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.

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