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