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Game Point – Sara Hook Dances (2005)

September 21, 2010

Denise Posnak steps from down stage left toward center stage wearing yellow from head to toe. Anne Sexton’s gravely aged voice rasps from overhead with her well known poem, Her Kind.

Her Kind – Anne Sexton (text)

Basked in yellow light, her face and hands now glinting canary, Denise begins her dance. Standing, wobbling on one foot, she struggles to gain her balance. One wonders for only a short time of her technical ability. She finds her footing and now, fully grounded on her left leg, she circles her right foot in a long strikingly clear rond de jambe. Her toes reach for the space just inches from her physical length. She is strong yet awkward and unable to fully engage in her strength, a constant battle to find her root.

The Ambition Bird – Anne Sexton (text)

Her struggles begin to reach for the air with jumps and leaps and although she leaves the ground her breath is an audible gasp. She is not enjoying her flight but trying desperately to keep up with her own body. Then again, a calm attempt at another grounding. She is neither sufficiently able to engage with the air nor find a stable connection with the earth. Instead, she is trapped somewhere in between freedom and security.

Music Swims Back To Me – Anne Sexton (text)

As the dance comes to a close, Denise exhibits more and more of the bird she resembles. Her torso and head bobs up and down like the iconic top-hatted stork whose red watery insides control its drinking and later her hands flutter like small wings. Perhaps she is The Ambition Bird that Anne speaks of, keeping her up at night and which no hot cocoa can quell. A woman struggling against her societal role, rejected for rejecting, trapped in asylum, yet basked in a yellow light of ambition and listening to the swimming music, hoping desperately to come out above it all.

Have you seen other dances about the role of women?

Do you read poems by Anne Sexton or similar poets?

Have you felt this sense of desperation and hope based on your gender?

Does drinking hot cocoa help you fall asleep?

Audio was found here.

DanceNOW [NYC] Festival 2010
September 11th, 2010
Dance Theater Workshop
New York, NY

The Radio Show – Abraham.In.Motion (2010)

August 1, 2010

Between 155th and 145th Street in Manhattan, nestled within a single block lays a thin strip of land named Jackie Robinson Park. Just touching Washington Heights, the park sits far into Harlem where gentrification has barely begun it’s slow crawl. Kids play on the sidewalk and adults gather at stoops or store fronts. Unlike the constant flow of pedestrians below 110th street there is a very present feeling of community. Following one woman on the street in her skates, making my way to the park, I noticed that she greeted nearly everyone along her ride.

Credit: Renee Rosensteel

Down the steps into the park and through a small plaza, a small stage is placed where The Radio Show will be performed. The atmosphere is informal and without the quiet setting of a theater the traffic and passersby create a constantly interjecting background. The lights dim as they would in a theater, but much slower and almost imperceptibly with the setting of the sun. Kyle Abraham begins on stage. He stands, not waiting or watching but almost as if lost in his own thoughts off in the distance. The conversations in the audience fade and his dance begins.

Credit: See Note

His movement is forceful yet controlled and the motion of his arms are quick but choreographed. The movement never seems to stop unless abruptly and continuing once again. His fingers are sometimes spread wide open and at others closed tightly in a fist. He walks forward slowly while his fist shakes uncontrollably at his side like an old man. The other dancers join him with the same spirited movement and continue the dance.

Credit: See Note

The most striking aspect of the performance was the music choice. Based on a radio show he listened to growing up in Pittsburgh the songs used included hip-hop, R&B, talk radio conversations, older and classical music mixed in with static as well as seemingly static influenced music in between. Many artists are now starting to incorporate hip-hop or older R&B music into their dances but choose to use it ironically as a way to distance itself from the likes of television shows such as So You Think You Can Dance. The music with words and a pumping rhythm can easily become cliché and lose its artistic integrity. Kyle does not use irony nor does he allude to the words in his dancing. As the music cuts from one song to the next we are aware that the music is not propelling the dancing but rather building on to the atmosphere. As each song plays we feel the contribution of each artist in different ways to the community Kyle is portraying.

