Feed of


Dance Response – Matthew

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.

Response Paper on Dance

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.

Dance Response- Nicole

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

Izaya’s Dance Response

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.

Laura: Dance Response

Before this class, I had never really been exposed to such distinct forms of dance. From Asian to European to Classic American, the wide variety and interpretations of dance that I have been able to see in less than two weeks have all brought me to a new level of awareness of the culture that resides within New York City. In his short essay “Why I Make Dances” Paul Taylor said, “I make dances because I believe in the power of contemporary dance, its immediacy, its potency, its universality.” I think that his answer can speak to styles of dance, which is essentially an expression, story, image presented through the body’s movement and capabilities. Different dances said different things to me, yet they all spoke.

The opera ballet presented by the New York Baroque Dance Company was nothing like what I expected it to be. I took a ballet class for teens a few years ago, but I only got as far as tendus before I gave up. When choreographer Catherine Turocy came to visit the class, I knew I was in for some major re-evaluation of what ballet, especially baroque style, was. In her demonstration of how a man and woman would interact with each other before a dance, the customs and fluidity of movement that these people were expected to have really came to light. At the show that night, I felt physically energized by the dancers and singers. Although most of the story was lost to me because of the language barrier, the power with which the opera singers belted out their lyrics and the synchronization and gracefulness of the neighbors gave me chills. It all seemed unreal and I felt all the more lively just sitting there and watching them all onstage.

The first routine of Fall for Dance, Shu-Yi & Company’s [1875] Ravel and Bolero, was bizarre from the beginning. Why was this cluster of people standing in front of a fan, with their clothes on backwards, screaming? It all seemed to have no cohesion and I thought the dancers were here only from Taiwan. And then the routine really began and I had to change my mind again. Even among the chaotic chorus of screaming and rising and falling of the dancers, they were all synchronized and ingeniously used the side-to-side motion of the fan to keep their motions together. As the movements progressed and started to build, I began to take notice of the dance within the dance; some of the girls utilized ballet twirls, others more modern sashaying. It was all so much yet it needed to be there. There didn’t seem to be a clear story in the routine, but there didn’t need to be; the movements themselves told a story. With all the dancing and repetition of movement, the audience had to take notice of how the elements of the stage (curtains, screen, lighting) were all being removed until the stage was bare, and the dancing had to speak for itself. Dance is all just movement, and it should be powerful enough to just stand on it’s own. I thought that was a pretty powerful statement.

And last, but certainly not least, Paul Taylor Dance Company’s Company B. This dance was my favorite of the five, and not because of flashy costumes of out of this world dance moves. As the Andrews Sisters began to be played from down in the orchestra pit, I was taken out of this decade and transported to the 1950s. Coupled with the dancers in all-out garb and make-up of the time, the entire performance was evocative of a whole other world. I also enjoyed the lineup of songs and dances; it was like a mini play with each dancer sharing in the spotlight. Without having to change around the set or costumes, and just utilizing their own bodies, the dancers were able to be funny, moving, upbeat, and sexy. The small details really made the greatest amount of difference – a smile, a wink, a little twist of the hips. The choice of music appealed to me personally as well. I have always been a fan of fifties music, and it felt oddly comforting to see “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Johnny, Johnny” being danced to onstage as if that were the only way it should be performed. After having seen his dances in action, I was able to understand Paul Taylor when I went back to his writings or writings about him. “The remarkable range of our human condition” was all over the stage as he had his dancers prancing, leaping, and crawling in a way most people cannot even fathom doing. The dancers looked like they were aware of every part of their body and utilized that control to it’s full potential.

Marcin: Dance

As incongruous as it may seem to anyone else, when comparing the many dance performances our class has seen in the past weeks, the ones I think are most similar are Ravel and Bolero from Fall for Dance, and the brief exhibition of Kathakali dance. My favorite performances also shared a common thread, though they too were from different periods and cultures. They were those put on by the Paul Taylor Dance Company and Turocy’s New York Baroque Dance Company. I’m not exactly sure that what ties them together is yet evident to my reader: the use of vocalizations in addition to any musical accompaniment. What makes a dance interesting for me is primarily the use of vocalizations, or singing. For the purposes of this class, however, I did my best to expand my understanding of expression in dance itself as well as the use of other elements such as light, color, and props to add to the aesthetic of the dance. My Favorite Things from Fall for Dance, for example, was an excellent study in the use of coordinating color, light and music—though I personally found the dance to be otherwise abysmally boring. Finding something boring or not to one’s taste is of course never a reason to dismiss it outright, a lesson I am quickly learning to appreciate in this class.

