I hardly have time to write, nowadays, but what will become of Dance, and more specifically about Ballet, is always in mind. I worry, as you know, about their vitality and future.
I was reading this blog of Greg Sandow on the future of classical music (a passion, but I do not follow and study like Dance), and came upon this, that… could have been written for Dance, just by replacing the word music!
Since the link doesn’t embed in the text, I quote:
“We’re in a new era. To adapt to it, and build a new audience, here are four things you should do:
Understand and respect the culture outside classical music.
Your new audience will come from the world outside classical music. Where else could it come from? And to reach these new people, you of course have to know them. Who are they? What kind of culture do they already have? You have to respect them, because if you don’t, they won’t respect you.
Work actively to find your audience.
The people you want to reach may not yet care about classical music. So they won’t respond to conventional PR and marketing. They won’t come to you on their own. And so you have to actively go out and find them. You have to talk to them where they live, where they work, and where they go for entertainment and for inspiration. You have to inhabit their world.
Your urgency, your joy, and your passion will draw people to you. But you can’t be joyful if you don’t love the music that you perform. So never pander. Never struggle to be relevant. Perform music that makes your heart sing. Trust your new audience. Trust it to be smart, to be curious, and to respond with joy when it sees how joyful you are.
Make music vividly.
The people you reach will want to love the music you bring them. But can you meet them halfway? Are you bringing them something they really can love? Your performances should be entirely yours, performances nobody else could give. Your music should breathe. Contrasts should feel like they’re contrasts. Climaxes should feel like climaxes. Are you doing everything you can to bring your music alive?”
I’m grateful for Greg Sandow, prolixe me would never be able to write such a splendid resume!
Dance was the first great passion in my life, but even when I was part of our Dance community, little information about what was going on “there, where it matters” reached us – if at all, with great delay. We were just too far away, and Communication Age had not yet begun. I was lucky, I had teachers that were ex-dancers that had gone abroad and eventually came back with solid knowledge and great technical skill, but this happened so seldom, less than once in a decade! All I knew by then was pure classical (the most contained, severe English style!) and Martha Graham. When I gave up dancing, I kept the greatest possible distance between me and all that concerned Ballet, by my own choice – a kind of Dance “coma”…
I awakened to a “new” world, a world I had not been aware existed.
I was searching YouTube for classical Music works that had never graced the shelves of my city’s stores, when I linked to a piece that was just score to a ballet. BALLET! I realized, for the first time, that I could now see ballets, performances, dancers I had only heard about before – and was suddenly overcome by an urgent longing for Dance. I started with Martha Graham, and went on on suggested links, Paul Taylor, Pina Bausch, Twyla Tharp… Awesome! I remember clearly my amazement, as I realized all that had happened during the time I had been “away”.
Eventually I clicked on Lar Lubovitch’s “Othello” staged by San Francisco Ballet, Desmond Richardson and Yuan Yuan Tan as principals. I was mesmerized! So beautiful this blend of classical and contemporary, so different from all I had known, the richer choreography, the amazing male roles – these men were REALLY dancing! And choreography and dancers were all so deeply expressive! I watched it three times in a row before I could go on.
I went on to Othello’s PDD danced by Marcelo Gomes and Alessandra Ferri. WOW…! Until that moment, all I knew about him was that he is a Brazilian ballet dancer who succeded abroad. I searched more.
Two more days with my eyes glued to the screen, and I knew ALL about him and Alessandra I could get on the web: clips, interviews, pictures, reviews. Marcelo Gomes led me next to the Kings of the Dance.
I clicked on Labyrinth of Solitude.
I had never seen anything so beautiful and heartbreaking before. It was so overwhelming I stopped all I was doing , and went for a walk to think about what I had seen. My life had suffered a division: there is a before and an after Labyrinth.
THIS much meaning, feeling, power could be conveyed through Dance!! I knew, back from my days, that for those who dance, it can be a deep sensorial and emotional experience, but I had been also sadly aware that this experience was not extended to our audience! A Ballet evening was just a sophisticated event that people with cultured tastes felt obliged to attend, but the moment the curtains closed, they started talking about where to have dinner, the stock market… – had that evening existed or not, nothing was changed.
