Reposted from The Dancer’s Toolkit http://centeredstage.com
…it must be true.
I am a strong advocate for dancers developing more internal feedback based on what they feel rather than what they see in the mirror. (In part because a lot of dancers use the mirror as a crutch or enemy, rather than a tool…) It was wonderful to see the same sentiments in print from the master teacher himself (from the New York Times obituary published on August 18, 2013):
““Out of the feeling comes the form…Ninety percent of the time students are taught the form first. And then they’re expected, through some act of God, to get the feeling.”
Mr. Howard’s pedagogy, unorthodox in its day, entailed a kinesthetic approach, in which dancers were taught to rely less on external feedback from the mirror and more on the minute internal signals that telegraph the position of the head, limbs and torso in space.”
In a culture that…
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“Life is the root; art the flower.”
“Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.”
― Twyla Tharp
I could move almost anywhere. My daughter could study ballet anywhere. If you call home a place where your family is, then we certainly have a home. It is wherever we put ourselves and our stuff. “Our stuff” can mean many things, though, including ideas! I do not think you have to watch or see other people’s art to make art, but it is often interesting to do so-getting ideas can come from almost anything. My children have almost never had a house-well, we did once, but that was not permanent, so that is different. But your ideas and creations, your art, definitely needs a house-and then you need a place to work. That could be a studio, a coffee shop, a theater, or an office, etc, but it is a place where you have a work ritual and is conducive to being productive. I had a house growing up. It was the only time in my life I felt really secure. But, there were some things I realized I could NOT do in that house-art sometimes needs a different house. Now that I think back, I knew it wouldn’t go away, we wouldn’t have to move or run away, but it did and what I was left with were the memories and fond feelings which in turn became allegorical to me, so a house, for me, is a metaphor for a place where you are free; free to create, sleep, love, eat, entertain, work, etc….and that place is in yourself, too. An abstract notion and a metaphor puzzle me. You can think we are the masters of the planet or you can reverse that and feel like a Dr. Seuss character hanging off the trunk of an elephant-one is secure, one is not so secure. Or is it? It is important in art to turn things upside down and shake them a bit, you never know what you’ll find. Looking at things in different ways can also be interesting. Abstract art/dance is not always a big turn-on for me. I like to have the security in experiencing it, by knowing somewhat what the artist intended. I do not feel secure out their, hanging off the trunk of an elephant trying to figure out what they are trying to say. it makes me feel dumb if I do not get it. I do not think Twyla Tharp left a lot to the imagination about the intention of her work. As a child, it appealed to me immensely, it made perfect sense, just be happy and dance! Now, I see it as less interesting, oddly. Change is good, and that is another thing about perspective(s)-those change too, even for artists, one day they make a work, see it one way and have lightened their load. The next day, they are really not satisfied with it anymore. They have to move on and once said, a piece does not always any longer carry much meaning for them. It still means the same to us, I think, and we keep in our experiences, thins we have seen in different categories. There is certainly a “live” category, which is interactive to some extent, and there is what I like to call a 2-dimensional category. This is or can be the process of making or experiencing art in some other way-not “live.” Fewer senses are used, or different senses called upon. The artist is the maker, and the viewer is, well, the viewer.
“Creativity is more about taking the facts, fictions, and feelings we store away and finding new ways to connect them. What we’re talking about here is metaphor. Metaphor is the lifeblood of all art, if it is not art itself. Metaphor is our vocabulary for connecting what we are experiencing now with what we have experienced before. It’s not only how we express what we remember , it’s how we interpret it – for ourselves and others.”
― Twyla Tharp
What I want to discuss today is working habits. people need them, as much as a form of security as a house. a place to put our things, our ideas, our creations. We need a house. Not in the sense of a box-we have to think out of the box, but first you must start with a box to think out of it, so one cannot exist without the other. You have to throw ideas away and keep ideas. It is not unusual then, that in a school (of any sort), we have those who think inside the box and those who think outside the box. Any institution or school of thought is similar, ideas can be parallel, but they do not have to be the same. Twyla Tharp also said:
“A lot of people insisted on a wall between modern dance and ballet. I’m beginning to think that walls are very unhealthy things. ”
― Twyla Tharp
One can make the assertion that ballet is dead, but any art form may come alive again, and it does, again and again. I believe walls are important, otherwise no walls would need walls, sometimes. Many people begin one study in school, and experiences or life happens to them, changing their goals, their dreams and their visions. This happens to artists, and too much desire to control the experiment often results in less being produced and not more, but clearly an artist must know where to stop. In a drawing, this can be very plain, when artists do not know where to stop and there is too much said, too many things going on, and for me, frequently, too little with abstract art. Ballet usually tells a story. In classical terms, this was generally an allegory. Why are symbols necessary?
