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Posts Tagged ‘choreography’

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Photo: Timothy Norris
Choreographer Mark Morris is currently learning to make films remotely with his dancers. Above, he leads audience members in a sing-along at California’s Ojai Music Festival in June 2013. The image is from an article in the
Nation.

As we all try to learn new technologies to continue valued activities under social distancing, I’m noticing that some technologies turn out to be pretty hopeless while others will be a good addition to our repertoire. Figuring out why my sound system’s feedback was disrupting an ESL teacher’s online class wasn’t worth repeated failures. I contribute to the teaching other ways. But basic features of Google Classroom, WhatsApp, Skype, and FaceTime have been great. Those are keepers.

In an example from the dance world, choreographer Mark Morris is teaching himself to make films with his quarantined dancers.

Sarah L. Kaufman writes at the Washington Post, “Choreographer Mark Morris says to his dancers. ‘Go as far away as you can in your room.’

“Morris, in a black T-shirt and a string of beads, peers through his reading glasses at his computer screen. Arranged around his own image in rows of little boxes he can see who’s on this recent videoconference call: his rehearsal director, music director and three Mark Morris Dance Group performers.

“Stuck at home like everyone else in New York, the dancers jog backward, past couches, beds and bookshelves, to the rear walls of their apartments. … It’s all he and his performers have to work with.

“Choreography in the age of covid-19 is hardly a graceful undertaking. Morris, the esteemed modern-dance artist whose company has performed to acclaim for more than 40 years, suddenly finds himself out of place in a world of seclusion. His profession depends on working closely with people, getting them to move exactly as he wants. But he’s determined to keep creating. No matter that the city’s quarantine makes gathering in a rehearsal studio impossible.

‘Now, let’s dance a little bit,’ he says. ‘Foot articulation is not important ’cause I don’t see that. What’s more interesting is swooshing’ — he swirls his hand in a serpentine movement — ‘and depth changing.’ …

“The three dancers in their separate squares whirl and glide into view with a smooth, floating quality, winding side to side as if drifting on wind currents. In his chair, Morris echoes their moves with his upper body, lifting his arms as they do. He gasps, he gapes. He sucks in a breath and runs a hand over his hair. Suddenly he waves frantically at the screen.

“ ‘Stop, stop!’ He grabs his head in his hands and pitches backward in his chair. Something has bowled him over — but what? Anguish, despair? Has he been horrified into silence by what he’s seen?

“The dancers wait, breathing hard. Finally the choreographer snaps himself upright.

” ‘That was great!’ he shouts, beaming.

“He adjusts his glasses and adopts a lilting Italian accent: ‘I feel like-a Federico Fellini.’

“That captures this weird, tilted reality perfectly. There is a certain hallucinatory, Fellini-esque quality to this scene, where a giant of the dance world struggles to master the same awkward video technology that remote office workers are using to teleconference. And where top dancers are limited to a few feet of floor space and bad lighting, using bathroom doors as stage wings. …

“Morris has retooled himself as a filmmaker. He began working on this dance last fall, devising the movements in his company’s spacious Brooklyn headquarters with a pianist and 15 dancers. He was nearly finished before shuttering the building last month. …

” ‘My job is irrelevant, if not obsolete,’ Morris says in a phone interview. … ‘The truth is,’ he continues, ‘I’m not making up a dance. I’m making a film. But I’m not an auteur, I don’t understand this technology.’ …

“The dancers have been taking company class every day on Zoom, and having weekly Zoom singing sessions and happy hours. But rehearsing with Morris — even with his tendency to tease them about their unmade beds — fulfills a deep-seated need. Gazing into his virtual studio, Morris appears to be comfortably in his element, scanning each face, each body, picking up every move and gesture, editing freely. No one escapes his focus.

” ‘Can you exit stage left or stage right?’ Morris asks the group. Christina Sahaida and Laurel Lynch slip out of view through nearby doorways, then simultaneously strut back in like Ziegfeld showgirls.