But THIS! this was something else. Labyrinth had blowed me off my feet! Not as a dancer, but as audience. And not in a theatre, seated in the dark, magic flowing from a lighted stage, but at home, my pets fooling around me, phone ringing, – on a 14″ notebook with awful sound quality…
It became my favourite work, and a sort of standard. I like everything about Labyrinth. The theme; the music (Vitali, strange composer, who created this one sweeping, emotional score 150 years ahead of his time…); the way it is danced by Vasiliev, believable and intense; the absence of settings and costume; De Bana’s expressive choreography, and how he blended all of it into something that was more than the sum of parts.
After gathering my wits back, I searched further (my ethernal gratitude to YouTube’s inventor!), and started to identify which choreographers and dancers had been – and are now – responsible for this new (for me) richness. I knew several by name or a rare photo, but had never SEEN the real dancing, believe it or not! My personal “hall of fame” became a mix of active and retired professionals, even some long passed away – problem is, they jumped into my life all at once, it took me some time to correctly locate them in space and time – they were all very “here and now” in my mind – they still are, and I like it that way.
I fell deeply in love with Dance again, more than before. I saw, at last, Dance becoming an Art like her sisters. THIS was what Dance should be, anyone could appreciate, could love it now, men and women, young and old, expert or not. Anyone should be given the opportunity to experience its power, everyone should be exposed to its magic: I had a Quest!
My other projects (I always have too many, anyway) became less important, as my knowledge and awareness grew steadily. I’m fortunate that I can now, as never before in a too busy life, open my door and let Dance and Music come in and make themselves really comfortable in me. (only problem is, I suffer from fits of goose-bumps at an alarming rate nowadays).
The Quest means no hard work at all: I use it as an excuse to write about beauty and art gifted people create for us – giving Dance some thought while I write – not as an expert, but as the grateful receiving end, and then throw it in the wind/web, hoping it makes a difference, even the tiniest one, in bringing Dance closer to a wider audience. The other task is to win people around me over… making them some pleasure, too, when I succeed. Is that nice or what?
Dance as Form+Content – meaning imparted through dance, the importance of body-language, good acting – is this blog’s theme, my theme.
Now I believe, however, that the way I was taking is unfair: I must not fight other kinds of performance. Most of my former posts fighted fiercely anything different from what I value.
Eventually I realized what we all need – we, belonging to the several kinds of public that dance has – is to have a clearer understanding of what we want from a performance, and a clearer understanding of what each choreographer’s, director’s or dancer’s style and premises and goals are… so we can attend those performances that make us happy, instead of complaining and criticizing those that fail us (mea culpa, I’m included here)!
Performances may fail to please us NOT because of incompetence or bad taste or poor quality, but just because what they are bringing us – what they on stage priorize – is not what WE put more value on. To begin with, we must be able to grasp how diverse WE are. A few examples.
During VERY stressful times, I may want to defend myself from any additional stir -good or bad, it may shake my balance even more. This might explain why so many love Pure Form dance (ballet and/or contemporary alike): they want an intellectual or aesthetic experience, a predictable one, and no more – they want to be able to see something beautiful that does not immediately remind them that… life sucks! we do not live in easy times! Pure Form dance is one of the last strongholds of Art where you can see beauty with no demands on your emotion! There are certainly several in the audience feeling that way!
There are those that need to sublimate their pleasures – for them dance must be pure and idealized, nothing that reminds of individuality, sensuality, physicality and feelings, must be visible. If you think they must be few, remember how prude classical ballet is… in fact the only prude kind of Art nowadays!
The do-not-disturb-me and the sublimating kinds of audience will welcome and value the beauty of staging and costumes, the purity of lines, whatever physical feats their knowledge enables them to recognize, beautiful dancers with idealized looks, no plot (or a plot far away from reality). A very expressive choreography, or very impressive acting – too much meaning – will truly spoil their pleasure! They prefer works where no acting is needed, or a formalistic one is used. For them, dance must bring peace of mind and heart!