To escape, must one run to the forest of one’s mind, to the fauns, the dryads, an urban sprawl, or love, to cycle around feelings and try to get different perspectives-one perspective is often called a “style.” The representation of abstract or spiritual meaning through concrete or material forms, or using a figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another is one definition of an allegory. We do it every day, for instance, when we make a comparison (simile).
In Paquita, which is abstract (actually) and allegorical (incidentally), and not based on any story at all, and features the music of Minkus, and the choreography of Petipa, and was the result of years of successful collaborations by the two, the abstract works. The Grand Pas, was written for Petipa’s revival of Deldevez’s Paquita in St Petersburg in 1881. It is a jewel of the classical ballet repertoire in its own right. As an independent, abstract divertissement, the Grand Pas has remained immensely popular with dancers, ballet companies and their audiences all over the world, but had not been seen outside Russia in its original context (as the climax of the concluding celebrations) before Pierre Lacotte’s re-creation of the 1846 ballet in its entirety at the Paris Opéra in 2001. I notice the French love anything with French words in the title, whether it is French or not.
The Grand Pas was designed to showcase the ballerina, premier danseur, six premières danseuses and eight second soloists. In serves as a kind of miniature gala performance, with an array of solos that are not only interesting for their choreography but also the obbligato writing. Minkus’ real talent in composing was for the violin, his own personal favorite—which can be seen in the extended adagio. There are also several other instruments highlighted in his ballets, such as the flute, harp, cello and cornet. It is surprising to me that ballet dancers usually do not know very much about ballet. They are not always very well-educated. I think it is more possible to interpret something from different standpoints if you study it, or learn more about it-more information in, more information out. The violin and harp solos were especially written for the maestros of the St. Petersburg orchestra in the day, Albert Zabel and Leopold Auer. The piece was used extensively in Pavlova’s touring company in the 1920’s and it is today all over the world.
Another, lesser performed piece, but more interesting to me because I love character dances, and as an allegorical reference, is Nuit et Jour, created by Petipa and Minkus to celebrate the accession to the throne of Tsar Alexander III in 1883. It is an interesting example of abstract allegorical work because it illustrates the movement of time through the day and the seasons of the year. The ballet metaphor recreates the co-existing beautiful characteristics of both night and day (created by the great ballerinas Yevgeniya Sokolova and Yekaterina Vazem, respectively), the struggle between darkness and light for first place, and climaxes in the natural harmony in which they must have détente, some of the time, in the dance of the nations. This assumes a patriotic stance by sampling the talents of no less than ten national types from the Russian Empire in a tour de force, masterfully showcasing the composer’s skill in capturing the various national styles: Uzbek, Tartar, Siberian, Finnish, Cossack, Belarusian, Polish, Caucasian, and Ukrainian, as well as Petipa’s choreographic importance in preserving the dance styles of the nationalities in a ballet. Over and over again, we are to see and hear these great artists works today, though in different cultures, we are served them up in an entirely new stew. Some music from that piece is here:
The piece is not now performed by anyone (on YouTube). However, another interesting allegory is Maurice Béjart’s Firebird. I love Bejart, particularly Bolero. This ingenious work reinterprets the traditional fairytale as an allegory of revolution, idealism and rebirth, played out against Igor Stravinsky’s glorious score here heard as performed with Alvin Ailey’s dancers.
Still anyone with a penchant for the music of the Firebird, being familiar with the score, will want to see what Ailey’s dancers have done with it. A new perspective is good, whether you like it or not. The point is, the familiar is exciting, the everyday is relevant, and as these ballets and music themselves were at one time revolutionary, they were the purposefully driven vehicle of the composer and choreographer to make interesting the art of ballet, an allegory in themselves, within an allegory within an allegory. Today, this chain continues with the not-so-modern-anymore work of Twyla Tharp, dependent on the good vibrations of the Beach Boys and other artists of the era (and before) allegorically to remind us of a period by the use of its symbols, one is the music itself, the metaphor of the dancers just moving to the music differently, and I think, syncopation to illustrate perfectly logical dance technique, which here was revolutionary use of a new style. The ambiance, lighting and simple costumes imbues a sense of simpler times, when emotions were playful and innocent, fun and frolicsome, a love story, the social atmosphere and interactions of her characters (almost) are like Dick and Jane in Little Deuce Coupe. The use of the dances of that period, viewed from a different perspective, lend a convivial excitement to the pieces, in place of the usual feelings and emotions one is transported to in a ballet. It is a vehicle to make you perfectly comfortable, expecting one thing and then delivering quite another in her complex and very serious choreography, which to any other music might not be as appetizing and the audience might rebel. And the anticipation created by the use of these songs, relaxes the viewer, allowing them to concentrate only on what the dancers are actually doing. The dancing is rebellious movement, not ballet, and not modern dance, but something of both, something without oppressive walls and yet we accept it. It is believable.
