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Izaya Abdurakhmanov

MHC 100 Arts in NYC

Over the course of the past three weeks I have seen three dance performances with my seminar class. The first was an opera ballet called “Zephyr,” the second was an Indian dance called Kathakali, and the last was a series of dances in Fall for Dance. Each performance was different in several ways even though all three were dances. They also differed in the way they affected me. After seeing these shows, my eyes opened up to the diversity of dance.

Let’s start with the first performance, “Zephyre” by Jean Philippe Rameau and the New York Baroque Dance Company. The dance was made some time in the eighteenth century and was influenced by Greek mythology. The ballet is a story of love and duty in which a woman, Zephyre, meets a man who falls in love with her. Zephyre must choose between love and her duty to the gods. What was interesting in this opera ballet was that one of the opera singers was actually singing the dialogue of Zephyre while there was a dancer emulating the emotions of Zephyre. An orchestra was also playing in the background, which gave a very classical feel to the performance. The singing coupled with the live orchestra music gave the dance aspect of the performance more emotion and feel to it. It basically made it better than if there would have been no singing or live orchestra music. The dancing was graceful at times and slower at others but it always seemed pretty precise. The hand motions were very fluid along with the full body motions and each dancer’s form was very intricate. According to Holly Brubach in the article “ Moving Pictures,” “Not all ballet dancers look alike, ofcourse, but their bodies are shaped by the classical technique along similar lines, as if according to the blueprint for some superior race.” This seemed to apply to most of the ballet dancers, especially the females. Even though their bodies were different, they had the same intricate form and motion that they maintained throughout the performance. The costumes in the ballet also suited the dance but one costume really caught my attention, which was the unicorn head. I was impressed by that dancer’s ability to still be able to dance gracefully and with good form with the head on. Overall the performance was executed well but it wasn’t very exciting or entertaining to me. However, I was still impressed by the combination of opera, orchestra music, and ballet in one piece.

The next performance we watched was Kathakali. Never before had I seen such a dance with such strange costumes, makeup, expressions, and dancing. The title of the dance was “ Damayanthi and the Woodsman” and solely one dancer performed it. The dancer was a man wearing a massive dress and a headdress along with makeup all over his face. He even had a flower-like thing sticking forward from his nose. There were so many aspects to his appearance that I could not even begin to describe them. The dancer basically played the role of a woodsman who tries to rescue a “damsel in distress” when he hears a cry for help. There was a narrator who was explaining what was happening but this was nowhere near as beautiful as the opera singers singing the dialogue in the baroque dance.  Also, there was recorded music playing unlike in the Baroque where the orchestra was playing the music. Aside from that, the kathakali dancer did several things that were striking. First off, he would make a whooping sound every couple of seconds softly or loudly depending on the situation. Second, he would wiggle his eyebrows up and down in a sort of flirtatious manner indicating that he was with the woman he was trying to save. And third, he would rhythmically stomp his feet to the music in the background. The music was had a lot of passionate humming at times and loud clanging and chaotic sounds at others. What was similar to the Baroque dancers was the intricacy of the hand motions of the kathakali dancer. However, the hand motions of the kathakali dancer were meant to be signs for different words much like sign language whereas in the Baroque dance they weren’t meant to be actual signs for words. I found the dance to be very odd and exotic. Once again I did not really enjoy it but it definitely kept me on my feet with the sudden loud whooping sounds and rhythmic stomping. The part where the dancer enacted killing a snake by banging the stage with his wooden bow was hilarious in addition to the ending scene where he turns to ashes and starts screaming. Even though this type of dance was not really my thing, I still found it interesting and extremely striking.

The last performance we saw was Fall for Dance in which four short dances were performed. The first dance was called “[1875] Ravel and Bolero” and it was performed by many young dancers. It started with all the dancers standing with their backs turned to the audience and with a fan blowing behind them. It was really quiet for a while and then they finally turned around and that was when my confusion began. They all started screaming and falling down and when they fell down they started laughing. That went on for a couple of rounds and then they each took turns yelling at a single female dancer. Then they formed circles and danced together and incorporated some more falling down. I definitely found the dance to be funny, amusing, and entertaining but I did not understand many things. According to the brochure the dance is supposed to be about life coming into being and the memories of the moments in life. That seems to slightly make sense if you picture the laughing and falling as fun times in life and the yelling as the bad times. But then that still doesn’t explain the fan. Perhaps the fan just represents the passage of time. Edwin Denby refers to such ballet images in his article, “Against Meaning in Ballet,” as having “sensual mysteriousness [and being] abstract, unrationalized, and magical.” Basically this piece was indeed mysterious and abstract to me but in this case it was not a bad thing.

The second dance of that evening was called “ Diving into the Lilacs” which was danced by a man and a woman. This dance reminded me of the Baroque dance in that it was more classical in its ballet dancing as well as intricate, graceful, and fluid. However, I thought that the female dancer in this performance was exceptionally better than the dancers in the Baroque performance. What was so impressive about her dancing was that she would stand completely on her toes half the time when dancing which would have to mean that her calf muscles were very strong and that she must have had many years of training. She was also very flexible and fluid in her dance, which went well with the mood of the music. This dance was not even the main act of the night but it was done remarkably well.

The last dance of the night was the main act and it was titled “Company B.” It was choreographed by Paul Taylor and it was about the sentiments of Americans during World War II. Music from around the 1940s by the Andrews Sisters was used for each number, which was actually quite pleasant even though I normally would not listen to such music. I actually found the music to be quite enjoyable as well as the dancing. The numbers would alternate between a dance that would lighten the audience’s mood and one that would create a somber mood. The song “ Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!” was one of the more light hearted and comical numbers that I found to be pretty entertaining. The flirtatious expressions of all the woman towards the single man were quite funny as well as the dancing of the man. In the number with the song “ I Can Dream Can’t I” was one of the more somber numbers. One thing really notable to me was the part when the woman and her beloved were standing far apart from each other symbolizing that he will be away at war and far away from her. However, (I don’t know of this was on purpose or not), their shadows were touching each other symbolizing that even though they are separated by a long distance, they are still connected. Overall, I thought this dance was the best performance of the whole dance unit we did in this seminar.

In conclusion, I have learned and seen many different things after watching these performances. I have seen the fluid and precise motion of ballet, the rhythmic exotic dancing of Kathakali, and the expressiveness of modern ballet. Each dance had their similarities and differences and it is these comparisons and contrasts that allow me to see the different possibilities of dance in addition to art in general. Being a hip-hop and break dancer, I normally would not appreciate these types of dances but I actually really enjoyed the last dance and learned from all the other ones that there is no limit to where you can go with dance.

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