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The Art of Dance

Dance is a form of artwork that has a variety of different styles and techniques. The genres of dance that are studied are endless, and truthfully, any movement of the human body can be considered dance as well. Some dances are native to a motherland and have been practiced for hundreds of years. Others are social acts used as ways to mingle with others and display economic status. Drama can be incorporated into dance as performers speak or sing lines to tell a story while they move around the stage. Baroque dancing, Kathakali, and the dances performed at Fall for Dance all exemplified how dance is a complex type of art.

The baroque style dance from the 17th and 18th century was characterized with a dramatic, symmetrical, elegant style. The upper class usually performed it at social events hosted by royalty. Many times only one couple was in the center of the room performing at a time.  Important parts of baroque dancing include mastering posture as wells as little movements. The chest should always be out and the body should be open in a welcoming position. It was interesting how when Catherine described how baroque dancers would ask someone to dance, the bow and eye connection was vital. If it was done too fast or with a closed feeling, the invitation could be mistaken for overbearing instead. The fact that so much could be exchanged between two people without any words was interesting. At the performance of baroque dancing at Symphony Space, the baroque dance was also collaborated with French opera singing. The baroque dance itself focused on symmetry of the stage and a lot of swift, wispy motions were done. Personally, I felt like the performance did not have enough dancing and focused a lot on the singing which was redundant a lot of times as they repeated the same lines over for emphasis. Although at the parts where they did dance, I enjoyed seeing the intricacy of the hand movements and how graceful a body can look when it masters the posture of baroque dancing.

Kathakali is a dance drama native to Kerala, India. The warrior class performed it in the 17th century. Only men performed and it consisted of rigorous physical training, learning facial expressions, and the specific sign language that was used. Kathakali stems from the usage of hands to express a thought or emotion. There is a sign-language system used in the performances by the dancer and they also include facial expressions as well. The facial expressions involve over-exaggerated traits and a lot of eyebrow movement. The makeup enhances the expressions in the faces of the dancers. The performances used to be long and last hours through the night. However, Kathakali followers are beginning to see that the native traditions are beginning to fade in the modern day world and performances usually last two or three hours instead. I found it interesting that they learn all the dances ahead of time and do not usually rehearse before a show, but ask the audience what they want to be performed. In this sense, this dance is very entertainment-based, whereas other dances are sometimes to attract a mate or display talent. When I watched the performance of Kathakali, I noticed there was a lot of stomping and footwork as well as tribal grunts. If the story wasn’t being narrated along with the dancing, the audience probably would not have understood what was going on due to the fact that there was only one person performing and there wasn’t a set to support the plot. I was able to tell what emotions he was having through the facial expression he was making and the body language he presented. A lot of times it felt slow and the movements were not very vivid since it was a regular conversation. The times I enjoyed most were when he was upset or happy and the music heightened and the steps became more frequent and jumpy.

The first dance from Fall for Dance was performed by Taiwanese dancers. This dance had a lot more acting in it than dancing. The group worked as an ensemble and told a story. There would be times when the group would work all together or break up into pairs or smaller groups. They screamed and laughed together and probably needed ensemble training in order to learn how to do that on cue as well as make convincing facial expressions like they did in the performance. This performance was humorous since they were screaming, falling and laughing in it. The dancers moved around the stage and used the entire space. On the other hand, there were many moments in the performance where the group would pause for a while so the audience could take in the moment. The running and yelling gave the performance a sense of urgency, the pausing a sense of mystery, and the laughing and smiling a joyous feeling.

The second performance from Fall for Dance was a ballet duet called, “Diving into the Lilacs,” with music composed by Tchaikovsky. Personally, this was the performance that had the biggest emotional effect on me. There were no words in the music or said by the dancers but the classical musical itself said a lot. It started off at a certain tempo and built up and then slowed down progressively until the end. The effect this had on the dance is it made it more powerful and moving. It captured the audience’s attention and dragged them into the emotional story they were telling. I enjoyed the lifts that were seen and how in sync they were with each other. The dance was a partnership and at every moment you could tell that they needed each other to make the dance. She would dive into his arms as if they were a body of water and he would catch her. It never looked sloppy or painful- as if they mastered the technique of momentum. The girl’s legs were always straight and toes pointed, and her arms and neck always moved to work with the spin or move she was doing. The dance told a story in that it had a beginning, middle, and end, in how the dancers relationship changed. There were times when they would shy away from each other and dance alone, and times when it was very passionate and they depended on each other. “The governing principle in classical ballet is, traditionally, beauty. Every individual dancer aspires to certain standard positions. Turnout, in addition to facilitating a greater range of motion, shows us the most interesting lines of the legs” (History of Baroque Dancing). This statement was evident in the performance because every position the female went into was beautiful; Her turns and posture was so pristine that everything about her body looked pure and perfect.

The third dance performed was choreographed to the song “My Favorite Things”. This dance was more modern in the dancer’s movements and the music was very percussion-based. It seemed that the dancer was interpreting the music through dance. For example, when a certain beat would be made he would pop on the floor at the same time. It felt as if he was the instrument for this performance and that he was letting the music take him over. It was a different dance and slow at times but still interesting to watch. The dancer relied on arm movements the most and would swing his arms often. His clothes matched the lighting of the stage that was set in brown, neutral tones. The effect this could have had on the performance to further support the idea that he and the music are one entity.

Paul Taylor is a choreographer who is renowned in the business for rising above and beyond in his work. His choreography is said to speak about how we are as people, and his sense of Americanism is vivacious. The war-time dance montage, Company B, was highly entertaining. The music was upbeat and the voice singing was pleasant to the ear. The lyrics of the music were witty as well. What stood out the most in the set of dances is how the group used the stage. The stage was large and the dancers would change how they were set up on stage in such complicated ways. They would weave in and out of each other with incredible ease. It was very noticeable from where I was sitting since I was high up and could see above the dancers. The dancing itself consisted of a lot of jumping, gliding, and partner work. From watching this, I saw how cleverly they would set up for the next performance, by ending in a way that the next performance could happen successfully. This set of performances reminded me a lot of painting and photography. In portraits one can usually see stuff going on in the background while the main focal point is present. Here, there were times when the dancers would use the lighting in the back to create shadows while the main performers danced up front. The resultant dance works become pictures of American life or perspectives on society, grave or happy, and sometimes both at the same time. (Paul Taylor). Their dancing brought the audience back to the time period they were representing, making for an interactive, entertaining experience.

Choreography is emotional expressiveness (Paul Taylor). As seen in all the performances, each type of dance portrayed this idea. Each dance used the body to express the feelings of the song or idea being presented. The techniques that dancers utilize speak more eloquently than words do in the sense that all these dances captivated the audience and brought them into each specific story. These performances enlightened me to the world of dance, and because of them I now appreciate the art of dance much more.

Nicole Lennon

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