Sheila T. Cavanagh
This chapter considers work created by the Synetic Theater Company in the Washington, DC, area. Since its inception in 2002, Synetic has produced an award-winning series of “physical theater.” Under the co-direction of Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, both of whom were trained professionally in the Republic of Georgia, Synetic has created over a dozen “wordless” Shakespeare performances that have received numerous awards. They recently remounted their original production, Hamlet: The Rest Is Silence, although they have offered a wide range of successful, though surprisingly diverse, Shakespearean adaptations, including Antony and Cleopatra, The Tempest, King Lear, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, Taming of the Shrew, and Much Ado about Nothing. According to their website, “Synetic” reflects the company’s artistic goal of combining “synthesis,” or the “coming together of distinct elements to form a whole,” and “Kinetic: pertaining to or imparting motion, active, dynamic” to create Synetic: a dynamic synthesis of the arts.” They state their ambition to become “the premier American physical theater . . . fusing dynamic art forms—such as text, drama, movement, acrobatics, dance, and music.” Synetic labels itself as “physical theater,” not as dance, but dance theory provides a relevant framework through which to discuss their creations. This chapter discusses the theoretical and practical implications of presenting Shakespeare through movement and music rather than spoken language.
Above and Beyond the Battle: Virtuosity and Collectivity within Televised Street Dance Crew Competitions
This chapter explores competitive street dance crew choreography in relation to interdisciplinary theoretical frameworks regarding virtuosity and excess. Through a close analysis of five performances featured on the British television talent shows of Britain’s Got Talent and Got to Dance, this chapter examines the concept of virtuosity as transcendence in relation to the continued emphasis on technology and the street dance body. Through the choreographic application of animation techniques, synchronicity, the construction of “meta-bodies,” and the narrative of ordinary versus extraordinary, this chapter reveals that crews create the illusion of transgression through their affinity with technology, while also competing with their cinematic counterparts. Through this analysis, this chapter further reveals the negotiation between the individualistic nature of the virtuoso and the crew collective within the neoliberal capitalist framework of the competition.
Affect, Technique, and Discourse: Being Actively Passive in the Face of History: Reconstruction of Reconstruction
Taking its examples from a European context, this chapter describes three possible ways of reenacting history in dance. First, it analyzes Martin Nachbar’s reconstruction of Dore Hoyer’s cycle of dances, Affectos Humanos, as a way of affecting bodies. Second, William Forsythe’s deconstruction of neo-classical ballet understands dance technique as a residue of dance history and the bodies it produces. Third, the work of the French Albrecht Knust Quartet on the notation of dances highlights choreography as writing and examines the score as the basis for possible reenactments. All three examples center around an impossibility that sets their reenactments adrift: the impossibility of the body of Dore Hoyer, the impossibility of perfectly incorporating dance technique, and the impossibility of translating the notation of Vaslav Nijinsky’s The Afternoon of a Faun into a definitive version of the piece.
Stephanie L. Batiste
This chapter argues that the African American dance practice of krumping editorialized in the 2005 David LaChapelle film RIZE defines a space of home as a system of feeling in early twenty-first-century Los Angeles. It offers the notion of kinetic affect as a means of understanding dancers’ charismatic formation of community within dance practice and its spaces. Krump dancing reveals a rich world of love and pain that characterizes life in black Los Angeles. The dancers’ commando-style ownership of venue, content, embodiment, and performance presentation challenge the confining spaces of ethnographic film, urban disenfranchisement, and stereotype.
Susan Leigh Foster
The Afterword identifies key ideas regarding dance and competition that are collectively generated throughout the book: how dance competition engages matters of identity; how institutions shape competition; its rewards, losses, and political potential; and how it facilitates community interaction. The Afterword moves on to question the kind of sociality that competition produces and whether it is possible to engage in competition geared toward forms of social exchange outside the dominant capitalist culture. Both within dance and across the broader social realm, a collective understanding of the world has disappeared in favor of a positioning and repositioning of the self within a network of similar selves. Individuals begin to assume that each is jockeying for a better position, using his or her contacts with others to advance, to acquire more resources, to present a better image. In short, they become entrepreneurial.
Dancers and choreographers have developed numerous improvisation techniques to facilitate the real-time composition of movement sequences, from simple behavioural tasks, such as drawing imaginary figures with different parts of the body, to problem-solving tasks that require the dancer to translate a word or a phrase into movement. This chapter explores the science behind a number of improvisation techniques. Among other things, it will show how some familiar dance improvisation techniques have their roots in properties of the motor system. In addition, it will show how experimental findings from cognitive neuroscience and psychology may inspire novel improvisation techniques. The emphasis is on practical techniques that can be easily performed by dancers and nondancers alike. Ultimately, the chapter argues that dance improvisation requires not just an agile body but first and foremost an agile mind.