“ ‘Oh, my God,’ he exclaims, delighted. He leans in, like a scientist studying specimens under glass. …

“ ‘There will be more dance products coming from me,’ Morris says later. … ‘When I’m done with this I’ll start something else. Even though it’s not my medium.’ ”

More here. (There’s a firewall at the Post, but you can get a free subscription for a short period of time.)

Photo: Mark Morris Dance Group

DANCE-MORRIS

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Photo: Amitava Sarkar/Forklift
The cast of
Served performs a dance phrase based on the five key movements of mopping. Forklift Danceworks makes choreography from everyday life, revealing the beauty and majesty of what you thought was mundane.

From childhood, I was always one for fantasy and found it easy to relate to imaginary worlds in the arts. Lately, though, I find myself more interested in art that feels relevant, art that uncovers wonder in everyday life. So it’s not surprising that this Dance Magazine article about discovering the dancelike moves of ordinary occupations appealed to me.

Nancy Wozny writes, “Austin renegade Allison Orr doesn’t use traditional performers. With her Forklift Danceworks, she has created dances featuring everyone from sanitation workers (The Trash Project) to power linemen (PowerUP), urban forestry department members (The Trees of Govalle) and food service employees (Served).

“Orr has a BA in anthropology and calls her process ‘ethnographic choreography.’ Using the movements of everyday workers, she crafts large-scale extravaganzas that have included more than 75 performers (and sometimes trucks), audiences of 2,000, and a deep research process that may involve her learning how to scale a power-line distribution pole or riding with a sanitation worker at 4 am.

“She recently spoke to Dance Magazine about her unique creative process.

” ‘When I start a new piece, I listen for the story the workers want told. What do they want people to know about what they do? I usually do about 50 to 100 interviews. Then I watch people doing their expert movement, looking for that seed. ,,, Usually there’s an all-staff meeting where I am introduced. Then I start job shadowing, working alongside them when I can. …

” ‘We don’t actually get people to agree to perform until very late in the process. I usually don’t ask for what we want until that person is likely to say yes. We put out a question, like “How do you cook an omelet in three minutes or less?” and they start choreographing it. Then they want to be in it, because they are the ones who can do it.

” ‘For the actual piece we organize sequences based on their movements, expanding it in space and time. For Served I watched one gentleman mop the floor and observed five different movements he does, including this beautiful turn. …

” ‘Because participants are asked to collaborate across different work groups to make the dance together, they build trust with people they might have worked with for years but never had the chance to really get to know.

” ‘The act of performing changes how collaborators see themselves. Being witnessed in one’s everyday work, particularly doing what might be thought of as mundane or ordinary, is transformational.’ ”

More at Dance Magazine, here.

Photo: Jonica Moore/Forklift Danceworks
A worker from Austin’s Urban Forestry Division performs in the dance
The Trees of Govanelle.

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Photo: Hartford Courant
Former US Marine Roman Baca
develops ballets that help veterans heal and help audiences gain empathy. For his Fulbright Fellowship, he’s creating a new version of Igor Stravinsky’s
Rite of Spring tied to WW I.

Not long ago, Suzanne’s friend Liz found a piece of antique weaponry and asked instagram friends how it might be used in an art project or something else positive.

I said to “beat it into plowshares.”

In their own way of beating weapons into plowshares, war veterans may continue to serve the country after their time in the military. They may run for Congress like Seth Moulton of Massachusetts or establish a nonprofit like Soldier On, which treats veterans suffering from addictions.

And then there’s the Marine who became a choreographer to tell stories that enlighten and heal.

Candice Thompson writes at Dance Magazine, “When Roman Baca returned home from active duty in Iraq in 2007, he found himself having a tough time transitioning to civilian life.