Credit: See Note

Within the radio conversations sprinkled throughout the performance we are introduced to varying topics. They discuss what it means to be an African American woman in a relationship. They talk about how women often change after the are in a relationship and that men often do not. “What it takes to get a man is what it takes to keep them.” All the while they stay candid and poke fun at the topics they discuss. At a point in the dance a man and a woman are dancing a duet of love and rejection among many dances where the performers do not make contact with each other. At another point, one dancer mimes to take off her hoop earrings and wipe Vaseline on her face while a second dancer chews gum emphatically while putting her hair up, ready to fight.

Credit: See Note

Near the end, a very soft cover of Beyoncés “Crazy In Love” plays.

Crazy In Love – Antony And The Johnsons

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The song is reminiscent of many classical songs and Antony’s voice is hauntingly soothing. It takes Beyoncés quick and entertaining hip hop song and, using the exact same words, drives into the emotions from a different direction.
[Original] Crazy In Love – Beyoncé

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The sudden reinterpretation of this song inserted into the established atmosphere of hip hop songs creates a opening to see that the many themes within these entertaining songs are universal. The topics discussed on the talk radio show, the troubling relationship between the man and the woman, the gum chewing fighter are all aspects of our different lives spoken through the voice of an urban culture. It would be no different to choose an opus from Bach that evokes the same emotion. And as Kyle says that the radio station the dance is based on was suddenly closed it becomes very clear what voice he believes was silenced. The urban voice having the same human experience as the rest yet unable to express itself in its own way. The area surrounding Jackie Robinson Park will see its apartment prices climb and the residents will watch as their landscape and community changes with the coming gentrification. Perhaps the message wasn’t meant as a warning but it’s hard to overlook their commonality and that of urban communities everywhere that have lost or are losing their voice or never had a voice to begin with.

Did you get to see the performance at the park?

Have you seen other dances with urban themes?

Do you know of other situations where a community has lost its voice?

Who he think he is?

July 30, 2010
Jackie Robinson Park
SummerStage Dance
New York, New York

Note: Photos are screen caps taken from this promotional video.

Another Parade – Monica Bill Barnes (2009)

June 20, 2010

Monica’s dance begins with a single dancer and the music of Bach.

Suite No 4: IV. Sarabande – Johann Sebastian Bach

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She’s decked out in a conservative gray turtleneck sweater with simple knit pattern, a knee length black skirt, hair carefully tucked back from her face and a small shiny circular lapel. The dancing begins almost immediately to combine facial and bodily gestures to convey invisible scenarios. She goes from looking shy and brushing off compliments from someone in the distance to performing a simple time step tap dance. At one point she boxes with someone in slow motion, taking a few hits herself, before she raises her arms victorious only to continue dancing until checking her pulse with her imagined watch. The movement seems to embody the ever shifting thoughts of a person left to mull through their day in a cartoon-like fashion.

Get up (I feel like being a) Sex Machine – James Brown

The music ends and the spirit lifts with the shouts of James Brown. Two more dancers replace the first wearing similarly drab outfits. Like a couple secretaries taking their lunch break, the women begin to feel the music. They strike poses and gestures with the voice of James Brown recovering from their outbursts of movement in between. As if the voice of James Brown is bubbling up from inside these awkward conservative women, who in no way embody sex machines, they cannot control their dancing urges. The two remaining women join the first two and the gestures continue recalling many used from the previous section.

I’ll Never fall in Love – Burt Bacharach

Suite No 4: III. Courante – Johann Sebastian Bach

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As Bach begins again, the four women come to the front of the stage and continue their quartet of sexy gestures. Sometimes shaking their butts or pulling down the neck of their sweaters to reveal a naked shoulder all the while pausing and shaking their heads at each other for being just a little too ridiculous and out of place. There is a constant struggle between dancing how they want to and being concerned for convention.

It’s a New Day So Let a Man Come in – James Brown

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Polk Salad Annie – Tony Joe White

The lights come on and one of the woman walks out into the audience and up the stairs, she walks out into the lobby and in again down the other side. The women on stage laugh at her and gesture as if to say, “Oh, I see what you did there, that was really clever, I liked that.” The woman then sits on the steps and watches the dance along with the audience.

