Non-review: Isadora Duncan shows us how it’s done

[“Non-review” means a blog post which focuses on a specific dance show or performance but does not offer a review or criticism of the work. Instead a non-review explores issues or ideas within dance that the work brings to light or discusses questions stirred in some way by the performance. My aim is not to rate the work as an individual piece but to frame it in the broader context of dance analysis and history and allow it to spark deeper conversation.]

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of viewing a performance by Word Dance Theater, a DC-based company dedicated to “preserving, illuminating, and building upon the philosophy and choreography of Isadora Duncan” through education and performance. Led by Artistic Director Cynthia Word, the company performed a mixed program of restaged Duncan works as well as original pieces influenced by the spirit and movement style of Duncan’s choreography.

To be completely honest, I did not get a ticket to see Word Dance Theater but to see my friend perform in the other company that shared the evening performance. And in fact, my friend and I were joking before the show about the skipping about in tunics and melodramatic posing I was going to have to endure before seeing her own company perform.

Boy, was I wrong.

Instead of antiquated movements and gestures and repetitious flouncing about (expectations created from pictures and bits of video on Duncan I remembered from undergrad), what I experienced was some of the most clear, unadulterated, powerful dance I have ever seen.

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Is Edward Hopper correct? Is pure dance impossible? (Part 3)

After much consideration and inner debate on the subject at hand, I come to my third and final entry in a series discussing the significance of a quote by the late visual artist, Edward Hopper. (If you have not read the first 2 parts, it would probably be good to do so before continuing: Part 1 & Part 2.) Previously I have discussed the meaning of Hopper’s words and how his opinion would translate to the art of dance. For my summation, I will present my perspective on the subject of “pure dance” followed by an examination of various performance examples. First, for one final time, here is the quote of interest by Hopper (as taken from a video retrospective produced by the National Gallery of Art).

There is a school of painting called abstractionist or non-objective, which is derived largely from the work of Paul Cézanne, that attempts to create pure painting – that is an art which will use form, color, and design for their own sakes and independent of man’s experience of life and his association with nature. I do not believe such an aim can be achieved by a human being. Whether we wish it or not, we are all bound to the earth with our experience of life; and the reactions of the mind, heart, and eye and our sensations by no means consist entirely of form, color, and design.

So, is Edward Hopper right? Is there no such thing as pure art or pure dance? For the most part, I agree with the opinion of Hopper as it relates to dance. I believe that there are those that create dances for dance sake, focusing solely on the medium – movement, space, energy, time, etc. And I think that some of them perhaps have the goal of creating a pure dance, a dance that is separate from the rest of human experience, while others simply do not care whether or not a piece has possible connections to reality. But whether they try to create a pure dance or not, I do not think that creating a pure dance is possible. I agree with Hopper that we are all bound to our experience of life, and seeing a dance (just another life experience) cannot be separated from the rest of our lived experiences. As an audience, we bring to the performance all that we know and have seen before. And our senses, our minds, and our hearts cannot react solely to the substance on the stage; they are naturally and automatically bound to respond to the performance based on our entire lifetime of sensations, thoughts, and feelings. Because we are human, it is impossible for a work of art to be purely non-objective or abstract, no matter the artist’s intentions.

Also, some may choose not to acknowledge the connections to human experience; they may decide to focus on the form of the art and speak to it as a separate entity. This does not mean, though, that connections do not exist. The true reality of human experience does not change because of someone’s preferences or choices.

To flesh out these words, though, let’s look at a few examples of potentially “pure” dance. (more…)

Non-review: Does a dance audience ever witness real emotion?

The other night I saw Faye Driscoll’s recent work, There is so much mad in me, at Dance Theater Workshop. While I do not wish to critique the work, I would definitely recommend seeing one of her shows in the future. After the show, I talked with one of my good friends who was a dancer in the piece. He was sharing his experience performing a particular part of the dance, a very dramatic and theatrical solo that included some audience interaction. And his description of the performer’s perspective reminded me of an ongoing discussion in dance theory about emotions in performance.

In the book The Performer-Audience Connection: Emotion to Metaphor in Dance and Society, Judith Lynne Hanna explores dancer perspectives and audience responses on conveying emotion in various forms of dance. To frame the discussion, she highlights particular dance theorists that continue to inform views of artists today.

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You’re not going to run into Kyra Sedgwick in the “downtown” dance scene

Last weekend I went to 2 dance shows, 2 very different dance shows and experiences. First up was a show at the Brooklyn Arts Exchange (BAX), the first part of a 2-day festival featuring works by new and up-and-coming choreographers. If you’ve never been to BAX, allow me to paint the picture.

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