Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"No Such Thing" - Jon Rua

Integral to the notion of artistic progress, is the necessity for innovation and experimentation. Jon Rua is an artist keen to explore the limits of street style movement, fusing it with a theatrical aspect that strives to dig deeper towards an internal motivation. Similar to the process of Adler and Stanislavski, Jon's approach to street style choreography is as interested in the "moves" as he is with the "motivation." For Jon, it is not enough to merely create visually exciting pictures, but these pictures must also serve a primary internal purpose of story-telling and character development. For this reason, Jon's style has been described as "urban theater" since it resides directly in the cross-hairs of foundation steps (locking, popping, isolations, waving, top rock) and traditional method acting.

MUSICALITY: For Jon, the importance of musicality cannot be stressed enough. But essential to this idea of musicality, is Jon's profound understanding of "the groove." It is a concept that is explored in various disciplines, such as the gaga technique used by the Batsheva Company. Essentially, it implies that the "motor" of the body is constantly plugged into the pulse of the music. If the music were to suddenly stop, the dancers would easily be able to continue the movement because the groove is still strong within. If you watch the initial moments (0:22-0:32) you notice how Jon has his dancers literally sit into the pocket of the groove, get into character, prior to moving. This moment of quiet stillness is fundamental to Jon's movement strategy. He also makes nice use of the percussive groove (0:47-0:49) where the back kicks mimic the dynamic impact of the kick drum heard in the track. One of the most visible moments of groove, occurs in ending tag of the chorus (1:37-1:39) where the pendular swing of the arms are mirrored by the lower body and knees. This creates a beautiful signature moment that Jon returns to later in the piece, creating continuity and structure, all based on the same groove.

DANCER SYNC: When the groove is strong, it is almost impossible for the dancers to feel incongruent with the movement. This is one of the beautiful aspects of groove-based vocabulary...it almost always feels wonderful. There are, at times, instances where a choreographer will ask a dancer to do something wholly incongruent with the groove, for aesthetic purposes, but this is not one of them. I cannot identify a single moment where Jon's choreography seems out of sync with the dancers' natural movement instincts. It goes without saying, therefore, that Jon's choreography is not only safe, but also fun to dance.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: Jon himself has an extensive background in theatre, having worked extensively on Broadway and live performances. One huge advantage that this history gives him, is the ability to create dynamic staging, without relying on camera tricks or post-production. Notice that the entire video was shot in a single take, without edits, and still maintains a high level of dynamic, visual information. Intrinsic to this ability, is Jon's creative use of diagonal perspective. Look how seamlessly he transitions from a stage left diagonal, to stage right, to 3/2 formation, just within the span of 10 seconds (2:50-3:00). And for the typical audience member, who is unable to articulate why they feel so engaged with the stage action, these subtle shifts yield huge returns. For me, Jon has a stage director's eye and is also able to create background and scenery with the dancers' bodies. Notice how the dancers in the rear of the stage, create a backdrop for the featured couples at (1:45-2:05).

KUDOS to Jon for truly pushing the boundaries of hip hop story-crafting and creating new ways for us to view traditional street style movement.

Monday, May 19, 2014

"Wake Up"...Justin Conte

Walk into any typical dance class, and you will inevitably hear the teacher say at some point, "I want you to FEEL the music." Ironically, for many dancers who have trained in a highly classical setting, the ability to breath and be moved by the rhythm and groove is challenging and foreign. Dancers of the traditional vein, are often educated in a way that actually diminishes their natural movement instincts for something more "aesthetically pleasing" or "technically correct." However, at the end of all discussion and debate, dance MUST be felt and experienced for it to truly come alive. Justin Conte's choreography pays tribute to the tradition of classical technique, yet highlights the priority of sensation above all else. Just like cooking, dance should be a highly sensual experience that engages the dancer's sight, smell, taste, sight and, in this case especially, TOUCH.

