May 22, 2004

Modern dance

Last week I went to the "informal" dance concert here, and tonight I went to the "formal" dance concert. They were certainly worlds apart on a variety of dimensions.

For one thing, there was a lot more diversity in the informal concert. The formal concert was ten pieces, all in almost exactly the same style. Many of the same people were in both concerts, but a number of the best dancers from last week weren't in this one. Several people were in many of tonight's pieces, and they definitely were not the best of the crowd.

It took me a while to really pin down what I found so unsatisfying about the performances tonight. It was that the dancers were so interested in Making Art and doing something with Meaning, they sort of slacked off on fundamentals like facial expression, elegance, and synchrony with the music or each other. It reminded me of a lot of gymnastic floor performances---they're up there doing some stuff, and there's music playing, but the dancing has little to do with the music. There are moments here and there where a few steps line up with a beat, but they're so infrequent that they seem more accidental than anything else. It makes one wonder why they even bother with the music.

And just as you're wondering, they throw in a piece where they don't have music, and then you realise that even if the music doesn't do anything else, it camouflages all the foot-stomping and the heavy breathing and the squeaking of feet along the floor. To be fair, the girls that did that one were better synchronised with each other than most of the other pieces were, which was quite impressive given that they had thrown away their most basic tool in that regard; and actually, it was one of the better pieces in the programme. I just wish they'd thrown in a soft instrumental track under the spoken-word accompaniment.

The exception to a lot of these comments was the third piece: April Morgan demonstrated that the dreary amusicality of (most of) the other dancers was not inherent to the form. Using many of the same moves, she managed to actually choreograph her dancing to the music, and to have a whole range of expressions ranging from happy to defiant to thoughtful. As her piece ended, she walked (in time, of course) diagonally across the stage, and tossed her head in a smile that was the most sincere emotion seen all night. And where all the other pieces got polite applause, people were loudly cheering on this one, so I'm not the only one who perceived its eminence.

I spent most of the night, though, observing how much these dancers felt that their pieces were Art; lacking other redeeming qualities, these pieces tried to rest on their Meaning, which I was generally at a loss to find. And it's true that carrying a meaning that only comes clear on further reflection is a feature of high art; but if that's the route you're going to go, you damn well better have something to hold the viewer's attention while they think about what it means to them.

There were a few pieces where I was considerably more impressed by the lighting work than anything else. There was some great technical design with the transitions from light to shadow and using footlights to create shadow play on the back wall; in a number of cases it managed to actually convey the mood that the dancers were totally failing to express.

"Most people would die sooner than think---in fact, they do so." --Bertrand Russell

Posted by blahedo at 11:51pm on 22 May 2004
Comments
Alright, so before you bash gymnastics routines. I would just like to say that not ALL routines ignore the music. it is just that most people who choreograph do not pay much attention to it. so there. Posted by sis at 3:10pm on 23 May 2004
Hence my qualification: "a lot of" floor routines. Not all. As with floor routines, it's the exception that proves the rule---the amusicality is not inherent, and now and then we see a dance piece or a floor routine that actually choreographs to the music, and it looks ten times as good and brings down the house. You'd think other people might notice, and act accordingly, but no. Posted by blahedo at 5:18pm on 23 May 2004
A lot of people that I've talked to have said that this year's concert was a lot better than last year's. Maybe I just didn't know what I was watching last year, but I preferred it. Last year's had a lot more variety, some ballet, some ballroom (tango/samba) and a lot more variety in the modern pieces. I also know that many of this year's pieces were written first and music was chosen much later, as a last minute sort of addition. I say, I'd rather see them not use any at all. I think it's something that really changes from year to year; I'm interested to see what next year has to offer. Posted by Chelsea at 1:02pm on 26 May 2004
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