Walk A Mile In My Shoes – Joe South

After the four women have rejoined on stage the lights again come on and they once again head into the audience with the song “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” playing over head. They find one audience member each and take them back up to the stage with them. Each dancing with their new partner in their own awkward way, one holding her tall woman partner very close to her body, another so far apart to remind us of middle school dances, they have a conversation with the new presence on stage. They shake their hips at their partner and beckon them further and further up stage until they switch places and remove their lapels to put them on the new dancers. They step away from their new counterparts who are standing their just as awkwardly as the woman had just before and at once they shake their hips to the pleasing of the audience.

A Love Like Yours (Don’t Come Knockin’ Everyday) – Martha Reeves & The Vandellas

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After the audience members have returned to their seats, the women take to the stage, walk to the back where confetti has been resting through out the entire performance, grab a handful and fling it up and above themselves. They put their fists in the air as they had after winning the boxing match and as the bits of color sprinkle around them the curtain closes.

The dance relies heavily on the fine line between comedy and seriousness. Monica doesn’t believe that subjects created for humor are very funny and often she doesn’t know what parts of her dance people will find humorous until she performs and she is often surprised. Unlike many modern and post-modern predecessors, Another Parade does not demand that it be taken seriously. It does not derive authenticity from moving with honesty or through abstraction but rather by using irony to place a check on it’s possible lack of authenticity. When the dancers go from familiar modern movement to walking briskly and checking their pulses we are notified that the dancers are joking about dancing for fitness rather than art. We are not given direct clues as to when the dancers are trying to be taken seriously and when they are only joking and so we can shed our need to find meaning in the movement. I believe that Monica Bill Barnes company is trying to say that if you take yourself seriously and you are not self-aware you run the risk of being inauthentic. The use of irony portrays self-awareness and that although you are creating one image you are aware of its implications and contrasts. You reach a new level of authenticity and honesty that is easily contrived in our current culture.

Have you seen any other dances that include many gestures?

Did you find the dance funny and did you feel a connection to it?

Do you believe in the irony and authenticity argument?

Do you ever dance during your lunch breaks?

June 15th, 2010
Reynolds Industries Theater
American Dance Festival
Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Dancing Across Borders

April 6, 2010

It took me some time to digest everything coming at me from Dancing Across Borders. Anne Bass, the ‘director/executive producer/producer’ of the film is a graduate of Vassar and the visit to her Alma Mater to present her first film allowed for a unique experience for me, a current senior. Not only would we be screening her film with a question and answer session, our afternoon ballet class would have Sokvannara (Sy) Sar, the focus of the documentary, in attendance and taught by his first and most important teacher, Olga Kostritzky. And as Anne Bass was sitting and watching the class progress we were essential inside the documentary itself. It was a thrilling, terrifying and ultimately very grounding experience to have before watching the film.

Anne Bass, Credit: Time Magazine

When I first heard about Anne Bass I wasn’t sure who she was or why the college was so excited to present the work of someone who had just created their first film. It wasn’t long before a somewhat unfortunate fact surfaced. Divorced from a Texan billionaire, Anne Bass was in possession of quite a bit of money. Now that Vassar College has lost about a third of its endowment, struggling along with many peer institutions, showing interest in a rich alumnus seems like a great idea. The unfortunate part in all this is how it affected the presentation of the film even before the projector was warm. It was difficult to look past the professional photographer, who had never been on campus before, snapping picture after picture of the bubbly conversation between Anne and the president of Vassar.

Olga Kostritzky, Credit: dancingacrossborders.net

Olga Kostritzky is one of the main figures in the documentary. Upon Sy’s arrival to America, Anne sets him up with Olga for private lessons so that he can gain some technique before joining the School of American Ballet. The myths surrounding Olga, the founder of the boys program at SAB, began immediately from other Vassar students who had taken class with her or from the ballet school. We knew before she arrived that she was never caught without her giant sunglasses, except one day when no one at her studios recognized her. The class started innocently enough. The thick Russian accent emanating softly from her short stocky form told a cute story culminating in the fact that she was wearing two right ballet slippers. After a few exercises at the bar, she told one boy that, being tall, attractive and with nice legs, he could make it as a professional ballet dancer if he would only close his fifth position. She told another that he needed to dance with his arms and that they shouldn’t stay limp at his sides. She was criticizing the two best ballet dancers in our class who rarely got a comment from our current teacher. Upon realizing this, the masochistic side of ballet was suddenly and unshakably present. I wanted her to criticize me, to tell me what I was doing wrong and be considered worth fixing. I was also terrified of what she would say and whether I would be able to fix what she wanted me to.

