all movement...the beating of your heart. Moments such as (2:16-2:19) where Keone channels a James Brown shuffle step or (2:28-2:30) where we see the incorporation of a latin basic, show that Keone has a mature understanding that the dance needs to be grounded in the groove, or it will fail. Many choreographers "over-season" their work with a flood of steps and tricks, forgetting that the groove or "pocket" is the basis for everything else.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: There are a couple of elements that Keone uses to his advantage. The first is silence. Notice how the dancers simply hold their space for over 30 sec (0:39-1:12). For most dancers, whose lives are spent is constant motion...this could feel like eternity. But Keone is intentionally imbuing the piece with tension, realizing that this engaged, pregnant stillness brings the audience to the edge of their seat and piques their interest. The second element that we can observe, is "group isolation." In jazz dance, when we talk about "isolations," we are talking about the ability to move different body parts, while keeping the rest of the body still. However, Keone expands this concept to the entire group, where different members hold their positions. At (3:02-3:12) Keone starts with the group moving in unison, and then demonstrates this idea of "group isolation." Lastly, in terms of holistic composition, Keone taps into the power of repetition. Learning how to use repetition effectively is an important hallmark of mature, quality choreographers. Notice how the solo phrase (1:38-1:49) is brought back in its entirety at (4:29-4:39) but as group moment. All of these compositional elements serve to engage the audience and maintain full viewer participation.

P.S. As a additional bonus, I particularly liked the homage to the Superman "logo reveal" when Clark Kent peels off his pedestrian disguise, and shows his true identity...(3:54-4:02)

KUDOS to Keone for creating a touching, sensitive tribute and simultaneously displaying superb choreographic choices.