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Kevin Wang

Response Paper on Dance

Total darkness filled with anticipation and uncertainty. Then, suddenly, light. The stage curtains open and I am hit with a variety of colorful and vivaciously dressed men and women standing next to a fan. Suddenly they are screaming, and then they are rolling on the floor, laughing. From the very beginning, the performance seemed hilarious and unexpected. And as the dance progressed, their fluid and smooth movements mesmerized me. As I watched, I was astounded. While these movements seemed random and incoherent, it all somehow matched with the music that was playing in the background. I felt throughout the performance that the dance was conveying to me a message. When the dance finished, I just had to know what the performance was all about. I read from the brochure and learned that it is called 1875 Ravel and Bolero and it represents the moment each life came into being and the memory of those moments. In that context, all of their movements began to make sense. I realized that life coming into being doesn’t exactly have to be physical. Life can be imbued in the form of an artwork, a piece of music, or even a piece of writing. I know that whenever I finish playing a piano piece, master it in my own way, and “breathe” life into it, I am filled with a feeling of joy and satisfaction. I feel that the 1875 Ravel and Bolero performance accurately expressed the joyful memory of the creation of a new life, or in my case, the mastering of a piece of music.

I’ve always enjoyed watching people dance.  I’ve admired the graceful movements of dance. I appreciate the countless years and years that dancers have to practice and, as Merrill Ashley comments in “Class with Balanchine”, how they have to be “aware of every part of their body” and to try to make each part “look alive”. As a musician myself, I can relate with dancers in their need to express themselves. However, out of the three dances that we’ve seen so far, the only one that I really admired was the Fall for Dance performances. This was because of the many elements of the dance that I found appealing. Each element was essential to the enjoyment of the dance. These include the dancers’ grace, which was well portrayed in the Fall for Dance performances and in the Baroque Dance Performance, but not so well in the Kathakali performance. The appropriate background music was also a major successful factor of the Fall for Dance performance. For the Baroque Dance, the background music was a little too dominant, and for the Kathakali, the music had technical difficulties. The costumes of the Fall for Dance performance were great and so were the costumes for the New York Baroque Dance Company performance and the Kathakali performer. Also, the stage for the Fall for Dance was just right, but the stage for the Baroque Dance company was overdone, and the stage for the Kathakali was underdeveloped.

Grace is a really important component of dance. For me, grace is defined by how well the dancers move to the music, and how fluid, elegant, and aesthetically pleasing the movements are. The Fall for Dance performances exhibited this trait with perfection. I could really feel the grace of the two dancers in Diving into the Lilacs. I marveled at how the female dancer Yuan Yuan Tan walked on the tips of her feet throughout most of the performance as if it was normal. I also really enjoyed how the male dancer Damian Smith managed to effortlessly lift Yuan Tan. Their interactions were indescribably smooth and conveyed to me the sense of youth, a time where anything is possible and life is just boundlessly infinite in front of you. In the Baroque Dance performance, I also felt the grace of the dancers. The dancers portrayed this classical grace with light-footed steps, and the delicate mannerisms characteristic of that time period. The Kathakali performance was the least graceful for me because of the numerous stomps of the performer.  They seemed out of place. Also, the gestures that the performer made were impossible for me to understand, probably because I am not well versed in their culture.

Background music is really important to set the tone for the dance piece. In Fall for Dance, the performers used the music to their advantage by incorporating the music into their gestures and choreography. A great example of this incorporation was with the Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh! performance by the Paul Taylor Dance Company. In this performance, the dancers portrayed the upbeat and joyful tone of the piece in their flamboyant costumes and movements. In fact, the dancers represented the very characters of the song, such as the showy Johnny, and the group of women that admired and chased him. For the Baroque Dance Company however, the music was somewhat overdone. Not only was there a whole orchestra playing music in the background, but there was also a lot of opera singing, which really distracted me from the dancing. As Frederick Ashton puts it in the Notes on Choreography, “in a ballet it is the dance that must be paramount,” but due to the excessive use of music, I felt that the dancing was covered up instead of being given its rightful importance. In the Kathakali performance, the music matched the dancing overall and did not overshadow the dancing, but there were also times when the recording for the music wasn’t working properly and had to be fixed. This really distracted me from the enjoyment of the performance.

One of the first things that I noticed before the dancers even danced and what I continued to notice throughout the performance were the costumes and clothes that the performers were wearing. In the Fall for Dance performances, especially the Paul Taylor performances, the costumes that were worn really reflected not only the style of music that was being played, but also mimicked the actual clothing worn by people during the time period around WWII. This made the performance seem more authentic and in line with the time period that the dance is trying to portray. It also helped illuminate the altitude and styles of the people living during that time. The Baroque Dance company performers also had very suitable costumes in the form of traditional outfits like dresses. This also reflected the time period in which classical dance took place, and helped me visualize how the dance would actually look like in the past. I was also very impressed by the outfit of the Kathakali dancer. The outfit was extremely distinct and eye-catching with a wide variety of colors. While the costume looked too cumbersome to be able to dance in, the performer managed to pull it off effortlessly.

The stage and stage lights for the Fall for Dance was one of the highlights of the performance. The stage provided just the right lighting by emphasizing the dancers that we’re suppose to focus on. The stage was also used to create seemingly shadows out of the dancers that walked in the background, which was also a fascinating sight. The stage for the Baroque Dance performance was overdone because of the large orchestra behind the dancers took up a lot of unnecessary room. The large orchestra also drew a lot of my attention while I should have been focusing on the dancers on the stage. The stage of the Kathakali performance, on the other hand, was very underused; there was no background or image on the stage at all to give the setting. Because of the emptiness of the stage, I felt that the Kathakali performance did not seem realistic.

Many people have a need to believe in something greater than themselves, something that cannot be explained in words, yet will take them away from the rigors of everyday life. As Paul Taylor describes it, “I make dances because it briefly frees me from coping with the real world, because it’s possible to build a whole new universe with steps.” Dancing is an art form that is created based on many different elements, such as grace, music, and costuming. The Fall for Dance performance, Baroque Dance Company performance, and Kathakali performance were all unique dances that had their strengths and weaknesses based on these elements.

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