Dance, much like photography, is not one of my favorite art forms. Anecdotal evidence quickly springs to mind, though the story does not showcase one of my prouder moments—several years ago, I sat in the famed Bolshoi Theater of Moscow napping my way through what was undoubtedly an exquisite presentation of ballet, the name of which now escapes me. In my defense, it was far beyond any reasonable hour by Eastern Standard Time, and the theater was invitingly dark and comfortable. Alas, I since then have realized that my uncultured attitude towards dance (and since that incident, ballet in particular) is both indefensible and inexcusable. Regardless, I’ve made it a point to now only frequent more upbeat dances rather than those with a slow or quiet tempo to them. Taking that consideration, it should be no surprise that Company B was one of my favorites. As the description in the playbill helpfully comments, “the songs express typical sentiments of Americans during World War II” because though war is forever a dismal, tragic affair, the era just before that was fast paced and decidedly joyful. Through the war, and when recruiting for the effort, ads and songs were designed to keep spirits up and project a sense of the patriotic. That is a sentiment purposefully lacking in today’s social climate of constant criticism and polemic, and the retro sound is refreshing to hear for once. It works to evoke a sense of nostalgia, even for those far too young to have ever heard such things in their original setting. The pure beauty and buoyant happiness that the music and dance work together to project are what made me love the performance.

I can’t forget to mention the technical details that added to my enjoyment of it, of course. The costumes and colors for one, allow the spectator to place the era instantaneously. One thing I noted almost immediately on seeing the first part is something that impressed upon me the idea of a vastly separated time, one that I am still at a loss to decide the level of intention in: among all the dancers, there was one less man dancing than women, meaning one would be left without a partner. Seeing that, I simultaneously realized that among all the men and women dancing, there was one single black woman. For the majority of the first dance which incorporated all dancers, she danced without a partner. Even if such a thing was unintentional, it brought to my mind a time when racial segregation was a fact rather than a strange, offensive, and obsolete custom. Also, among other less controversial techniques to suggest meaning in the dances was a change of costume for the woman who performed in Rum and Coca-Cola—a red skirt layered underneath the sensible-looking brown one hinted at the racy undertones in the song.

During other performances that I had to truly force myself to concentrate on in order to enjoy, such as My Favorite Things, my salvation was in analyzing the work that must have gone into unifying all the elements bringing it to its final coherent form. Everything about it exuded the feeling of warmth. From the brassy instruments and sound to the dancer’s costume and the amber tinted lighting, all the elements were united in that one aspect. What absolutely bored me about it was the lack of meaning in it all. Granted, Denby’s Against Meaning in Ballet provides a wonderfully eloquent argument for the use of uselessness, pointing out in particular “…all that people need to do to enjoy art is to look and listen with ready attention and trust their own sensual impressions.” But while it is perfectly fine to enjoy something beautiful for the sake of its own inherent beauty, I am far too analytical to enjoy something so unstructured. The absence of words in particular is something that I find tiresome above all other things. My personal preference is to have a story to listen to, a guide, and be led to some sort of meaning that may be looked over and explored in depth. For that reason, Zephyre quickly earned a place as one of my favorites. Looking at the written French and hearing it spoken of stage combined with the physical interpretation implies a depth of meaning in my mind that cannot be surpassed by something so simple that it is empty, like My Favorite Things.

Though I have written at length already about the importance of the spoken word, I find that perhaps it isn’t so much about what is actually said as much as it is about how expressive a dancer or style is, and how much even an amateur audience member can glean from their performance. Kathakali is a perfect example when discussing all the different methods of expression that go into conveying meaning. Kathakali creates art out of trying to relate ancient stories. With only the most basic knowledge of the gestures and facial features so integral to the comprehension of the stories the performer is still able to get across the most important emotions and meanings in his work. Still, the selection of Kathakali dance that we’ve seen as well as the first selection in Fall for Dance, Ravel and Bolero, both made use of random vocalizations by the performers in a medium that usually does not demand such things from performers. That was definitely something that caught my interest in a form and style of dance that would have otherwise uninterested me because of how foreign it seemed in comparison to everything else I have ever seen.