Than there are those who were dancers themselves, maybe successful, maybe in a life-long struggle… these will have little patience with novelties – they are there to remember and revive, to envy, admire or reproach new performances of the same pieces they loved to dance themselves.
There are those who are competitive active professionals, who attend to evaluate and rank, positively or negatively, those on stage with other performers and themselves… it is not their intention, but they are almost hoping for flaws! They are the ones with keen, bright evaluating eyes and wrinkled noses…
Dancers and ex-dancers are not a small part of public, they may be up to 60% of the audience!
There are those who seek Art because it gives them a way to connect with great truths and deep questions about being human, to be reminded again of what life is really about. For these, Dance must have meaning, more than anything else – for them, physical technique should, and must be subordinated to Content, all they ask is the necessary and sufficient level needed to impart Content, and they value good, believable acting, expressive choreography and body-language very high. For them, dance is one of the most powerful kinds of Art.
There are those that don’t know the first thing about dance, but attend the performances because it sounds so sophisticated when you tell your friends…
There is the great-show-loving kind, who comes for easy emotion, a lush staging, impressive music, outrageous, easily to recognize feats, special effects, gold and sparks, in short, great entertainment. They don’t care about meaning or if there is acting at all.
I could go on, but I believe I already made my point. Of course, I exaggerated and oversimplified these characteristics, but even so, you recognized yourself and others you know, didn’t you? And remember, critics are not gods, they belong to some kind of audience too!
The big problem is, we ALL go to ALL kinds of performance, probably because there are so few of them (dance productions ARE so few, compared to other Performance Arts!), and a great part of us leaves disappointed… if not angry!
And that’s my point, you know? Let’s fill our glasses again and think together: if your priority is Form, whatever the reason you have for that, why don’t you stay away from performances where you KNOW this is NOT a priority? there is no NEED to go see them, is there? As I MUST not go see what, for me, is just pretty-but-bland technique display, if it is not the kind of performance I like (if I would go, I would, out of pure boredom, search, obviously, for the kind of flaws that bother ME! mea culpa, again!). It makes no sense, and anyone of us who likes theatre, movies, opera, music knows how to choose! So why don’t we choose when it comes to dance.
This is true even if I’m critic! Then I will not have to write texts that are a long sequence of good-but-bad phrases like “Her … was gorgeous, but, disappointingly, she…”, and have, in the end, my readers more confused than before: was it worthwhile or not?!!?? Or worse, when feeling acutely uncomfortable with a staging or performance, and not being conscious of mine/their disparate premises and goals (so out of objective arguments), I will not be reduced to criticize the performer’s (assumed) personality or feelings, or gossip about his private life… leaving my anyway not very motivated readers – more than ever – wishing distance from such a messed up dance community!
Dance deserves a wider audience, and can please all kinds of audience – just not all of them at once! We should not attend, and then harshly criticize, productions we know have different premises and goals than ours. I realized I must treat them more kindly… respect difference!. Let us treat OURSELVES more kindly and respectful, and attend the kind of show, and see the kind of performer, we know intends to address US, that tries to come up to OUR standards… we will know better, then, how to evaluate them (or at least to criticize fairly)!
It brings us no credit that we like A, go see performances that strive for B, and then criticize them for not achieving A! WE are being unfair and… making a public statement about our short-sightedness! Let us be more aware, and happier?
Edited one day after first publishing:it’s an awful long post, again. If you’re not patient enough, just go to the to examples in the end – they speak for themselves.
I have a problem with overuse of weird and ugly movements in contemporary dance.
I know it sounds unsophisticated and simple-minded, but am I just a traditional ballet lover with an idealized view of dancing? I believe not, I have a few arguments, and they may be not that naive (although I love this little figure, I stitched it together myself!).