Upon completely failing to execute a simple balancé combination with stiff legs and the wrong arms, and at this point I had started to check out from the raging psychological game in my head, she merely looked at me and said ‘You were late.’ I nodded and walked away feeling like a joke. I have never really thought it was possible to become a ballet dancer so late in life but for some reason this all effected me very much. As the film was played, I could feel myself in Sy’s place with both jealousy and sympathy. Later in the locker room I was told that Olga had ‘chilled out’ over the years. One student recounted how she would criticize her pupil’s technique along with their lives in general. The reason a dancer wouldn’t close their fifth position completely was, to her, because they didn’t care enough to, and if they didn’t care enough about fifth position they definitely didn’t care about the rest of their lives and the reason they were failing in life was because they failed to close in a perfect fifth position. On one occasion, I was told, this rhetoric made a girl cry and Olga responded by laughing. The shocking part of it all is that this is commonplace for ballet and most ballet dancers will tell you that if you can’t stand the back handed compliments and constant mental torment, you clearly weren’t meant to be a ballet dancer.

Credit: dancingacrossborders.net

So then as the theater settled down and the lights dimmed, I was fairly aware of who had created the film and the nature behind Sy’s private teacher. But there was another layer that contributed to my preconceptions of the film. With a title like ‘Dancing Across Borders,’ I knew that cultural sensitivity would be immediately measured by the audience. Vassar has a somewhat diverse atmosphere and a community that is quickly defensive when it comes to issues of race, class and gender. The screening occurred during the same week as students protested a campus-wide spring ‘Luau’ because it was insensitive and insulting to the cultural traditions of Hawaiian people. This happening just days after objections to a ‘Free Weezy’ dance party for the perpetuation of racist black stereotypes by way of Lil Wayne as well as continued disbelief at a fundraiser challenging donors to walk around the quad with a bucket of water on their head titled ‘Are you stronger than a Nigerian woman?’ So it was no wonder that thoughts of imperialism and the ‘white man’s burden’ along with a discerning eye for cultural injustice would permeate the reception of the film.

Sokvannara (Sy) Sar, Credit: Rex Tranter

So how did the documentary pass the test? I’m really not sure. In a sense, the film stayed very true to reality and did very little to paint Sy’s journey through ballet as a triumphant or extraordinary. At times it seemed to try. It mentioned how incredible his cramps were or how unbelievable it was that would learn ballet so quickly. But this was all overshadowed by Sy’s almost complete lack of interest in ballet. Almost before this had become apparent the film seemed to try and justify itself as it progressed. In it’s attempt to not undermine his Cambodian upbringing, it left me feeling as though Sy might have been better off just staying home with his family. There were two sides constantly juxtaposed and awfully confusing. Half of the film included footage of Sy working very hard to perfect his technique. It showed him learning from Olga and connecting with fellow company members. And his performances were incredibly beautiful and striking. But the other half was very stark. Sy admits that he didn’t care much for ballet when he first saw it but that he would give it a try. He talks of getting tired of Olga and the practices. During one of his performances his parents are quoted around his body saying that they don’t really understand the ballet or really care if he is doing it. There are shots of him walking around the city alone and talking about his lack of friends and how hard it was for him to break into American culture. He even mentions once about how he doesn’t feel as though he belongs in America but he so seldom goes home that he doesn’t feel like he belongs there either. He is quoted as saying that sometimes you have to do what you have to do and not what you want to do. The most enchanting performances, including a hauntingly beautiful solo performed alongside Philip Glass, are when he is told to channel loneliness and homesickness. And so as the final credits begin to roll, as Sy is reaching and pulling his body across the stage I am left not with inspiration but with unexpected sadness. It seems that Anne Bass has brought this boy from his poor family in Cambodia, introducing a path into the riches of America through ballet only to drop his identity in the ocean somewhere on the flight over, and even as he learns the technique beautifully, he is never truly passionate about it. For an art form that professes unbelievable beauty, dedication and passion, it is bewildering and saddening to see it performed so captivatingly by someone who never really wanted to be there in the first place. The art is created not for the sake of art, but for the sake of leaving Cambodia and seeking a better life. Perhaps the inspiration is supposed to come from him struggling diligently to become a beautiful ballet dancer. I suppose this would have worked if he actually wanted to be one.

