Tag Archives: beach birds

This country mouse has something to say…

19 Oct

So I’m not really a country mouse, and despite the fact that it’s a gorgeous, sunny and crisp but not too chilly October day, it’s freezing inside my house, which makes the typing process a miserable one.  But with some Turkish music playing on iTunes, here I go.  This afternoon I came across an interesting article in the New York Times (via clouddancefest on twitter), about a new series that the writer of the article described as “reality ballet.”  The word “reality” has developed an extremely negative connotation for me given the surplus of low-grade, poorly produced, inferior television programs that makes me want to run for the hills.  Thankfully, reality ballet was not entirely an accurate description.  To me it sounded more like copious amount of raw footage, and I don’t see a need to attach the word “reality” to it all.  Not to mention, “reality” has become a deluded concept to audiences today (because I sincerely hope we know better!), and I don’t see anything misleading about rehearsal footage.

The “copious-amounts of-raw-footage” became 15 Days of Dance: The Making of ‘Ghost Light.’  I’m really loving the inspiration for the piece, described here in an excerpt from the article:

“Ghost Light” is named after the stark, romantic image of a bare bulb left burning on a deserted stage. Set to Aaron Copland’s “Music for the Theater,” the dance, which was presented as a gift from the city of Buffalo to the people of New Orleans, has a vintage quality, with dancers costumed as flappers and hobos.

“I was thinking of New Orleans and how it has such a deep sense of its own history and jazz,” Mr. Reeder said. “It’s one of the reasons I went with an old Americana feel of vaudeville, burlesque and the whole ghost-light vibe.”

Attention grabbed!  I like flappers and hobos, and an antiquarian aesthetic.  I also love me some Copland, although I’m unfamiliar with this particular composition.  The piece is choreographed by Brian Reeder, who apparently has to pull his pants up a lot because he doesn’t wear a belt and isn’t very nice at times.  I don’t know if I like that, and he criticizes some of his dancers by telling them “you guys would make a horrible true Bournonville pas de trois.”  That’s kind of mean…but he says that he has to go into a zone, and I suppose an intensely creative mind can’t always control the output.  After all, nobody can spew sunshine all day.  I might be able to…but I have the mind of a child.

Anyway, the project was spearheaded by Elliot Caplan of Cage/Cunningham and Beach Birds for Camera fame, who wanted to document the entire process of creating a ballet.  Although it kind of bugged me that he said “ballet is the basis for everything in dance,” which I find to be unfortunately Eurocentric, I do appreciate his desire to document the choreographic process (even if I think documentation of dance isn’t THAT decrepit).  The fact alone that the entire she-bang is eighteen hours of footage is enough to make one salivate and squee in delight.  But that also means it’s not the kind of thing that would be shown on television, and although portions of the film will start showing this Thursday at the New York Library of the Performing Arts, hosted by Caplan himself followed by a discussion with a panel of some of the artists involved.  The entire thing will also be available for private viewing at the library.  Fantastic.  But what does that mean for the rest of us?  This is a huge problem I have with the dance world…it’s this idea that New York is apparently in an artistic bubble, and there doesn’t seem to be any consideration for those outside of it.  I’m not suggesting that I, personally be given access to such a collection but I can’t help but feel forgotten whenever I hear about the exciting things that are being done and are available to the residents of New York.  It reminds me of the “top trickling down” economic model that I once studied in an anthropology class (ANTHRO 597.01, conflict in developing nations), and the conclusion was that it was elitist and NEVER worked.  I find it ironic that Caplan made a comparison between going to the movies and seeing dance, when movies are always available to the people while dance simply isn’t.  If you grew up in Columbus, Ohio, there is so much you would never see in regards to dance because things aren’t readily available or performed often.  I’m not saying we should sit on our asses and wait for the advertisers to flood us with images and commercials, but we have to be met half way.  Otherwise, how can we find things we don’t know exist?

Perhaps my complaints are preliminary and it will be available for distribution (more than likely not for home viewing because the price would be astronomical) at the very least at major universities.  I actually discovered that Ohio State has a pretty interesting collection of things, like footage of famous dancers like Arthur Mitchel coaching Agon, Maria Tallchief coaching Allegro Brillante, Melissa Hayden coaching Stars and Stripes, Suzanne Farrell coaching Momentum pro Gesualdo and Movements for piano and orchestra.  Although that stuff is locked away in a sekret part of the library that I’m sure takes fingerprints and retina scans to access, but at least it’s there.  I just hope this new series will be available in some capacity.  Dance has this massive challenge of constantly trying to reach new audiences, but they can’t sit on their haunches and expect that people will automatically find them.  Rave Motion Pictures has made a start, and does live broadcasts of ballets around the world, but one or two a year isn’t really going to get the job done to create more public interest.  This year we have a Mariinsky Swan Lake coming up at the end of the month (although the website can’t seem to decide if the November 1st show is 1:00am or 1:00pm), and I remember a year or two ago we had a Royal Ballet Swan Lake too.  But for some of us, it’s like inoculating a fatal disease.  We really need more to survive and NOT Swan Lake! 

