Monday, October 29, 2012

Talking about talking about work

Another post by a choreographer/performer enrolled in the MFA program in Dance at GWU: part of the course I teach asks students to read different critics and analyze their perspectives.  Here Dawn Stoppiello addresses a seminal piece in dance criticism.

Arlene Croce was the dance critic for The New Yorker from 1973 to 1998. She founded Ballet Review magazine and was a film critic prior to her career as a dance writer. Croce has written several books on dance but this article, “Discussing the Undiscussable,” is an important part of her legacy and recognition. Her audience includes the large readership of The New Yorker and many dance enthusiasts and professionals.
As a “newbie” in New York City in 1994, I remember vividly when “Discussing the Undiscussable” came out. With this piece Croce started an extremely important and controversial conversation on art and criticism, one that had been waiting to be had. Already somewhat identified as an old-school uptowner, with this article Croce exposes herself as a brave journalist even if (and precisely because) her expressed opinions were not in line with everyone’s.
Surely it is agreed that the quality of an artwork is subjective, but what Croce is arguing is that it is impossible to formally critique something that is, first, and foremost a “being of something” rather than a “theater of something.” I mean to say that being a terminally ill person and not acting as one has no formal perspective from which to be critiqued. How does a critic critique a real person’s unscripted and unrehearsed real story?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dracula, the ballet

This is a poster from the Dracula film. The ballet on view at the Kennedy Center is much better.

A cross between romantic ballet and the Twilight Saga, the newest production to enter the repertory of The Washington Ballet is evocative, gripping, and utterly spectacular. Performed by a phenomenal cast on Friday, Dracula featured Emily Ellis in the role of Mina and Jared Nelson in the title role. They were a scintillating couple: transforming Michael Pink’s choreography--which features long lunges, diagonal lines, and wing-like arms--into statements about desire and delusion.

The entire cast contributed to Pink’s nightmarish visions, both horrifying and believable at the same time. Their dancing was enhanced by their sumptuous outfits and sets--original costumes and production by Lez Brotherston—which Atlanta Ballet loaned to Washington. The contrasts between the light-hearted mood of the Tea Dance that began Act II and the abbey scene that closed the ballet created a sensuous and emotional journey; as bizarre as a ballet about vampires may be, these performers made the tale captivating. The score by Philip Feeney enhanced the spooky atmosphere: sounds of banging on a door, water dripping in a bucket (or maybe in some dark basement), and pulsing heartbeats conjured scenes from an Edgar Allan Poe story. Dracula’s bold and sinister demeanor made visible his allure and his cruelty, and carried through to the bows when Nelson strutted on stage, slow and majestic, a dignified commander of other realms. 

This production is a Dionysian delight, enriched by Pink’s choreography that the cast so beautifully inhabits.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Contact Improvisation Solo

Benno Voorham. Image from his website:
This is a guest blogger post by Ilana Silverstein, a DC choreographer and performer who is also pursuing her master's degree in dance at George Washington University. As part of a course I teach in Contemporary Performance and Dance History, Ilana wrote this reflection on an event by Benno Voorham at Dance Exchange:

When a distinguished dance teacher like Benno Voorham spends a weekend in town, it is time to rise to the occasion and present his work, whether you identify as a presenter or not.  Walking into the Dance Exchange studio in Takoma Park, MD, I noticed wall to wall black curtains and crisscrossing diagonals of light directed upstage.  The setting and audience of thirty people transported me into performance mode. Two simple wooden chairs were set facing away from each other splitting center on a diagonal.  My program offered little information about the piece or Voorham.  It read Benno Voorham by Benno Voorham.  Luckily, I already knew some basic information: that Voorham is a contact improvisation teacher from Sweden and that he was going to perform a twenty-minute improvisational performance.  Voorham entered the space, wearing only red plaid pants and a belt, and sat down in one of the chairs.  The opening image of Voorham sitting lasted for the entirety of the first piece of classical music as if we were invited to join in on a sitting meditation.  When Voorham left the chair, I was immediately drawn to his bare back and feet.  For the second piece of music, we watched his back and hips giggle as if he was rolling a marble up and down his torso.  The classical music and the unexpected back-dance created a bit of humor.  I was not prepared for the isolated movement and therefore wanted to laugh. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

words and action

photo of Julia Rhoads' company Lucky Plush by Cheryl Mann

Over the last 10 days I have been to 8 different performances, films, and talks but one event stands out from all the rest. And it’s not Black Watch at Harman Hall or Voices of Strength at The Kennedy Center – although both of those were excellent – it’s something on a smaller scale that left a deeper impact. On October 2 choreographer/director Julia Rhoads spoke at Dance Exchange about a model she has created to generate stability and sustainably for small to medium sized arts organizations. It’s not only a brilliant and innovative structure, but the MacArthur Foundation has already recognized her concept with a quarter-million dollars. That’s not a typo: the MacArthur Foundation gave $250,000 in funding for multi-year support of Rhoads' proposal called, aptly enough, Creative Partners.

Rhoads conceived of this system for supporting for arts administration after considering how “90% of my job is administrative, 10% is artistic.” She wondered how she could change this paradigm (which is not unusual for successful, smaller-sized dance companies). Several keywords popped up: the structure needed to be collaborative, collective, sustainable, interdisciplinary. In many ways the structure of her newly designed organization reflects the values that drive her stage work. It's based on pooling resources of three smaller arts organizations to generate enough funding to pay one director of development and associate to find financial support for the three organizations. The organizations Rhoads chose to partner with are like-minded, but not dance-specific. She selected eighth blackbird, a new music ensemble, and Blair Thomas & Company, a puppet theater troupe.