MUSICALITY: The idea of contact and touch is an intrinsic element of Justin's style. It is interesting to note, that with the exception of the theremin perhaps, all musical instruments involve tactile engagement between the musician's physical body (fingers, lips, feet, hands) and the actual instrument. If you watch at (0:29-0:30) Justin creates a metaphor that simulates the crack of a snare drum with the clasp of two hands. This motif is then expanded throughout the body and outer extremities. For example, look at (1:19-1:22) and notice how the accent is now translated into the upper torso and head, and then with an outward snap of the knees.

DANCER SYNC: The permission to let loose, be free and ride the beat FEELS delicious to a dancer. Look at (1:37-1:44) where the movement takes on a decidedly pendular quality, where the joints of the arms and spine are allowed to swing and sway. At the same time, Justin creates a beautiful balance to the release by adding moments of sustained, modulated stillness, as when the arms slowly rise skyward. This modulation between control and release, restraint and abandon, engenders a feeling of natural authenticity in the dancer's body that is visibly satisfying. Another aspect of Justin's choreography that is worth mentioning, is the focus and attention he brings to the dancers' subjective experience. Whether it is the slippery glide of wet paint on the skin, dancing underneath a shower of flower petals or the rough texture of a concrete wall, it is obvious that Justin wants his dancers to "feel something" visceral and sensual, instead of simply performing a pre-rehearsed sequence of steps. This immediate recognition of the present moment is one of the hallmarks of TRUE contemporary dance, an element that is sadly missing in many current incarnations of the genre.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: This piece was choreographed to create "awareness"...although, Justin does not articulate the direction or subject that the awareness was intended. However, this is not important when discussing the ultimate goal and his success in this effort. It is enough that the viewer is totally drawn into the moment and the fully sensual quality that Justin imagined. There is a beautiful contrast between the dusty, grainy group movement, and the more intimate, dripping, close-up shots of the hands. As if to explore the full spectrum of sensation, from wet to dry, from fast to slow, from loud to soft, the entire project forces the viewer to pay attention, thereby creating an urgent sense of awareness and attention to subtle details.

KUDOS to Justin for creating choreography that wakes up our senses, touches the skin and whispers to the heart.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

"Read All About It"...Matthew Tseng

The merging of the passionate, virtuosic body with music that moves the heart is something of great appeal and beauty. For artist Mathew Tseng, “dance is a mixture of Athleticism, Emotion, and Movement,” which translates into what I see as physical inspiration. These qualities are not only embodied in Matthew’s rendition of “Read All About It,” but are brought beyond the expected performance realm of the Contemporary Jazz genre in a dance film combining beauty of scenery with beauty of expression. Out of the studio, off the stage, and on-location, Matthew takes his audience with him as he sculpts the dialogue between a narrative of friendship and the lyricism of choreography. Using film to convey the work really engages the audience within an experience that is not only readable and relatable, but also more intimate and sensitive than if viewed in a typical performance setting. The framing of the camera soaks the creation in nostalgia and enriches the qualities already inherent in the dance. Matthew has full control and it feels good to ride his perspective.

MUSICALITY: It is lovely how Matthew paints the vocals and illuminates the instrumentation of the song while carrying emotional context. The clarity of how the movement and music partner one another is so satisfying as a viewer. At (00:34-00:37) ones sees three different visualizations of the lyrics “come on.” First the arm swirls above the head and the dancers drop to the floor. Then they jump into second with a sweep of the arm. Lastly there is a sweeping fouette, the leg matching the rhythm in the wording. One will also note that each rendition of “come on” also finds a lingering or accented movement of the lower-body, which syncs with the chords of the piano. The connection to the lyrics may be more noticeable, but look further and one sees the piano in the footwork. A particularly noticeable example of this is at (0:40-0:56) when one hears “you’ve got the light to fight the shadows.” “You’ve got the” is seen articulated in the movement of the leg. The piano is seen in the out-in action of the feet on “light to.” The sounding of “fight” is visible in an attitude turn. Ever so poetically, “shadow” is found in a dynamic drop in body level. He is utilizing the entire body as a vessel of musicality. Yet, the upper-body to lyrics and lower-body to instrumentation is seen throughout as the passion of the dancers carry the song within. The layering within the choreography is another means he brings visual to the music. Taking notice of the material relatively early in the phrase work at (0:22-00:26) one sees a succession beginning with the female in the front being dropped into a split by her partner (ever so buoyantly and elastic, at that!). Next, the female in the back explodes into a jump. After the two girls connect in a roll to the ground, the male rolls his head. The trio becomes an accumulative orchestra of bodies accenting musical cues, allowing the song to be painted across the space dynamically. Matthew has clearly opened his ears and tailored his athletic and passionate movement to compliment the track in a variety of ways. The effect is quite enjoyable for the viewer and the breathe in the flow of the movement shows a fluid connection to all components of the song.