Although this would seem to denounce the film, I honestly believe it should be viewed by everyone. It is an incredibly fascinating work not only in its content but in its mere existence. It causes one to question many aspects of art and dance. The film was promoted and distributed primarily because of how much money the director of the film has and she could be considered a ‘rich artist.’ She did not struggle to create this film and she never had to seek approval from art critics or grant and fellowship donors. Does this change the authenticity of a work of art? Had she enough money to sponsor Sy but not enough to make the film, would it have turned out differently? Is there a direct correlation between money and integrity of art? In the same vein, Sy’s performances were incredible even though he wasn’t passionate about them. Does one actually need to be passionate about an art form to create beautiful work? If not, does that not undermine the work of so many people who care more than anything about the art they are pursing? Isn’t that terrifying? I don’t think Anne should be criticized for wanting to help Sy and his family but when all the pieces come together, the inspiration quickly falls away and I am left with the strange story of a wealthy woman who chose a boy she liked watching dance and taught him beautifully to watch him dance ballet. He, knowing how much this could help his family, accepted what she was giving him but all the while never knowing for sure if he even liked what she had given.

Although it certainly did not set out to do so, Anne’s film portrays a perspective on dance and art that I have never seen before. One with such a lack of self-awareness or censorship that the audience is given a rare view of dance that is not often seen. It may not be great art but it is definitely a piece of work that is both hyper-realistic and unintentionally beyond disillusionment. A strange story definitely worth seeing with your own eyes.

Credit: Erin Baiano

March 31st, 4:00pm
Vassar College
Poughkeepsie, New York

Beach Birds – Lyon Opera Ballet [Merce Cunningham] (1991)

March 23, 2010

One hand flicks and the dance has begun. Scattered across the stage and facing no particular direction, the dancers have been swaying slightly as if floating on calm water, feet together, knees bent and arms stretched out to the side. The spandex outfits are black from the chest up, including the arms and hands and with the fingers firmly closed, the structure of a wing is suggestively apparent. The flicks occur as one outstretched hand switches from facing the floor to facing forward and the slight change in the human architecture spreads as each dancer follows in a seemingly random fashion. The first woman to flick slowly curves her upper body to the side moving her arm to curve forward and the dance and the music, Four3 by John Cage, begins to build momentum.

Credit: Michael O'Neill

When I first learned that Merce Cunningham used chance to choreograph his dances, I assumed the performance would be unfathomable. It is true that at times the sections of dances could be ordered randomly only a minute before the performance, but I imagined whole dances where the performer had each step in random sequence to be remembered and executed with perfect precision. I dreamed that in his effort to find true freedom from oneself and the influences of one’s environment there would be nothing more than incoherent movement and placement and only the uncalculated and miraculous unison would shine through. Now that I have finally seen a live full performance I can understand that Merce Cunningham is actually… not that different from what I have seen before. At least not this piece. And knowing his choreography came first, I can begin to understand the influence his choreography has had on the art of modern dance.

Credit: J.P. Maurin

The piece included many repeated phrases and formations in different locations and directions. There were also two duets between a man and a woman, indicating some sort of relationship that seemed more about mating than love with neither partner ever really touching yet forcefully invading each others space.

Credit: Andrea Mohin

The dance begins with a soft blue background that slowly darkens to a cobalt blue. Without seeing the title, the close proximity of the dancers, the head, leg and arm flicks, their quick, stealthy movement and the way they seem to avoid each other without acknowledging each other’s existence swiftly brings the audience to the illusion of watching a flock of birds. And as the background slowly fades to a light orange, the sun begins to set on another simple day for birds on the beach.

Credit: Michael Cavalca

Have you seen a performance of Merce Cunningham before?

Do you see contemporary artists borrowing from his technique or aesthetic?

How does this dance compare with other dances you have seen about a flock of birds?

How much do you miss the ocean right now?