This chapter examines the development of Akram Khan’s choreographic pathway as an aggregate of diverse influences, primarily experienced through issues of identity, otherness, and interculturalism. Beginning with the early confusion of juxtaposing classical dance training in kathak and a fascination with Michael Jackson, Khan’s career has progressed, largely through an instinctive opportunism—absorbed from the “formless hunch” philosophy of early mentor, Peter Brook—and an ongoing fascination with the exploratory possibilities of collaboration through the hybrid mixing of dance disciplines to create his own style of mood movement. This process has taken Khan from the classical world of kathak, through contemporary dance, and back into another classical discipline, ballet, with detours along the way into flamenco, the Olympics, and text-based physical theater. The chapter describes the impact of all these experiences on Khan’s contribution to modern ballet, particularly in his association with English National Ballet.
Alexei Ratmansky’s works challenge the way that Western critics and choreographers split ballet into abstract and narrative categories. This chapter explains how Western ballet arrived at the division between abstract and narrative. This developed out of the ideology of absolute music, the understanding that music could not have any meaning other than a purely formal one. During the Cold War, American choreographers such as George Balanchine took up the belief in absolute music in order to push against Soviet models of ballet. The Cold War also encouraged Western ballet experts to conflate abstraction with progress. Within this context, the chapter analyzes Ratmansky’s Russian Seasons (2006), which can appear as both abstract and narrative to its audiences. Ratmansky’s career thus challenges many long-held assumptions in the West about forward progress in ballet.
Jill Nunes Jensen
San Francisco–based choreographer Alonzo King has long been a visionary in the formation of contemporary ballet in the United States. Supported by his classically trained company, colloquially known as LINES, King makes ballets that are anything but. This chapter uses his 2015 ballet, The Propelled Heart, which featured dancers in communication with singer Lisa Fischer, as a case study to suggest new positions for agency among performers. In so doing, “lines” of interaction, boundary, hegemony, relationship, race, and technique are challenged, and ballet and its dancers are given a “voice.” King implores his dancers to express vulnerability, disrupt ballet’s histories, and ultimately reimagine the form. Organizationally similar to modern dance companies, in that there are no ranks of ascension and an emphasis on creation, Alonzo King LINES Ballet frequently works collaboratively to present ballets that centralize the process of connecting to subject, self, and community. This chapter takes the interactions offered in The Propelled Heart as indicative of King’s choreographic philosophy that ballets are thought structures and therefore ultimately engendered to communicate.
This chapter describes the career of Amy Seiwert, a Bay Area choreographer who, over a period twenty years, moved from neoclassical ballerina to full-time contemporary ballet choreographer with a desire to reformulate the classical dance lexicon. Her goal was to create dances, as well as dance practices, that could maintain the beauty of the classical language while reflecting and commenting on the realities of contemporary life. Thanks to the experimental dance scene in San Francisco, California, she eagerly exposed herself to the many choreographic tools long familiar in contemporary and postmodern dance. These included improvisation, scoring, movement games, and aleatory processes, all of which are organized forms of play. Play, and the agency and daring it requires, brought forth new, imaginative embodiments of movement problems and strategies for Seiwert; through them she has been able to address pressing social and existential questions and prove contemporary ballet’s relevance to the twenty-first century.
“An Interesting Experiment in Eugenics”: Ted Shawn, American Dance, and the Discourses of Sex, Race, and Ethnicity
Paul A. Scolieri
The “ethnic dance” movement in the United States is closely associated with Ted Shawn, the “Father of American Dance” (1891–1972). Shawn and his wife and dancing partner, Ruth St. Denis, founded a dance company called Denishawn, whose repertory incorporated Native American, “Negro,” and Spanish folk dances. By the mid-1920s, Shawn viewed American dance in terms of moral and physical purity—a philosophy he based on the discourse of eugenics. This article explores how the eugenics movement informed Shawn’s vision of American dance in the 1920s, particularly with respect to two of his related writings, The American Ballet and “An American Ballet.” It explains how Shawn’s personal and professional relationship with Havelock Ellis, a British physician who was a leading proponent of the eugenics movement in Europe and whom he considered his idol, influenced his views about eugenics. It also examines how Shawn’s anxiety about his own sexual “unfitness” (his homosexuality) shaped his racist, nativist, and xenophobic “experiment” with eugenics in American dance.
