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

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