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.