” ‘I remember a couple of instances where I was mean and angry and depressed,’ says Baca. [His wife] suggested Baca return to his roots in dance. ‘She asked me, “If you could do anything in the world, what would you do?” ‘…

“Baca had to broker his transition back into dance. Earlier, he had trained at The Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory in Connecticut and spent a few years as a freelance dancer before feeling compelled, like his grandfather had, to serve his country. ‘I walked into the recruiter’s office and said, “I want to help people who can’t help themselves.” ‘ Baca reveled in the rigor of the Marine Corps, which seemed like a perfect analog to classical ballet. …

“Baca served as a machine gunner and fire team leader [in Fallujah]. And while his job was one of looking for insurgents and intelligence, Baca also ended up doing humanitarian work, bringing water and school supplies to those in need. The transition from violence to aid helped him meet his original desire to defend the vulnerable.

“In 2008 … he reached out to his mentor Sharon Dante from The Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory. He had dabbled in choreography before joining the Marines and had begun to write while overseas. Dante suggested [that he] focus his writing and choreography on his experiences in Iraq. The exploration led Baca to form Exit12 Dance Company, a small troupe with a goal of inspiring conversations about the lasting effects of violence and conflict. …

“When a theater in the UK reached out to him in 2016 about creating a new Rite of Spring — one that would explore the connections between the creation of this famous ballet and the outbreak of World War I, in commemoration of the war’s centennial, as well as touch on today’s veterans and current events — he knew immediately it was a project for [him].

” ‘One percent of our population serves in the military, and an even smaller number serves in war,’ explains Baca of one of the central questions motivating this new commission. ‘How do we take all of this remote and little understood experience and inspire the audience to positive action?’ ”

More at Dance Magazine, here.

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Photo: NCCAkron
The National Center for Choreography is an initiative of the University of Akron in Ohio.

There’s a national center for everything else, why not choreography? Why not Akron? This Midwest university is thinking big.

Steve Sucato writes about its new concept at Dance Magazine. “For countless dancemakers without their own space, there is no place to call home. Enter the new National Center for Choreography at The University of Akron. Its mission: to support the research and development of new dance by providing choreographers, dance companies, arts administrators and dance writers access to the world-class facilities in the University’s Guzzetta Hall and other venues on campus. …

“The Center opened with the support of the University of Akron and a $5 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. [Last] month it [hosted] its first official artist residency when it welcome[d] choreographer Tere O’Connor, July 17–28.

“The Center’s founding executive/artistic director, Christy Bolingbroke, says it needs to be adaptable so as not to impose a certain way of working on any artist.

“One way of doing that is to offer several types of residencies: space, for use of the studio facilities; research, in which choreographers can explore alongside academic scholars; laboratory, in which choreographers and dancers can work without the expectation of a finished project; technical, for dancemakers and/or production designers to experiment in a theatrical venue; and commissioning, where artists receive funds in addition to time and space. …

“Overall, the Center is interested in curating dancemakers it can support on a long-term basis. ‘We are trying to shift the paradigm from just final-product–oriented residencies,’ says Bolingbroke.”

More at Dance Magazine, here. And kudos to the Knight Foundation for recognizing that the coasts do not have a monopoly on the making of art.

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Photo: Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener
Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener created new choreography in June at New York City’s Madison Park, where passersby could watch the process.

I have heard of modern dance performed outdoors, but this is the first time I heard of creating the choreography in public. That would be like putting some kind brain-wave detector on my head so people could read what I’m thinking as I write a post.

Brian Seibert at the New York Times wrote about the choreography project.The choreographers Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener, with dancers of their choosing, are creating something out in the open.

“They’re participating in a collaborative public art project, ‘Prismatic Park,’ sponsored by the Madison Square Park Conservancy. The sculptor Josiah McElheny has created a red pavilion for poets, a blue wall to back musicians and a green circular floor for dancers.

“Artists from those disciplines are in the park for a rotation of residencies through Oct. 8, and will be tasked with making works inspired by the space and unplanned interactions with the public. …

“Seibert: How did you approach the project?