American’s We, also from Ms, Tharp was referred to by Anna Kisselgoff of The New York Times as “cosmic allegory.” I do not see why she refers to it as allegory at all, other than that many abstract works present a patriotic or social comment or use a metaphor to make a point-like Laugh-In-they are not necessarily allegorical. Its premiere, featuring Angel Corella and Paloma Herrera, opened on May 3rd, 1996, (by ABT) spawning a heartless review: “A ballet by Twyla Tharp, no matter how muddled, always has a streak of unmatched originality,”….”and The Elements, her new work about order and disorder for American Ballet Theater, if flawed, is also striking.” “While not entirely transformed into a showpiece for Angel Corella, the revised ballet nonetheless explodes with this young dancer’s phenomenal bravura. Don’t miss him. Largely re-choreographed for Mr. Corella and Paloma Herrera and using some new music, Americans We now treats its theme of light and shade both sensibly and sensationally.” Apparently, the re-choreographing of a live piece of art occasioned a gradual acceptance into the vernacular by this critic, but who says art has to be dormant-it can’t change? Most live art changes. Only film and visual art is static. Sometimes we see the allegory within an allegory from the press and since we cannot see it on YouTube, that is the best we are going to get-metaphors for dance which induces the audience to come to the show (sort of-in this instance). Twyla Tharp found a home for her works, housed in Oberlin College (Ohio)-if you are ever there, take a look. Remind me again-what do we need critics in dance for? Film yes, but dance? Maybe not. Perhaps Petipa’s and Minkus’ productions were not so very well received in their day!
Allegory expects from the audience a level of comprehension, to know what the symbols in the story, the dancers, represent. The best allegory is a game of charades, where you realize the pantomime, with surprise and yet with a sense of personal accomplishment in recognizing the obvious. Allegory would be unsuccessful if everyone left the theater with a different impression. The result of a successful allegory is that the audience comes away with a feeling of a universal togetherness, united in the same belief; for the briefest of moments having shared spirits. I have looked into the eyes of other theater goers and known I was “reached” and they were not.
To me, this kind of ballet is less boring than a masque, and no wonder the success of these ballets, for some of the reasons outlined above. I wonder then, how an abstract ballet can have the same elements of a story ballet, and how these almost indescribable pieces can result in the audience experiencing the same emotions, but they can.
Les Presages and Choreartium are two, choreographed and performed by The Joffrey Ballet, premiered in Los Angeles in 1992, amidst anticipation not heralded by “new” abstract allegories, according to one NYT’s review. What is new about an allegory by now, you say? Isn’t everything a metaphor/allegory in ballet, dance, art, music? No everything is a metaphor (again). But, audiences, tired of being talked-down to, lost interest in old themes of personifications of good and evil, night and day, light and shade, etc-and the reviewer is always there to remind them of what to think. What was “new” could still be predictable.
Perhaps the most famous allegorical ballet is Swan Lake, but upon this I will not dwell on the story and the dichotomy of the black and white swan, portrayed by one dancer, clearly revolutionary at its start, but rather on the music, which in itself also cleverly draws from earlier scores. An interesting aspect of the composition process and history is that supposedly specialist composers (for ballets) were frowned upon by Tchaikovsky (think Minkus and Pugni) until he studied their scores and, impressed by the nearly limitless variety of infectious melodies their scores contained, he copied their pattern(s) to some degree. Tchaikovsky later wrote, “I listened to the Delibes ballet ‘Sylvia‘…what charm, what elegance, what wealth of melody, rhythm, and harmony. I was ashamed, for if I had known of this music then, I would not have written ‘Swan Lake'”. We would have been lost if he did not copy those other ballets. I love Sylvia, too, but for different reasons. Tchaikovsky also copied leitmotif (think Giselle, Adams), which consisted of associating certain themes with certain characters or moods, a technique he would use in Swan Lake, and The Sleeping Beauty. We often wonder why certain music reminds us of certain other music. All allegory!
