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Dance Response

Although I never appreciated most forms of art, I always loved to watch dance.  Dance is dynamic, it requires both skill and talent, and it’s a perfect combination between art and athleticism.  I find it easier to appreciate something physically and artistically demanding, rather than something only artistically challenging.  I prefer moving forms of art like dance, theater, and film to static forms like photography and painting. However, some of the dances I’ve seen in the past few weeks still failed to capture my attention.  In several different aspects, the dance performance that I enjoyed the most was Fall for Dance.

Several different elements make a dance enjoyable.  The athleticism, the gracefulness, the outfits, and the choreography all come together to make a performance worth watching.  However, a very important feature of dance is the set.  Even a masterpiece routine with the greatest dancer in the world can be ruined by an inadequate stage to perform on. In “Moving Pictures” Holly Brubach says “The dancing…takes on a magical, ritualistic quality: this is the sequence of events defined by this space” (1209). She is saying, based on Paul Taylor’s Polaris, that regardless of choreography and costumes, a dance can become magical when done on the right set.  Both the Baroque and the Kathakali had flaws in the set that turned me off of the performance.  First of all, the Baroque dance was performed with an orchestra and opera singer in the background.  I found myself missing large portions of the performance because I was focusing too much on the music and the band playing in the background.  The orchestra also gave the dancers less room on the stage, which minimized the performance.  Routines are more prominent when they are performed on a bigger scale, so they are less prominent on a smaller stage.   The Kathakali was also done not only on a smaller stage, but also on an empty stage, which causes the audience to lose interest.  The plain wooden floors and undecorated backgrounds made it difficult to take the dance seriously. But the real tragedy in that performance was the dysfunctional music.  The small stage combined with the technical difficulty didn’t do the dance justice, and embarrassed everyone involved.  Falls for Dance, however, was performed on a large stage, and the use of props made the dances more enjoyable.  For example, Ravel and Bolero incorporated a fan, which added humor and dimension to the routine. The Paul Taylor Dance Company used shadows to add depth to the stage and provide an animated background, which also made the performance more enjoyable. The fan has a similar effect on Ravel and Bolero as the cube has in Polaris.  It adds “a magical quality” to the dance.

Another important quality to a good dance routine is grace.  The Baroque and Fall for Dance performances were very graceful, but the Kathakali was not so elegant.  Both the male and female Baroque dancers were very light on their feet and made very smooth movements.  Their steps were very refined and the shapes of their feet while they danced reminded me of ballet. This stylized grace is also present in Diving into the Lilacs by the San Francisco Ballet.  Yuan Yuan Tan glided across the stage, she defied gravity with how smooth and flawless her steps were.  Even the impressive lifts were graceful, as though Tan was soaring through the air on her own like a swan.  The elegance was so pristine, and the strength, balance, and flexibility exhibited by both dancers left me in awe.  I have seen ballet before on television, but this was my first time seeing it live.  Even without my glasses, I could see the perfect effortlessness with which the dancers slid as though they were on ice.  It was something amazing.  On the other hand, the Kathakali was very ungainly.  Instead of floating across the stage or tiptoeing as if stepping on hot coals, the dancer portraying the woodsman stomped around against the rhythm of the music.  While, admittedly, some of his hand movements were cute, his overall performance was not pretty to watch.  His steps were repetitive, as were his hand positions.  His constant stomping turned the sounds of his bangles into an annoyance.  Overall, I don’t like the Kathakali dance style.

Choreography is arguably the most important aspect of any dance.  The moves that the dancers perform are what people come to watch.  Anyone can dress in a dazzling outfit and dance on a huge stage, but unless the choreography is equally huge and dazzling, the performance will fall flat.  Some of the dances seen over the past few weeks had amazing choreography, which kept me fascinated and, in some cases, touched me emotionally.  For example, Diving into the Lilacs almost had me in tears with the amazing lifts, steps, and spins.  The Paul Taylor performance had me laughing at the Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh! Dance, in which all of the girl dancers chased after the flamboyant male lead.  The Shu-Yi & (Dancers) Company’s performance also had me laughing at the dancer’s reactions to the fan blowing on them.  I also enjoyed the reminiscence of childhood in their dance as they all yelled at one girl and yelled into the fan. I think they danced remarkably well in between these segments of humor.  However, some of the dances had underwhelming choreography.  For instance, the My Favorite Things solo by Roy Assaf seemed less of a choreographic showcase and more of a struggled freestyle.  At one point Assaf crawled around the floor like a worm; at another point he stood in the shadows for 45 seconds.  Whenever he started dancing on the floor his choreography seemed improvised and dragged out, as if he was trying to think of the next move while making us watch him haul himself all over the floor.  While watching the Baroque, there was some choreography that I liked and some that I didn’t.  I liked how some of the dancers moved in a way that personified their own characters.  The trees moved their arms like branches and the dwarf squatted for almost twenty minutes to simulate shortness.  However, once the unicorn head came into the dance, the entire routine began to look ridiculous.  So I liked some of the dance choreography, but other dances left me wanting more.

Although choreography is vital to any dance, I think the most important aspect of dance is its meaning and purpose.  Frederick Ashton believes, “just as the greatest music has no program, so I really believe the greatest ballets are the same, or at any rate have the merest thread of an idea which can be ignored…” (1223).  Ashton prefers to dance for the purity of dancing, without an underlining storyline or message.  He thinks that if dance continues to base itself off of a theme or motive, it will lose the freedom that makes it so great.  I disagree with Ashton.  I think there are many good dances based off an idea and many good dances based on just dancing. However, there are also many bad dances based on each style of thought.  For instance, I enjoyed the stories that Paul Taylor’s Company B told through their dancing, but I felt that the stories of the Kathakali and Baroque held the performances down.  I think a language barrier may be the primary reason for my discontent.  The Kathakali and Baroque were both narrated in different languages that I did not understand.  Whenever I tried to read the provided transcript and keep up, I missed parts of the dance.  Those two dances are examples of when the story attached gets in the way of the actual dancing.  This is why Ashton writes “In a ballet it is the dance that must be paramount” (1223).  But the converse is also true: I did not enjoy My Favorite Things because there was no central idea, no goal or reason for Assaf to be dancing.  Therefore, the dance seemed uninspired.  However, I enjoyed the Shu-Yi dance even though I have no idea what it was about.  The randomness of the movements seemed to come together perfectly, for no reason at all.  Therefore, the presence of a central idea or meaning of the dance plays a big role in the development of my opinion.

I have mixed feelings towards the dance performances seen over the past three weeks.  By evaluating the dances in terms of the set, choreography, grace, and meaning, I was able to see that each of the performances outshone each other in different ways.  After writing everything down, I evaluated the strong and weak points of each dance in my eyes.  Overall, I was underwhelmed by the Kathakali and Baroque performances, while most of Fall for Dance blew my mind.  This portion of the seminar has caused me to fall for dance, and made me more accepting of the different styles.  I intend on further broadening my horizon in the future.

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