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 subdued...in 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."