To begin with – and this is important: my problem is NOT with ridiculous, weird, strange or ugly movements used to impart the wealth of negative emotions and ideas that are part of life – just when they are used for other reasons and in other contexts. Some of them:
# 1: “I want to shock, I want to push you out of your comfort zone!”
Reality is not a nice place to live, but classical ballet refused the notion and presented us with an idealized view of human being. In this context, the use of ugly and weird movements in contemporary is a way to give a good push on ballet’s complacent audience, as a shocking device to make them again aware of the real facts of life. I subscribe to that! BUT…
… nowadays they became overused. It’s like these American B-films, where the characters use FUCK as their every fifth word. It should show how the character is bad, or messed up, but fails, nowadays, to have the desired effect. You see, I’m a clumsy person, and this puts me in frequent situations when swearing is needed… and heartily done!!! It would not be THAT satisfying, though, if I used swearing in every sentence. Overuse kills the effect of trespassing, of rebellion, of a striking-back reaction. It becomes just bad manners, and does not make us jump in our seats anymore, or even uncomfortable.
If ugly movements are used to shock us, or to remind us of the ugly side of reality, well… it’s not working anymore, they are, nowadays, just… boringly ugly!
# 2: “Contemporary dance is not falsely prude, or falsely nice”.
And there comes bottoms facing audience, or held up high facing the sky, or the common lift where the female dancer is held high, back against her partner’s chest, horizontally not-fully extended, half-open legs, crotch facing the public. I used to look for the sex act key of that movement, since a woman in that position, in all our minds, with legs tensed that way, is a powerful and beautiful image of sexual desire, very rarely seen in other contexts, if any – I would welcome that, by the way, sex is still taboo in ballet, even in contemporary, and many choreographers and dancers are still uncomfortable in acknowledging even that sex exists – as Theatre, for example, has been doing for a long time. But… no, it is mostly just a slightly out-of-tune movement that, more often than not, has nothing to do with sexual drive. So what does it mean, this position that, taken out of its context, is not exactly graceful? The same applies, for example, when dancers crawl on all their fours… in my body-language lexicon, this is about very little children (the child inside us?), or about a very desperate, in sheer terror human being, that turns animal-like for lack of options. So I look for hints either way, but more often than not… they are not there! Made by an adult, and without the archaic corresponding meaning, this kind of movement is not graceful or makes sense anywhere in the world… So?!??
# 3: It is original!
In a world with too many people, ideas and images, originality is an important way to stand out. For the sake of originality, people go to any lengths, pushing boundaries of aesthetics to ultimate extremes. If it comes from a deep understanding of hidden possibilities we common people are not aware yet, I love it. But sometimes weird, ugly dancing does not seem to have any meaning, or belong to an intended aesthetic statement, they come and go in the dancing, and you can’t make any sense out them.
We, social beings as we are, live inside a symbolic universe, which allows us to communicate. We share words, concepts, tastes, ideas. Even if I see blue were you see green, even if Thai food feels so hot for me I have a hard time identifying the other ingredients through my tears, even if my fragmented notion of time is different from my Arab neighbour’s flowing one… even so, we have more in common than we have differences. Every social group shares a symbolic universe, deeply grounded on its language, and part of these diverse universes is common to all mankind. It is not different with body language. Different cultures have different conventions about the meaning of movements, and some of this meaning is common to all humankind.
The common aspects are rooted mostly in archaic fears and needs. So if you are standing up and stretch yourself completely, as far as you can, your eyes not on someone else, but focused far away, or unfocused – what does it mean? Here? In China? In Iceland? You see what I mean? INSIDE a specific culture, it is even easier, because all body-language – partly deeply rooted, partly convention – is understandable, is a language like the spoken one.
Our ears, our eyes, our nose, our tongue, all our senses, are trained since early childhood, so we can share images and colours, flavours and smells, sounds… and concepts related to them, and ever more abstract ideas construed using these as ground-stones.
Now, coming back to Art. Art is part of our symbolic universe, both the specific one, and the general one. I may have trouble understanding a Japanese Opera, or Indian music, when I’m seeing it for the first time and without preparing myself. But I can learn! I can learn its aesthetic criteria, the difficulties of performance, the concepts that are imbedded there, the culture where they came from, and then… THEN I will be exposed to the full power of that kind of Art. What I mean is: Art exists INSIDE a symbolic universe, and can only reach me if I share this universe.