Ultimately, when considering how my experience in watching these performances has changed my perspective on the art, I can say that while my preferences have not shifted much, I have learned how to appreciate them from an intellectual standpoint. Learning more about what goes into creating the final product and the amount of training and thought that goes into every piece of the whole making it seamless and polished definitely affects the way I view something whether it suits my tastes or not. Writing at length on these performances also changes the way I pay attention to them, and forces my appreciation in a way that I am grateful for, because it teaches me to see things that I might ordinarily dismiss.

Cindy Lozito: Dance Response

Through symbolism, traditional underpinnings, and various movements of the human body, dance speaks a language that can be translated universally and interpreted openly by people who allow themselves to be subjected to it. Baroque dance, Kathakali, and contemporary dance each lend aspects to the ways in which performance art can reach out to an audience. I enjoyed each performance in specific ways and individually interpreted their moral ideas, costume significance, and cultural revelations. Though each type of dance carried wildly different components, they shared common threads in efficient communication and educational enlightenment that I appreciated observing.

One of the first elements that captivated me while watching the Kathakali performance was the actor’s enthusiasm and method with each gesture he exhibited. He seemed very focused with the yelps he released and his facial expressions, especially pertaining to anger and shock over the princess. The way in which a dance drama portrays a story in Kathakali is completely different from how the Western world would approach it. American choreographed dance relies on body flexibility, large arm and leg motions, and occasionally dramatic singing to accompany a plotline. Kathakali, in contrast, is subtle in its approach to describe stories; rhythmic hand gestures and implied symbols are the prime narrators in a performance. One aspect of the dance that I found particularly interesting is the usage of mudras, which I imagine to be a communicatory device that unifies audience members in performances in Kerala. Several parts of the performance, like the initial blanket unveiling, puzzled me but enhanced my interest the Indian culture that I know so little about. I only wish that the performance took place in a different setting; I felt like a lot of obstacles like the location in which we saw it, technical difficulties, and the open atmosphere made it seem less personal and more difficult to involve myself in.

Dance Response-Kate

“We had to be aware of every part of our body and make it look alive” Merrill Ashley, Classes with Balanchine. This quote applies to every kind of dance. It describes a dancer’s duty to know every part of their bodies and how they look when performing on stage. In all of the dance styles we have seen, the dancers demonstrated exceptional ability to control their bodies. Baroque, the Fall for Dance Festival, and Kathakali were different styles of dance with different aspects, but they also shared many common factors.

The Baroque style of dance contained beautiful costumes, simple movements, and a lot of attention to detail. The first performance that we saw involved four women with hand fans. These women were wearing lavish dresses and at one point they put on masks. This style of dance was interesting because unlike modern ballet, which involves a lot of movement, the women focused on precise small movements. For example, the beauty of the dance focused on the ways the women moved their arms and struck different poses with the hand fans. Every detail of the movement was important, from the position of the arm to the small precise movements of the wrists.  Also, the women only made small, light steps with their feet. This made the dancing look simple. However, their precise movements and poses showed a lot of strength and grace. In addition, the main performance of Baroque Dance, Zephyre, was different from Kathakali and the Fall for Dance Festival, because it combined dance with live music and singing. The live music made the dancing more energetic and alive. For example, the fawns in Zephyre danced very lightly on their feet and had quick movements. The live music contributed to their energy. However, the singing, although beautiful, became a distraction. It was difficult to pay attention to the dancing while also trying to read along with the text of the singing. As a result, it became easy to get lost in what was happening in the plot. This took away from the ability to enjoy the play. However, even through the confusion, it was easy to see that the precision, gracefulness, and lightness of the dancing was the result of hard work and the dancer’s attention to their bodies and movements. These aspects made the Baroque dance style interesting to watch.