March 13th, 8:00pm
Joyce Theater
New York City, New York

(some images found at Oberon’s Grove)

Brief Encounters – Paul Taylor (2009)

March 10, 2010

On July 29th, Paul Taylor will turn 80 years old. Think for a second about the men in your life who are coming up on their 8th decade on earth. Think of your fathers and grandfathers who, at this age, are or were beginning to slow a bit in their thinking. Maybe a few of their jokes were becoming borderline racist or at least sadly nostalgic. If this man were to create a work of art, dance or otherwise, it would seem that some of the more crude topics would be off-limits. So what did Paul Taylor create for his latest piece? Notes on the dance will tell you it is “a dance about people more concerned with momentary connections than ongoing relationships,” but a few seconds into the dance, it is quite apparent that the more conservative term ‘momentary connections’ is a thin veil for ‘casual sex.’ Yes, far into his senior years, Paul Taylor creates a dance about youth and sex.

[The following music clips are the sections of Le Coin des Enfants]
Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum

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As such, the costumes for this piece are barely there. The black lingerie is see-through mesh over a nude undergarment, giving the illusion of naked yet sexy dancers. One could swear if they looked closely enough, there really was nothing under all that mesh. And so as the music fades in, the dancers begin to touch, slide and spin around each other.

Jimbo’s Lullaby

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Credit: Mary Buttolph for The New York Times

Le Coin des Enfants, or Children’s Corner, is Claude Debussy’s tribute to his 3 year old daughter. The music is intended to evoke the quality of childhood. Although this dance is clearly about adult themes many of the characters within it do act like children. One woman dances while gazing into a mirror, enamored by her own beauty. Even as a man comes to try and entice her, she cannot break her focus. It is not until she throws the mirror off stage that she begins to feel that she has made a mistake. Another section portrays an uneven number of dancers partnering in duets, leaving one man to feel left out and angrily so. In the end, they scramble after each other until one woman flicks her foot in exasperation at her inability to find a mate.

Serenade for the Doll

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There is one section that includes a duet between two men. The sexuality of Paul Taylor has never been determined and most would say it neither matters nor should be determined in the wrongly accepted gay or straight binary. However, it has always baffled me as to why choreographers who identify as homosexual would want to create pieces that only portray heterosexual couples. Perhaps the tradition of heterosexual relationships makes for great dance creations. Since Paul Taylor has been acquainted with both, it is very fitting to include it.

The Snow is Dancing

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To keep with the theme, the relationship between the two men is not romantic. They look at each other sternly and with clenched fists. It is difficult to tell if they are trying to fight each other or make love. By the time one man has been turned upside down with his crotch dangerously close to the other man’s face it seems pretty clear as to what their relationship entails. But just as quickly as they begin, they have separated and run off stage holding hands.

The Little Shepherd

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Credit: Gloria Wright / The Post-Standard

Paul Taylor has a knack for beauty. Whether it be the billowing skirts gracing the women’s thighs or the shirtless expansiveness of the men’s chests, he embellishes the loveliness of the human form. Although these situations portrayed in the dance may not have happened to Paul, with its sensitivity and believability and the naked beauty of it all, one has to wonder at the ‘brief encounters’ he must have had in his long life.

Golliwogg’s Cakewalk

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Did any of the sexuality of the piece surprise you?

Is this piece similar to any other Paul Taylor dances?

Did you relate to the characters?

How often do you dance in your underwear?

March 6th, 2010, 8:00pm
New York City Center
New York City, New York

Airs – Paul Taylor (1978)

March 8, 2010

Credit: Paul B. Goode

I would like to recount exactly what occurred in this dance but as much as I try to latch on to the details, I cannot. Anna Kisselgoff wrote a beautiful and descriptive review in 1982 about a specific moment that I just can’t recall. The reason is… I got lost in the dance. One moment bled into the next and my eyes wondered from extended arm to pointed foot and from duet to solo with such smoothness that I didn’t care to dwell on who was doing what exactly and for what reason. The entire dance felt like gazing at the ocean and each wave came and broke and sank back from which it came, as nearly every soft ending was abruptly switched to a peppy new beginning.

Credit: Paul B. Goode

The music of George Frideric Handel provided the atmosphere for the dance. The term ‘air’ in music is used to describe aria-like song structures. The compositions were from Handel’s Alcina, Ariodante, Berenice, and Solomon operas along with sections of his Concerti Grossi. Below are most of the movements and can give an idea of how the dance came along.

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