There are artists that have an instinctive knowledge of our symbolic universe, but so a deep and great one, they are able to show us things we are not aware, that are in the boundaries of, or hidden from our “Weltanschauung”. And still, they share our symbolic universe, or they would be just psychopaths, living in a world of their own… It is my belief that this kind of Art, even if you can’t understand it rationally, will get at you anyway. Provided it is Art, provided it comes from a knowledge that includes mine and exceeds it in some way, and brings me a new truth I will recognize once seen, and then not be able to dismiss again. Problem is, this is not the kind of artist we are discussing here. This kind of artist is Beethoven, is Isadora Duncan, is Van Gogh, they are rare, so, SO rare! Most artists are not so far away from our everyday reality, and share our symbolic universe as it is. There is nothing less valuable about them, because Art must not throw our symbolic universe upside down, everytime, to be Art –in fact it rarely does, for it is, most of all, a way for us… just to live! Nietzsche said: “We have art in order not to die of the truth!”. We need Art in order to cope with what being human is, just IS!
Many artists strive, nowadays, to be boundary breakers, but if they resource to artificial means to become that, it is of no avail – this kind of issue should not even worry them – in fact, articialism gets in the way of creation! The points I enumerated above about the use of strange movements ARE artificial ways some choreographers are using, and do not convince me. At all.
To be original guarantees… originality, not that the work will be Art! To unveil hypocrisy and false moral values is always good, but does not guarantee the work will be Art (but a valuable socio-political statement, maybe?), and so on.
Our culture shares an immensurable knowledge on body-language and concepts of body beauty and body-movements beauty… and their corresponding ugliness. This wealth of meaning is just beginning to be explored by Dance. I wonder why so many choreographers are dismissive about our shared language, and try to create something that is not really new, just weird – to create something that is just… not understandable!
How many writers you know that use as much words they create from scratch as existing ones? How many perfumists do you know that create perfumes that smell like rotten eggs, or a car’s exhaustion? What happens when you hear music that uses not the kind of “hamony” your culture shares? even if it is Art, will it reach you?
I will a give an example, and a counter-example.
My example of weird, not understandable dancing is Ohad Naharin’s Passo. Passo is part of a larger work, and was presented, out of context, in Solo For Two, with Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, where I saw it the first time. Despite being performed by outstanding and expressive dancers, it was a shot off the mark, if I, in the audience, was the intended target. Even seeing the whole work, I doubt I would get what was to be imparted through the choreography. It was lost on me, I did not understand the body-language, and could not see, also, a possible internal coherence or consistency of Form, some aesthetic proposition I could recognize. Was it necessary to know about Gaga-technique? Well… Naharin could not expect that from me, could he? I must say: simple-minded me did not get it at all… I wonder if someone else did!
(The strange thing is, there are several choreographies of Naharin that I like – and, I believe, understand… so what is the matter with THIS one?
The counter-example is Mats Ek’s (he is Swedish) work, based on a play of Garcia Lorca (he is Spanish), using music from Bach (he is German), Villa-Lobos (he is Brazilian), Albeniz and Tarraga (they are Spanish): Bernardas Hus, or La Casa de Bernarda Alba. An extraordinary work, “readable” by anyone, despite the multicultural aspects… at least by any occidental one (due to Catholic religion references). But then, Mats Ek is an extraordinary choreographer, I’m fascinated by his work! Even if you do not know the original play (I did not), you get it, both emotion and plot, through the cleverest use of body-language in – and this is what I like the most – IN the dancing, THROUGH the dancing!
Link to complete work: << https://youtu.be/l2Sxi7USgzw>>.
“I don’t see it as pandering to the public when the work I do becomes slightly commercial in a sense, and succeeds. I always assumed that if one did quality work one would be like any other worker in our culture: able to support oneself, taking the responsibility of not being in an ivory tower.”
In an interview to Sharon Basco in Cambridge (Creativity Forum at Lesley University), 27.04.2015. Twyla Tharp has written extensively about knowing your audience, and creating work that connects with people.