The Fall for Dance Festival involved four different performances by four different companies. The first performance had props, humor, and a style of dance that involved quick movements that covered big parts of the stage. In the beginning of this performance the dancers were standing in different areas and lightly swaying. There was a fan on stage blowing in their direction. Everything was quiet except for the fan. This resulted in a creepy atmosphere filled with anticipation because the dancers kept swaying for a long period of time, which left the audience wondering what was going on and what would happen next. This performance also involved screams that were unexpected and as a result humorous. The dancers in the performance were running on and off stage, falling down, and throwing up leaves that were spread out all over the floor. This type of dance was different from the Baroque dancing because it was not as graceful, but instead energetic and wild. It made me feel as if I was in the center of a busy city street on a windy fall day surrounded by hurrying people. The third performance featured a man dancing a solo. Throughout most of the dance the man focused on movements with his arms. Also, a few times he would get down on the floor and use only his hands to pull himself across the stage. There were some moments where the man would go up stage and pause  in a dark area of the stage. This dance got repetitive and boring. However, the man’s movements were precise and he demonstrated a lot of strength by pulling himself across the floor with only his hands. Even though he was only using hands to move, he did not forget the rest of his body and did not let his legs simply drag behind him. He had a lot of control over everything he did. This dance showed that even though in some instances when the body is supposed to look relaxed, dancers still maintain control.

The second and fourth performances in Fall for Dance were the most interesting and emotional. The second performance featured two ballet dancers, a man and a woman. The woman was tall and had long arms and legs. All of her movements were beautiful and flowed together. Her dancing was similar to the dancing style of Baroque because it was also graceful and small details were important in contributing to the grace. However, it was different because she performed larger movements with her legs and covered more areas of the stage. This dance was more emotional because of the interaction between the two dancers. All of their movements told a story. In Against Meaning in Ballet, Edwin Denby says “Art takes what in life is an accidental pleasure and tries to repeat and prolong it.” This describes the second performance perfectly. The interaction between the two dancers was something that you would see between two people in real life. For example, the woman would try to run away and the man would catch her. It was as if watching real life in slow motion. These movements were smooth and bewitching. It was hard to look away from the dancing and I’m sure it made many people in the audience wish that their real life looked as beautiful as what was happening on stage. These aspects of life made the performance easy to relate to and more emotional than the other types of dances. Also, this performance did not have any props or extravagant costumes as the ones involved in Kathakali and Baroque. Instead it was simpler and this simplicity focused everyone’s attention on the dancing. The Fourth performance was longer than the other three. This performance was fun to watch because it contained a lot of dance numbers, good music, a theme, and different dancers playing different characters. The last performance felt more like watching a Broadway musical. There were some fun upbeat songs, but also some slow emotional songs. The choreography conveyed the message of the songs through the dancers bodies. There were some dance numbers that involved all the dancers, and there were other dance numbers that only involved two dancers. This variety made the last performance the most exciting. There were moments that created an upbeat fun feeling. For example, at one point the dancers were all out on the stage swing dancing. This created a lot of happy energy because the stage was filled with dancers who looked like they were having fun. They were doing quick movements and traveling all over the stage. However, as soon as it felt like this performance was a little too happy, the atmosphere would change. The dancers would leave the stage and instead only a couple stayed behind. The interaction between those two dancers was more personal and emotional. This performance contained many different aspects and took the audience on a journey through many different emotions. It started and ended with the same song. This created the feeling that everything was complete. It made the audience feel like they finished the journey.

Kathakali dance places a lot of emphasis on costumes, make up, and facial expressions. This separates Kathakali from the styles of dancing seen in Fall for Dance. In Kathakali, the costumes are so large and heavy that they barely let the dancer move. Kathakali focuses a lot of attention on what the dancer does with his face. For example, we went over some of the basic facial expressions in class, such as moving the eyebrows up and down. Also, as we learned in class, dancers of Kathakali have certain hand movements that they have to memorize and they use these hand movements to tell a story. In order to become a performer in Kathakali, it obviously takes a lot of training. However, this is not the most effective style of dancing. In Kathakali it is hard to convey messages because there are so many distractions such as the bright make up, big costumes, facial expressions, and hand movements. The performers in Fall for Dance were able to convey messages simply through the positions of their bodies. However, since Kathakali is a type of dance drama the costumes and make up do form a dramatic atmosphere. However, it is hard to enjoy Kathakali because it is difficult to understand what is happening in the story.

