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.