Friday, October 23, 2015

"Operate"....Joanna Numata and Neil Schwartz

When you listen to the vocal style of Etta James, Nina Simone, or Ella Fitzgerald, one thing that is a common theme among all three, is their skillful use of phrasing and shading in their delivery. Many years later, when Eric B and Rakim came onto the rap scene, people were once again blown away by Rakim's artistic use of tempo and rhythm with regard to his speech pattern. His phrasing and deliberate pauses even earned him the nickname "Coltrane of Hip Hop." Consequently, dancers can also learn from this musical principle and create layers of complexity and nuance in their movement by creating moments of silence and phrasing. This collaborative video by Neil Schwartz and Joanna Numata, both from NYC Broadway Dance Center, highlights this concept perfectly.

MUSICALITY: Any orchestral work that exists is the sum of its diverse parts. The strings play in harmony with the brass, counterpoint to the percussion section, etc. But it is never the case, that ALL parts play at ALL times. This would create an imbalance in the orchestra's ability to ebb and flow between dynamic and sostenuto, forte and pianissimo. For balance to exist, the individual parts must know when to interact and when to hold their space silently. For movement artists, a similar effect can be created through the use of canon. An example of this is (:07-:09 and 1:05-1:07) where both choreographers ask certain dancers to hold stillness for a set count, thereby allowing the movement to mirror the repetitive aspects of the music. Sometimes, in the street vernacular you will hear this technique referenced as "ripple" or "peel off." In any case, the result is the same and is an effective way to add visual texture to break up a completely unison phrase.

DANCER SYNC: As I mentioned before, both of these choreographers understand the importance of phrasing the movement. When Neil's section starts (1:07-1:13) you can observe a beautiful balance between sharp, contracted, hard hit accents, and then perfectly smooth, legato, almost soft arm sequencing. This is very much akin to the way that the aforementioned vocalists would snap the pronunciation of one word, and then languidly stretch out the next. The beauty of this awareness can be seen in the dancer's interpretation of the choreography. When a choreographer realizes that the movement must have a cohesive flow between hard and soft, then the dancer can easily slip into this groove, as it is the natural essence of breathing (inhale is dynamic and powerful, exhale is relaxed and smooth).

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: Many times, when I watch young choreographers who aspire to work in the commercial industry, they often lack basic sensibilities. Because of this, their performances typically feel flat and one-dimentional. One simple lesson that can be learned from Joanna and Neil's work is the "Rule of Two". If you watch carefully, you will notice that every two counts of 8, there is a complete formation change from "V" to "inverted V" to "2 by 3" to "5 on a die" etc. By applying this simple rule, Neil and Joanna have created a compelling sense of power and intensity, thereby keeping the energy high and audience fully engaged. For even more complexity, choreographers can also apply the "Rule of Two" within the counts of 8 themselves, a technique that Academy of Villains have mastered beyond perfection.

KUDOS to Joanna and Neil for illustrating fundamentally beautiful form in the composition of their movement and being exemplary in their execution.

Friday, October 16, 2015

"Quiet Joy"...Brinda Guha

The word "FUSION" has recently risen to fame within the dance world, being used to describe any and all sorts of genre blending. At the moment, you can find teachers promoting everything from "contemporary fusion" to "hip hop fusion" to "latin fusion". All that to say, with so much fusion floating around the dance space, its beautiful to see an artist who has a truly clear vision when it comes to authentically blending disparate movement traditions into a cohesive choreographic statement. Brinda Guha, the artistic director of Kalamandir Dance Company in NYC, has taken the vocabulary of ancient Indian khattak dance, and crossbred it with a more western contemporary dance approach. The result is a lush and sensual treat for the eyes and ears.

MUSICALITY: Khattak dance is a heavily percussive Indian folk dance, that requires intense mastery of complex footwork and rhythmic patterns. Traditionally accompanied by the tabla, a drum that is capable of producing distinct tones and pitches, the khattak dancer has the ability to keep dynamic tempo with their feet, while simultaneously telling a fluid, continuous story with their hands and torso. To see a master khattak dancer in action, is to see the human brain working on many different layers, all together in perfect synchronicity. When Brinda started to blend the traditions of khattak with a more contemporary aesthetic, she was able to translate this duality by incorporating the iconic movement of folk styles into upper torso and port de bras, while exploring the more grounded elements of contemporary footwork and even, classical lower body technique (4th position, 2nd position, 1st position, arabesque, 1:53-1:55).

DANCER SYNC: All dance techniques employ some aspect of core and pelvic isolation and control, by focusing on this universal constant, Brinda was able to find common ground where khattak could intersect with contemporary. Watch (1:45-1:48) and you will a beautiful undulation of the hips and pelvic bowl. This is a perfect example of the essence of the Kalamandir approach, finding the movements that intersect and then building up and down from this starting point. Consequently, this creates a cohesive movement language that works equally well on both planes, thereby allowing the dancers to connect deeply to sequence.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: When I watch Brinda's work, I feel compelled to let go and allow myself to be hypnotically transported. The dancers of KDC move through the space like a mandala that is perpetually changing its form, evolving and shifting shape and color. There is also a mature sensibility to balance the percussive, rhythmic accents, with the smooth, lyrical elements. When a choreographer knows how to play with this delicate back and forth, the viewer is able to maintain a strong investment in the company's artistic statement.

KUDOS to Brinda for nailing the true aspects of a fusion between two very unique and seemingly contradictory modes of movement, creating a surprising and satisfying new amalgam.