The Fall for Dance Festival, Kathakali, and Baroque dance, all demonstrated different styled of dance. However, no matter how different, all the dances shared some things in common. All of these dances were art forms that took their inspiration from life and the abilities of the human body. All of the dancers were trained and had incredible control and awareness of their bodies. Even though some of the dances such as Kathakali and Baroque were hard to understand, it was still easy to see these common aspects. All of the dance styles made me realize that words may not be the most effective method of communication.  The movements of the human body can be used to express emotions that could never be expressed in words.

Dance Performances response-Lidiya

Over the span of the last two weeks, I have been exposed to more dances than I have ever been before. Sure I have watched dance, but to get down to the source and meet the choreographer…never. I enjoyed most of the performances we were lucky enough to watch and the people we were able to meet. I particularly liked that we were exposed to many different styles of dance that not only differ from each other, but also differ from the most commonly known dance styles.

The first stop in our dancing shoes was Baroque dance. The first person we got to meet was Catherine, the choreographer, and a promoter of the 14th century dance style. It was evident that she is passionate about the subject. Her passion shines through not only because of the time and effort she has devoted to Baroque dance, but also because of the elegance with which she carries herself. It was a wonderful precursor to watch her demonstrate some common movements and gestures of Baroque dance. I am certain it would be very satisfying to watch her perform a number. It also helped that we got to meet Catherine and familiarize ourselves with Baroque dance the night of the performance.

That night I remember having to study for a particular subject or being stressed about a homework assignment. I decided the best thing for me to do was to forget all the upcoming due dates, remove myself from reality and fully focus on the performance. I was able to successfully suspend myself in the dance. I let the music fill my thoughts and paid attention to the hand and finger movements and the foot landings of the dancers. I found myself paying close attention to the music. It felt most soothing. The music fit well with the dance steps…well the steps were probably made to fit the music.

The next performance we saw was the Kathikali. I thought Baroque dance was unique, but Kathikali just surpassed all expectations. In some ways this was good, but in other ways not so much. The presentation by Professor Ornstein was very helpful in preparing us for the viewing of Kathikali. Before we even set foot into the auditorium I knew we were going to see something out of the ordinary – for our culture anyways. I found that Kathikali, more than any other performance we watched, required us to step outside of our comfort zone and the accepted norms we have about dance. The traditions of the Hindu and the Mahabharata were  already a relatively new concept, so seeing them interpreted through dance was even more distinctive.

I still could not fully connect with this art form, but again there were aspects that I will always respect. Watching Professor Ornstein’s PowerPoint presentation made me appreciative of the time, effort, and precision involved in learning the dances and in each performance. Kathikali is actually somewhat similar to Baroque in that these are traditions that come from cultures of the past and are sometimes struggling to stay alive in the modern day. In person, the painted face of the dancer shocked me at first, but enticed me at the same time. I wish that I sat closer and could better decipher the facial expressions of the dancer. Also, the fact that he came directly from India and we were his select audience added to the importance of the performance.

The final set of performances was my favorite. The first dance was a tactful way to start the night. It began with screams that progressed into laughter. The dancers seemed to be following each other, developing a new leader as they went along. The emotions portrayed included happiness, excitement, anger, and madness. It seemed to hit various stages of life. I enjoyed this performance because it was relatable; something I could connect with.  At times the dancers moved as if there was an invisible force pulling them somewhere. The movements varied from gentle to passionate and the music fit the scene.

Each successive dance stood out. The dance that followed was a ballet. The dancer, Yuan Yuan Tan, moved with such grace and flexibility that I had never witnessed before. Her movements were reminiscent of Baroque dance due to the importance of elegance in each gesture of the hand. The music that accompanied the dance was gloomy but it evoked emotion, not just from me, but also from the entire class. Nicole even admitted that she shed a tear. The message delivered by the dance moves was also interesting. The woman is constantly trying to break free. The man catches her. Their bodies fuse. The costume choices also caught my eye. The woman is in white, while the male is in gray. He almost blends in with the stage but she stands out. They are opposites but learn to move as one. Each landing was delivered with grace and near silence. It was the most touching performance of the night.