Truthfully, all dance is metaphor, on some level, and an allegory is an extended metaphor, wherein a story illustrates an important aspect of the subject-another definition of allegory. Non-linguistic metaphors, such as in dance, can be the basis on which we compare ourselves, or imagine ourselves in the role of a broom as danced with in Cinderella and no doubt is where Disney got his idea of the broom in Fantasia, among other dancing items: Hippos, flowers, fauns….and ostriches (as set to music by Leopold Stokowski)
As in art, most choreographed works of dance are presented as if in a language all their own, based on on metaphors, and which demands imagination and intuition take precedence over logic and reason. The interesting aspect is how dance is a language of its own and also tells stories, sometimes using completely fixed objects, as in art, to denote certain iconographic statements and how these universal symbols, whether to adult or child, across any culture, can readily convey the same emotions to completely different people. I am not speaking of the pageant-like recitals of ballet and dance academies where a prop, of a window is all they have to stage, but where these articles are truly elements of communication-a part of the symbols necessary to communicate a feeling or an idea, and together with the music, costume and sense of movement-or logical flow of movement, we can put together a story with iconographic images, music and association. Note the word necessary.
Every dance is to some greater or lesser extent a kind of fever chart, a graph of the heart.—Martha Graham
Martha Graham, first and foremost engages me as a developer of movement, a movement linguist. For me, her technique makes it possible to express certain kinds of feelings, and it is so easy to learn-so natural~! It is sort of like swimming with the water buoying you up, supporting you and in this security, you can think clearly. Her technique is a relaxed sort of strength, one the body gives up honestly, practically no effort is required, outside of breathing. From this technique comes her many works and examples of expressed feelings at one time considered understandable to most viewers and significant.
and her technique is quite rhythmically suitable for certain kinds of music, mostly dark or discordant (ahem) themes, but not always. I find a great deal of joy in Appalachian Spring.
Isadora Duncan and Loie Fuller (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAoPeYG9Znc&feature=related) are two examples of pioneer women dancers who also thought of dance as a metaphor for freedom and for life (supposedly). But in dance, as in all other commercial art forms, there must not be only the artist’s ability to express themselves, but also the ability to engage and audience.
Another modern allegory I like, Babel, by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, expresses how non-language is sometimes more uniting, universal, and inoffensive than any other form of communication. Perhaps we understand more by watching visual movements and symbols than by talking. As envisioned by Cherkaoui, Babel demonstrates through allegory, music, singing, icons, and especially dance, that perhaps dance is a common language in which we can mostly be peaceful. Allegorical, metaphorical or truth? Perhaps, it has taken these centuries to get past all of our obstacles in seeing the plain and simple truth. Too much talking, not enough dancing…..
Keep on dancing!!! 🙂
by Ava Brown
copyright © 2012 by Ava Brown
Leo Rosten said, “the only reason for being a professional writer is that you can’t help it.” I think that is true of any art. Someone else said, if you get up in the morning and you have to make music, dance, paint, draw, sing, dance or act, then you should. Why is this? We are best by an urge to express ourselves, physically and mentally, whether as an outlet for our experiences, feelings or just to do it. Can this become habit because it is rewarding, or even if not rewarding, or painful, or expensive, fraught with difficulties, learning experiences, dues, turmoil and other obstacles, something we MUST do? I am not what I would call a writer. I am a human with a drive to have questions answered, and I often ask myself, why???I continue to do certain things, what is personally gratifying about these experiences and I wonder why I continue to do some things, or love them, and why I do not continue to do them. I am afraid of not finishing, quitting, not living up to possibilities, not having those answers and dancing in the dark, so to speak. But of the many things I have started or given up, dance has continued to be the one that was most memorable to me. I felt that by not doing it I was being less than I could be. Even as I take my own daughter to dance, it is for her own good and nothing else, as in the end I know, that is all that matters. I give her the gift and the opportunity to grow and to have the basis of dance on which to measure herself all of her life and to thank not me, but it, for giving her so much that is within herself to accomplish. To be, to be healthy is everything, and dance is a path, not just to health, but to so many other positive feelings, states of mind, experiences, and memories, it just cannot be compared to any other outlet I have known or path to one’s own worth and ability. It is truly possible in dance to become the best that you can be. In writing, art, music or any other form of expression, I am not sure the positive aspects are so overwhelming or obvious and it occurs to me that for other people to be able to read and share those experiences, it might inspire people to take dance to find out what is so great about it. I feel that almost everyone who takes it will be hooked. Having so many answers from so many people might also answer, finally, some of the many questions dancers have about dance, themselves, and what makes dancers tick, common experiences, solutions to problems, similarities and differences. There is always the history of dance, but never a history of dancers and in the end, too few books about the subject and on the shelves at your local bookstore. I think this is a shame. For something so great and for so many people to have so little access or information on the wonders of dance, the issues, nutrition, medical advice, studios, teachers and other people who have been instruments of spreading this happy disease seems to tell the world it is not important and it is.