“Riener: We were both excited by it and interested in subverting it. So, of course, the first thing we did was ignore the circle and use the full area.

“Mitchell: I tell the dancers, ‘You’re going to be confronted by people, a squirrel is going to run by, you’re going to stop to say hello to your boyfriend — all of that is what we’re doing.’ … We’ve done a lot of work outside, but this felt more vulnerable, because we weren’t coming in with something set. The first day, my nerves were wild.

“Riener: This part of every process is typically private, and I wasn’t prepared for how uncomfortable I would feel. The constant feeling of being on display, even in your rest moments. You can sort of hide behind a tree.” …

“Mitchell: One time, an older man started gesturing for me to come over and I started mirroring the gesture. And he got a kick out of it and started moving his whole body and we were in this dance together. … I’ve dropped into what it is, and feel more aligned with myself and connected to other people. … It’s a hard time in the world right now, and in a weird way, this is therapeutic.”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Laura Bliss at the Atlantic‘s City Lab has a story on young people you may have seen performing in a New York subway car. She reports that in the film We Live This, the teens’ hopes seem hemmed in by poverty.

“ ‘Showtime’ dancing is a hallmark of the New York City transit scene,” writes Bliss. “Hoping for donations, crews of young black and Latino men perform exuberant choreographies for subway passengers, twisting and leaping from pole to pole with artful ‘lite-feet‘ dancing in between—and never before shouting, ‘It’s showtime!’

“Who are these dancers scraping by on their earnings? A new, short cinéma vérité documentary, We Live This, shines a light on the world of one crew, whose four young members perform on the J train. They are talented, hardworking, committed, and full of dreams, the film shows. But for some, the obstacles are high, and the alternatives slim. …

“Forty, is homeless.

‘As I’m dancing on the train, I’m thinking about where am I sleeping at night,’ he says. ‘Who should I call? Who is going to pick up? What if they don’t answer?’

“Showtime is the best way he he knows to a better life, a way into a community, he says. …

“Of course, the subway is no simple launchpad to success. While some passengers love the dancing, many others avoid eye contact, and some even yell at crews to switch cars. …

“ ‘I hope people will watch this and look at these young men as human beings,’ the film’s director, James Burns, tells CityLab. ‘And see the last vestiges of a culture that may be dying out.’ ”

More.

WE LIVE THIS – OFFICIAL TRAILER from HAYDEN 5 on Vimeo.

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I took modern dance in high school. The teacher was said to have studied with Isadora Duncan, and she certainly liked that flowing kind of movement.

Miss Hinney once challenged us to choreograph a dance about an abstract topic. Page and I chose Lavoisier’s discovery of oxygen, for which we used music from the Firebird Suite. We were not allowed to act it out as if we were Lavoisier, rather we had to interpret the chemical reaction using dance. It was impossible, so we were naturally very proud when we pulled it off.

Since then I have felt a great respect for the inventiveness of choreographers.

Here is one who sounds pretty cool. Allison Orr has closely observed garbage men in Austin, Texas, and has made their movements into a dance. More recently she worked with employees of the power company.

Robert Faires at the Austin Chronicle describes “The Trash Project, her award-winning, phenomenally popular collaboration with the city’s Solid Waste Services Department (now Resource Recovery) that made dancers of sanitation workers and the machines they operate. … Now, the Forklift Danceworks artistic director is at it again, albeit with a different city department, Austin Energy, whose employees are the focus for PowerUP. …

“For Orr, who’s made a career of making dances from the movements of people who aren’t trained in the art form – firefighters, gondoliers, roller skaters, orchestra conductors, Elvis impersonators, traffic cops, et al. – the personal stories of her subjects have become as important as their moves. She talks at length to the people with whom she collaborates on a dance and weaves recorded excerpts from interviews into the performance as the subjects are moving,” The latest Production, PowerUP was performed in September at the Travis County Exposition Center. More.