I’m having trouble feeding my blog, because I have so many issues dancing (!) around on my head… I’m writing about all of them at the same time, and nothing is ever ready to post! I’m so confused I posted THIS before it was ready, sorry!
Issue #1: the recent episode of Bolshoi x Stanislasvski conflict involving Ivan Vasiliev brought back memories of several similar conflicts, involving both him and other dance professionals, that often guest around the world. It made me reflect on the current ability of ballet companies to effectively cope with the changes in their reality: the increasing numbers of independent great stars; the cost/benefit of their productions; customer satisfaction; visible aging of their audience in live performances; globalization of information; the new ways (mostly digital and far from ideal, but THERE, their importance increasing as we speak) to access ballet/dance productions; the inadequate competitive attitude in a risk situation. I wonder if their funding agencies impose restrictions to effective management? It seems (lack of information!) they have, most of them, professional managers, so why are they so slow to adapt? Does that sound too businesslike? Well, it should!!! Dance companies, as every enterprise and institution nowadays, CANNOT ignore good business practices! Ignore them, nowadays, is to be doomed!
Issue #2: important dance professionals in UK complained about UK dancer’s training – they say contemporary dance schools do not prepare them well enough. On it’s wake, I became aware of information on UK’s Dance audience’s, agencies and training (I did not know where to find that, before). There is a LOT to think and ponder about here, and I follow the debate, and write to clear my ideas, and re-think, and get new information, and re-write… It has been highly interesting, but I’m still processing all these new data!
Issue #3: the general Prodigal Son Parable feeling about Ivan Vasiliev’s “return” to Bolshoi, and its consequences – there are very nice, really exciting consequences, and also, I foresee, some that may not be that nice. As always, Ivan Vasiliev has my interest as himself, but also as an emblematic dancer who raises issues that go far beyond him. There is a difficult, tense, even painful trade-off between an artist’s right and need of independency, and the means to realize his artistry – in Performance Arts even more than other kinds of Art. When I see dancers and choreographers potential unfulfilled, I long for them to find a “home” to fully realize them, but… which of the dance agencies available nowadays is willing to let them realize their potential to it’s full extent? Not a new question, and I don’t have an answer! I keep a keen eye on all agencies I can… there seems to be a great polarization: those “homes” that can afford to stage properly the greater ones, are the less bound to favour their individuality, and vice-versa! Either way, the artist looses, and WE loose!… that’s why I cannot but worry and wonder about solutions! This issue, obvioulsy, is related, but not the same, as Issue#1.
Issue #4: what is Dance about, nowadays? A recent interview of my amazing Natalia Osipova brought me once again to this issue. She is SO accomplished, I cannot imagine a more beautiful 2nd Act Giselle as hers, OR a more fiery Kitri, and the improbable possibility of a dancer to excel the way she excels in BOTH prooves her greatness! She is, however, haunted by doubts about herself, and seeks harder and harder for perfection, but to such an extent! it broke my heart…! Problem is, to be perfect does not mean, necessarily, to create magic, and she, sensitive as she is, KNOWS that, and fears that. Is perfection important to create an objet d’art? If at all, in what ways, and what KIND of perfection? When I reflect about this, I always feel Terpsichore – “the joy in dancing” – looking, very interested, over my shoulder…
Issue #5: I have a post to finish about overuse of strange – and ugly – movements and costumes in contemporary dance (that I love). I’m reticent about them, and try to explain why – just a humble, but as so often here, radical personal opinion. It involves body-language, the symbolic universe of a culture, and relates the way we see and interpret movements with words, smells and music – for now. I wouldn’t dare to question their artistic value or the creator’s need of them, but I can give a feed-back on how I receive/perceive them!
… and new issues keep arising!
It strikes me as little odd that in “other lives I lived”, in business, science, human science – and for all I can see but lived not, in other kinds of Art and every other organized human activity, issues like that are deeply important and openly and fiercely discussed… but I find so little open discussion and open opinions in Dance! I want to stand up and cry BRAVO everytime I see someone dismiss platitudes and state unconformity in a loud voice! … in good time, all these voices will grace this pages! But they are few, too few…