The infamous Paul Taylor Dance Company performed the last performance. This set of dances brought me back to elementary school where we were taught a set of swing dances to perform in front of our parents. My mom mocks me to this day. The music used was different from the other numbers we watched because it contained words. The singer would often tell a tale of a man she adores or, if it is a man, of a woman he can’t resist. The dancers would act out a story line to go along with the music. The dance began with the same song that it ended with, wrapping everything together. The motif of many of the songs was war, making a clear statement in regard to the time period this music is from. The dance numbers were upbeat and often light hearted, even though the subject may have been a soldier going off to war. The dancers were all moving together, often forming interesting patterns on stage, arranging themselves in circles and other formations. It was a great way to end the night and to end our dancing experience!

The Inner Workings of Dance

“The first taste of art is spontaneously sensual, it is the discovery of an absorbing entertainment, an absorbing pleasure,” muses Edwin Denby, and it is no different with dance. But what is dance? Clement Crisp helps answer this by weighing in on Paul Taylor’s style, elucidating that his dances are “about what the human frame can do when inspired by music, when liberated by technical prowess, and then shaped in action by a master.” With this description in mind, dance can be defined as an unrestricted, boundless way by which we can use the body to infinitely express ourselves and expand our perception of the beauty that it is to live and to experience. It makes us feel something inside as spectators of an amazing performance, bedazzled by the radiance of graceful footwork and shocked by the whimsicality of zany antics as we become overwhelmed with gushing emotions of delight, grief, and everything in between. It takes us out of our context in life and places us in another one, a context full of movement, vivacity, and euphoria. Energy radiates from the stage as we look on, and the energy pours into us like ambrosia surging into the empty chalices of the gods. Crisp describes it as “food for the eyes,” and in that sense, it satisfies a craving we have in our souls for something more, something that breaches the mundane feel of the daily grind and sends our hearts and minds into eternity. Enthusiasm, epiphany, excitement – these words do not do justice in describing how we feel in that moment, as our eyes engulf a visual embodiment of sheer wonder. Still, Denby tried to drape the feeling in words by illustrating that dance can have “sensual mysteriousness, ‘abstract,’ unrationalized, and magical.” And so it rings true. But what really goes into creating the scintillatingly complex experience that we are so quick to simply call “dance”?

“If you ask anyone who enjoys ballet or any other art how he started, he will tell you that he enjoyed it long before he knew what it meant or how it worked,” claims Denby assertively. Most if not all people will testify to this, especially those who have never been behind the scenes. But dances cannot just spontaneously emerge from the depths of the stage; great effort and exorbitant creativity are dancing necessities. Crisp elaborates that “he [Taylor] makes jokes, he mocks, he despairs, he is compassionate, he produces throwaway lines and makes indictments.” Not a single word is spoken, yet all these messages are conveyed. Taylor incorporates all of these by making the motions of the dancers speak in the universal language, in the ubiquitous tongue we can all speak but never vocalize. Each movement carries with it some emotion or feeling, and while it may be up to interpretation, something can be interpreted – something can be felt inside. That is the goal, and it is not always so easy to achieve, but Taylor proudly attests, “Working on dances has become a way of life, an addiction that at times resembles a fatal disease. Even so, I have no intention of kicking the habit,” and further illuminates the process of making dances, relating, “Although there are only two or three dances in me […] I’ve gone to great lengths to have each repeat of them seem different.” And so he has shed light on the challenge all choreographers face: The human body can only move – only contort, only jump, only swing – in so many ways. A choreographer must master how to shape the bodies of his dancers in new and different ways, in effect clothing the dance in different garb even though the dance, naked underneath, is still the same dance. It is in this way that we see variety and zeal manifest itself among different dances, despite how they all have a tremendous link in the anatomy of the dancers. This also gives rise to the cultural melting pot of dance with the use of stories and traditions to give the body different forms while it remains the same under the guise of the dance. And what about the dancers, who must give the dance the life anticipated – what is expected of them?