Photo: John Anderson
Power company choreography.

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A NY Times article I saved from November 24, 2009, remains as inspirational as when I first read it.

In “Learning His Body, Learning to Dance,” Neil Genzlinger writes that “Gregg Mozgala, a 31-year-old actor with cerebral palsy, had 12 years of physical therapy while he was growing up. But in the last eight months, a determined choreographer with an unconventional résumé has done what all those therapists could not: She has dramatically changed the way Mr. Mozgala walks.

“In the process, she has changed his view of himself and of his possibilities.
Mr. Mozgala and the choreographer, Tamar Rogoff, have been working since last winter on a dance piece called ‘Diagnosis of a Faun.’ It is to have its premiere on Dec. 3 at La MaMa Annex in the East Village, but the more important work of art may be what Ms. Rogoff has done to transform Mr. Mozgala’s body.

“ ‘ I have felt things that I felt were completely closed off to me for the last 30 years,’ he said. ‘The amount of sensation that comes through the work has been totally unexpected and is really quite wonderful.’ ”

Choreographer Rogoff saw Mozgala perform the role of Romeo in a production by Theater Breaking through Barriers in March 2008 and knew she wanted to create a dance piece for him.

“Originally, [Ms. Rogoff] envisioned a simple study, maybe 10 minutes long. Mr. Mozgala’s expectations when he agreed to the project were equally narrow: he said that he thought that she would either merely create a dance that made use of the physical abilities he already had or, after seeing his limitations, tell him, ‘Thanks but no thanks.’ ”

It turned out that their expectations were way too narrow. Read more.

Photograph by Andrea Mohin at The New York Times shows Gregg Mozgala rehearsing with Emily Pope-Blackman.

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Sunday evening I went over to Concord Academy to hear Seán Curran talk about how he creates choreography. Betsy, one of the dancers from his company, did a beautiful job of demonstrating what he meant.

As a little boy growing up in Watertown, Seán said, he waited eagerly for the mail that brought Look magazine. He liked to cut out pictures and make collages with them.

He says that his approach to choreography is similar. He arranges many snippets or dance phrases in different ways. His challenge is to edit down the many ideas so that the choreography doesn’t topple from too much weight.

I make collages, too. I have always liked the idea of taking a bunch of random things people have said and trying to make a play out of them, for example.

I also make collage greeting cards. I keep a box of promising pictures, cut from magazines and gallery postcards. I go through the whole pile and set aside maybe 20 items that somehow remind me of the person for whom I am making the card. Then I edit them down to the few pieces that will be best for the particular occasion.

All that happens before I cut the shapes and decide on how to arrange them. Sometimes I do a cutout of a cutout and put something else in the space: for example, I cut a vista out of a painting of a window and put a girl in the space (bottom right).

Here are examples.

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I read an article by Rebecca Milzoff in the NY Times recently that got me seeing people on the street in a new way.

Milzoff was interviewing a New York City choreographer about his latest work, and something he said stuck with me.

“ ‘I was assured when I came to live in this space on Broadway between Prince and Spring that SoHo would never come this far,’ David Gordon said, looking out the wall-to-wall windows in his second-floor loft. ‘Instead I now live in the Mall of America.’

“ ‘When I set foot out the door, there are so many people going in different directions,’ he said. ‘The choreography of the street is mind boggling.’ ”

Those words came back to me a couple days later as I waited for the morning train. There’s a point when bells start ringing because the gate is going down, and commuters stream across the parking lot with their briefcases and coffee mugs. On this particular day, they looked to me like dancers in a choreography of the everyday. The flow, the spacing between people suggested dance. The commuters had a special aura, partly because they had no consciousness of being in a dance performance.

I hope to be alert to other such happenings in the future.

It sure jazzes up the commute.

Photograph: Julieta Cervantes for The New York Times

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