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.