DANCER SYNC: Here at SERVINGCHOREO, we are always on the lookout for choreographers, who are considerate of the bodies that they are actually working with. For the purposes of this analysis, DANCER SYNC is a commentary on a choreographer’s ability to compose work compatible with his dancers’ abilities and comfort zone. All of our bodies are different and have various strengths and weakness, all of which are beautiful and valid in their own right. It is nice to see that Tseng not only keeps his dancers safe throughout the work, as seen in the partnering, but also gives the dancers space to express their own variations within the choreography. There is never a moment during the dance film that I worry for the dancers. One can see their comfort in the movement in their ability to hit musical cues while also living in an expansive, emotive state. In terms of partnering safety, at (1:30-1:36) one clearly sees the male figure supporting the female through a lift sequence. He smoothly and appropriately places his hands to provide the support she needs to move her body in space and allow her the freedom to express freely. I never have to worry that he will drop her or that his hand placement is misinformed. Audience and dancers are at east, which is ever more so noticeable when at the end of the sequence the female launches forward nearly out of his arms. The male is still there to support her daring escape as they seamlessly meet in his embrace, showing a strong connection between the partners and allowing the choreography to be accomplished injury-free. Partner safety is also seen during the male duet around (1:57-2:11). This section is really engaging, especially due to how weight is managed. The male dancers are able to suspend, lift, and share the weight of one another with fluidity and safety in the joints. A scary moment in the choreography could be one of the many sudden drops to the floor when the dancers fold down upon their legs. If done improperly, the dancers would be knocking their bones painfully into the floor or be at risk of more than a few bruises. Yet, the dancers do not collapse within their bodies, even as they collapse to the floor. They have the core strength and proper approach to land softly. At (1:12) the camera allows one to perfectly view how the dancers smoothly lower their bodies to the ground, following the flesh on the side of their leg and never for a moment compromising their knee. Matthew shows true compassion and understanding for his dancers at (0:47-0:48) when the choreography calls for an extension of the leg. One will notice that each dancer’s leg is at a different level, showing personal range of motion. The freedom Matthew gives to each dancer at this time is what I like to call a “gold star moment” because each dancer accomplishes the choreography as an individual and the audience witnesses the personal beauty of each dancer without an inclination to judge and compare. The height of the leg is not the priority and I thank Mathew for valuing his dancers enough to give them room to dance without sacrificing technique.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: There is something about viewing dance in real time, being in the space with the movers. Nothing can replace live performance. However, film enables Mathew to highlight the humanity within the work and guide his audience in a way that would not be an option if the choreography were to be performed upon the stage. Through both the perspective of the camera and the particular framing of the action, one witnesses human connection within the actual phrase work and a story that parallels the contemporary jazz movement. As much as I love pure movement, I am really drawn towards choreography’s ability to investigate the human condition. Plus, I am especially appreciative of the expressive capability of the hands. Matthew accomplishes both! At (1:57-2:11), during the male duet, Matthew rekindles a friendship that was broken at the onset of the work. This is seen with a close-up of their hands meeting. It is so powerful how the one hand brushes down the arm of the other, pulling the other dancer back into relationship and pulling at your heartstrings. The close-up of the hands joining references the “letting go” at (0:14). It is a little difficult to not be impacted by the uplifting nature of the gesture. And relationships are a ubiquitous experience for us all on a very basic level. The significance he brings to these interactions and the ways he using film to capture the dance makes for a relatable and inspiring piece.

KUDOS to Matthew for paralleling human experience and contemporary jazz in a creative film context: producing a work that is both relatable and uplifting.

Reviewed by Natalie Deryn Johnson