Anywhodle, be sure to read the entire article if you’re interested and a sucker for punishment, or you live in New York.

Brian Reader Puts it Together and Elliot Caplan Films It

Remembering Merce Cunningham

27 Jul

The dance world is having a rough summer after Pina Bausch, MJ, and now Merce Cunningham.  Although, I do feel like his death is a little easier to absorb because he had such an incredible life filled with many years of dance, whereas Pina and MJ went so suddenly.  Karen Eliot, who I’ve mentioned danced for his company many years ago said it was a gift, in that he finished his last work, called the dancers to thank them, and then went peacefully in his sleep.  She said it was very much something he would do, to decide that now was the time to go and to do so.  She had known that he was not in good health for a little while now, but the poor thing is still heartbroken.  Bravely, she foraged on in class this morning, trying to be her usual self and even had us try entrechat six, which made my brain go “sha-duh-duh-duh-what?”  Anyway, there were some tears after class, and she told us a little about how much he meant to her, especially as her teacher and what he imparted onto her, so my sympathies are with her and others who were friends, family and lovers of Merce.

I studied a little bit of his work and ideas through a dance and theatre history class, and truthfully they weren’t easy for me to fully comprehend because I’m one of those crotchety grumpy bears that likes dance and music to be woven together in a harmonious relationship.  My brain is wired to take delight in classical lines, classical music, classical dance, and classical methods of presenting such.  If you like Daoism as much as I do, then you know going against one’s nature is a no-no, and Cunningham is practically on the opposite end of the spectrum.  He didn’t see music as a necessity and didn’t mind randomizing choreography and having a piece look completely different for each performance.  Reminds me of his partner John Cage as well, who felt the same about music and went as far as writing a “piece” where someone would sit at a piano for a few minutes and the music was whatever noise there was.  Some audience members were annoyed, but I think that’s just evidence that some people take life waaay too seriously.  Anyway, back on topic, to me the pursuit of chance is radical and on the verge of madness, but Cunningham was so halcyon in his approach (I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to use that word!) that it’s impossible to associate it with insanity.  It’s all very perplexing, but somehow he made it work, and even I was able to appreciate his choreography.

One of his works that I really liked was Biped (which for whatever reason I always want to mistakenly call Bipedal).  It employed innovations in the use of technology with dance, another aspect of Cunningham’s work that makes my brain work overtime, resulting in lasers and abstract 3-D holographic figures walking and running, while human dancers moved with them.  The effect was really neat, and it’s just one of those pieces that is interesting to look at.  In the same way sitting in a park and staring at some trees or riding a train and looking out the window is something interesting to look at.  We don’t necessarily stare at things because we derive a great amount of pleasure from doing so, but visually there’s always something compelling that makes it so we can’t avert our gazes.  For me, this is the essence of many of Cunningham’s works…whatever “it” is that keeps us staring at things, that “it” is something valid and worth exploring.  And more importantly, that “it” is different for every person.  I loved the way Biped didn’t make me feel stupid, and that I could indeed appreciate modern dance.

Another one of his pieces that I vividly remember is Beach Birds for Camera, which I found to be incredibly charming.  The goal of the piece wasn’t to be a bird or even move like a bird, but somehow it recreated for me that same fascination one gets when observing animals at the zoo.  To me, the piece seemed to capture the essence of how birds relate to and communicate with each other and what their language would look like if it were made into movement.  It’s really quirky, almost silly in a sense, as seagulls themselves are rather vacuous creatures (Finding Nemo anyone?  Which reminds me of a funny story in ballet class when every time we did echappé sauté, someone in the class would say “esssscah-pey!” a la Dory, and the teacher seemed really confused.  I think she was one of three people on Earth at the time that hadn’t seen Finding Nemo).  I found myself horribly amused, and wishing I was a bird too.  There is a short excerpt here (I saw the original black and white group version):

So, dearest Merce…thank you for introducing new ideas about dance and art; that not everything has to have a story, and that dance is indeed its own independent art form.  Even though I could never dance that way (improv freaks me out enough as it is), I feel like you are the kind of person I could have had interesting conversations with, proof that even people with vastly differing natures don’t have to get up in arms when they don’t agree on something.  Although, I did read a beautiful quote by you, and it would seem that we do share something in common:

“You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.”

-Merce Cunningham