Tag Archives: grumpy bear

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

Classes at Balletmet…FINALLY

11 Jul

So I’ve been taking a lot of ballet classes this week…Mon/Wed/Fri. morning with Karen Eliot (if that’s her real name…I keep forgetting to ask) at OSU and I also took a couple of classes at BalletMet with foreign teacher men people, at least one of which is Russian (YES! Or should I say…DA!).  BalletMet is Columbus’ premier ballet company, and you would think after 20ish years of life in C-bus I would have taken some classes before, but sadly this is not the case.  My parents never even took me to see the NUTCRACKER.  I had to get my Nutcracker fix from the Care Bears VHS version (which has its misgivings…but oh that Grumpy Bear…what a hoot).  We’re talking the ONE ballet everyone in their mother of pearl knows (well that and Swan Lake) and my parents deprived me.  Which some may say is a good thing I suppose…since it’s known to some as “ugh, THAT ballet.”

Anyway, so I wanted to give BalletMet classes a try just because they’re a Columbus thing and their classes are pretty good, even if the schedule is really bizarre.  During the summer they only have classes for adults for 4 weeks in July.  Early summer is understandably reserved for summer intensives for the little ballet bambinas aspiring to be professionals, but the sporadic schedule is still unpleasant.  Criticism aside, I had class with Dmitri on Tuesday, and at first I found him difficult to understand, but he demonstrated well enough so that I didn’t have to (a skill I developed while studying abroad…when you live in a foreign country, you learn to survive without understanding everything.  Or sometimes, anything).  Pretty standard class, nothing too crazy…although I guess some of the students looked a bit out of sorts and he asked if this was their first class since classes had ended in the spring to which they replied “yes.”  A HA!  A negative consequence of BalletMet’s helter skelter wonky schedule.  Although the fact that he even asked at all makes me wonder what was he doing during the month off?   Obviously he wasn’t teaching, but then what?  Who?  Where…oh well.

Now Thursday night’s class was taught by George, this diminutive and elderly man who was even harder to understand and didn’t really demonstrate.  His foot would kind of shuffle around a little and then before I knew it he’d be asking the pianist to play and somehow everything flew right by me.  The weird thing though, is there were dancers in the class who DID understand and apparently derived some kind of structured exercise from said foot shuffles, so clearly it’s not him, it’s me.  I suppose only time can give me the skills to decode this secret language…time and practice.  When I was able to get a grasp on what he was saying he definitely knew what he was talking about, and told me to keep my chest open and lengthen my neck more (even though I have a short neck…poo).  And come to think of it, he complimented my saut de basque.  Although I do think he was a lot more optimistic about my abilities than I am…I’m not flexible at all (hamstrings of steel) and in this rond de jambe en l’air-ish thrown leg thingie he wanted me to kick over his hand, which he held just under my shoulder and that wasn’t going to happen.  And he also had me hold my leg out to the side as high as possible, proceeded to poke me in several places to get me to stand up straighter and wanted me to keep it there after I let go and that wasn’t going to happen either.  But at least one of us sees the potential, and he gave me an encouraging pat on the shoulder at the end of class.

Then this morning it was back to Karen, who told us today not to shoot our arms towards the sky because we don’t “seek the heavens for help” and we need to shape our arms and maintain the shape as we move.  It was a rather odd day though…a lot of giggles in the background, but apparently some of the grad students were joking around about building a community for retired dancers called “Shady Pines,” even though I’m sure they’re all in their 20’s and MAAAAYBE early 30’s.  But it’s like I said before, dancers see their careers in terms of dog years.  But I can’t really speak for people who have had major injuries since I never have (and to think I used to feel left out for never having broken a bone).  Although I did sustain a minor injury today, and not in the studio mind you…because dancers never get injured in the studio.  But I’m pretty sure I sprained my finger when I whacked it against the turn signal handle switch while I was driving today.  Still hurts, the stupid little extremity.

One lovely thing that did happen this week was that the accompanist played a song I requested, for adagge on Wednesday AND Friday.  If you want a lovely song, try Chopin’s Nocturne no.2 in E-flat major, Op.9, no.2.  It’s one of my all time favorites, and because it’s a 12/8 it can even be played faster too for waltzy enchaînements.  But all good things must come to an end, and one un-lovely thing was the barrage of sissones this week.  What is it about sissones that make me get stuck?  Grande allegro this morning was failli-assemblé-3 x changement, SISSONE en avant step through assemblé-3 x changement, sissone ouverte coupe assemblé- 3 x changement, then your run of the mill tombé-pas de bourée-glissade-saut de chat (with arms in THIRD!  AHAHAHAHA! Or as they say in Brazil, AHUAHUAHUAHUA!).  But seriously, everytime, right before the sissone it was like landing in a puddle of molasses.  I hesitate, I freak, and then I’m 2 counts behind.  Damn me and my slow reaction time!

Grumpy Bear don't play when it comes to the sissone

Grumpy Bear don't play when it comes to the sissone

Meanwhile, in other news, I am officially on twitter now.  Don’t know if it’s a good idea, and my feeble brain is having problems keeping up with technology these days, but what the heck.  I’ll try almost anything once.