“The vigilance towards style and atmosphere is fundamentally a matter of craftsmanship” reports Clive Barnes on the work of Frederick Ashton. This depicts how dance is not simply an art, but also a craft or a trade, and in order to put on a stunning performance, the dancers must master their trade just like hands-on workers must master their trades. The process is rigorous, as one might expect, and Merrill Ashley under Balanchine’s wing recalls, “We had to be aware of every part of our body and make it look alive,” along with adverse conditions of “tiles missing from the ceiling, and during rainstorms we would dance around the large plastic garbage cans we had placed […] to catch the dripping rain.” Already it is clear that to dance is to do more than move one’s body; it also involves breathing life into actions. To become skilled enough to do that is a demanding struggle. In reference to the “tendu” position, Ashley laments how “each time we moved our foot to the front, he wanted it to go to exactly the same spot on the floor, in line with the center of our bodies,” and, at times, “our muscles were burning and dancers were groaning and sometimes giving up altogether.” Apparently, to dance is to endure a grueling challenge, one presented to both mind and body that takes a heavy toll and must be overcome with patience and ardor, and at every dance we attend, the dancers have all risen to the occasion and fought the good choreographic fight. Now, let us look at some of the fruits of their labor!

Performance by Performance, Experience by Experience

The New York Baroque Dance Company claims Baroque dance boasts “a relaxed foot, 90-degree turnout of the legs, ornamental hand gestures, vertical carriage of the body, close interplay between music and movement, and […] symmetrical, complex floor patterns.” In Zephyre, we saw these elements: There was a driving complexity to the movements, which were beautiful but seemed difficult to execute because there existed many nuances of body form. The culmination of these movements was the effect of a strictly guided yet flowing river, as everything came together fluidly but everything also had a place and structure. Despite how things may have been difficult to discern at times because of the language barrier, one felt a sense of awe at the control of motion. The emotion and technique were well articulated, and the elegance of the dance and its tale was felt to the core.

Exotic and flamboyant would well describe the Kathakali woodsman in Damayanthi and the Woodsman. His red make-up and “curtain-look” introduction translated symbolically into his diabolical villainy, and we could see at once that he was up to no good. His grunts, gestures, and eccentric stage movements told the story of princess Damayanthi extravagantly, and with each one, we either cringed or laughed, and it was just so easy to relate. Through his mind-penetrating actions, we could sympathize with the princess’s plight and her eventual triumph by the conclusion of the performance. The dance was lavish, odd, and intense, and innate sentiments could be felt without full comprehension, just by watching the woodsman’s curious deeds. It was truly a mysterious experience that could easily revolutionize our perception of dance, which usually exists in a more conservative, traditional sense.

Striking and stunning are befitting to portray the four performances of Fall for Dance. [1875] Ravel and Bolero displayed a whimsical burst of fanciful, capricious movements and feelings, with an exuberance that permeated the fickle shouts and jerks of the performers. It was comedic, yet we felt a sense of frustration or loss at times because they would fall often and erratically. The dancers in Diving into the Lilacs were so perfect in form: The female looked exactly as graceful as a swan, and the male provided a pleasant and romantic contrast of his strong appearance to her more fragile semblance. It was intricate, warm, and beautiful, and it charismatically portrayed a delicate balance of interdependent beings in love. My Favorite Things featured a vibrant solo dancer, whose random yet highly controlled fluid movements exuded an unstructured, spur-of-the-moment feel. At times he moved like a caterpillar; at other times he moved like things we do not have names for. It felt sensual, limber, rebellious, free, riveting, and unpredictable. Company B highlighted the early- to mid-20th century era, but it had contemporary influences intermingled in the mix, producing a “good, clean fun” image characteristic of the era that was not boring but was rather enjoyable because it went outside the box. It pleasantly went into notions of togetherness, aloneness, love, pomp, and sorrow in disparate sections of the dance, and it was a breath of fresh air in its innovative design.

Many similarities and differences existed among the dances: Some were traditional, as with Zephyre, and some were exotic and strange, as with the Kathakali dance. Some were based in some type of lore, especially the more cultural dances, and some were to be interpreted as a product of the motion itself, without a background context, as with the more contemporary dances. Most did or could involve both sexes, but Kathakali is limited to men. Most were quite structured, but some, especially My Favorite Things, appeared spontaneous. Almost all of them shared a belief in the value of societal roles, and all of them represented the importance of dance to culture, to lifestyles, and even to just getting by in a harsh world and trying to enjoy the ride. Ultimately, in understanding the meaning of dance, the creativity and effort that goes into dance, and the experience of viewing dance, we broaden the scope of our appreciation of this world and this life, and we find inspiring, expressive significance where once nothing was to be found.

Older Posts »