“And I Make My Own”: Class Performance, Black Urban Identity, and Depression-Era Harlem’s Physical Culture
Christopher J. Wells
This chapter applies spatial practice theory to the intersections of power relations, social spaces, and embodied performance in the dance culture of Great Depression-era Harlem. Tracing the movement in black communities away from signifiers of ethnicity toward social-class-based hierarchies, it shows how ethnicized tropes have been used to exoticize and commodify black identity and to create the American black/white racial binary. This strategy has its roots in the marketing labels of the slave trade and the performative tropes of minstrel shows, and it continued in the floor shows of the Cotton Club and other “jungle alley” nightclubs in Harlem. The chapter charts the trajectory of the Savoy Ballroom’s drift from an upscale, dignified dance palace to an incubator for the lindy hop and Harlem’s other popular dance innovations. It argues that considering dance demands a model of ethnicity that creates more space for individual agency and processes of self-definition.
Ninotchka D. Bennahum
Guided by an unwavering belief in the moral capacity of dance to transform human society and effect social change, Anna Schuman Halprin (b. 1920) shaped the radical, Jewish nature of postmodern dance. With her invention of task-based improvisation as a method of devising dance—a clandestine, communitarian agent of change—Halprin espoused dance making as a basic human right. This chapter essays how Halprin envisioned postwar dance as environmental study rather than merely physical practice. Through her visionary work Halprin reconceived movement as engendering climate activism and social justice, radical beliefs that emerged out of her Talmudic pedagogy. Dancing bodies were retrained, away from technique, narrative, and desire, toward a reinvention out of one’s relationship to and study of the natural world.
The black-cast backstage musical Stormy Weather (1943) is the first Hollywood film to explicitly celebrate black achievement. Featuring key figures of African American dance and more black dance numbers than any other mainstream musical, it testifies to the versatility and—crucially—the hybridity of jazz dance culture. This article analyzes dance in Stormy Weather by addressing questions of appreciation, appropriation, and assimilation in the context of both film and dance history. Stormy Weather’s panoply of styles and stars negotiates several contradictory processes: white appropriation of “authentic” black talent, black assimilation to “classy” white styles, but also black adaptation and appropriation of hitherto white domains of performance. Through its self-referential narrative of dance history—and through some omissions—it simultaneously chronicles the history of black performers and racial stereotypes in white Hollywood, and thus reveals the industry’s strategies in the exploitation of black talent.
This chapter focuses on Arkadi Zaides, one of Israel’s foremost choreographers, whose work has positioned him as an important opposing voice to the state’s dominant political regime, both in terms of its investment in the Occupation, and in terms of its suppression of aberrant artistic expressions. In this context the chapter attempts to narrativize Zaides’s biography as one caught in the throes of movement between countries, and in effect as one constantly reflecting a state of placement and displacement, which is transformed into choreography on stage. Accordingly, the chapter traces a certain development within Zaides’s choreographic language, which resonates shifts in Israel’s political landscape as well as in the artist’s personal one, and may be divided into two intertwined gestures: on the one hand, a transition from metaphoric-poetic meanings to painfully literal ones; and on the other hand, a transition from a-political to political, and indeed politically activist discourse.
Kerry Chappell and Lizzie Swinford
This chapter focuses on improvisation in early years dance. It arises from the practice and research interests of the chapter’s two authors. It articulates the dynamics of this practice, drawing on practitioner, researcher, and parent reflections to develop three themes: knowing yourself in your body, dialogues with children, and making and being made. The authors express and illustrate the creative, social, and personal value of dance experiences at an early age. They debate the questions and challenges which ensue from an improvisational approach to this practice and give readers a taste of the newness and joy of improvisation in this context.
Attending to the Heartbeat in Dance Movement Psychotherapy: Improvements in Mood and Quality of Life for Patients with Coronary Heart Disease
Mariam Mchitarian, Jospeh A. Moutiris, and Vicky Karkou
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Interventions to reduce future events in patients with established CHD include, apart from medical and pharmaceutical means, a change in lifestyle, social, and psychological support, and other interventions such as dance movement psychotherapy (DMP). This chapter describes the potential usefulness of DMP as a therapeutic tool in acute and chronic cardiac patients. Data from two studies among CHD patients, conducted in a tertiary hospital and in a rehabilitation centre, are presented. Both of these studies show short-term benefit in the quality of life and psychological status of patients. Although methodological limitations did not allow for the establishment of long-term benefits of this intervention for CHD patients, this chapter hypothesizes that long-lasting benefits are possible.
Audience Improvisation and Immersive Experiences: The Sensuous World of the Body in the Work of Lundahl & Seitl
Immersive events have evolved the idea and the practice of audience into spontaneous-decision-making improvisers within the work. In concept, content and form, immersive work relies on its audience for intuitive interaction. An immediate, sensory relationship in the experience of work embraces the play between choreographed and improvised moments. The sensual immersion in each piece enables audience members to retrace the immediacy and intimacy of these moments in any subsequent embodied recall of the work. This chapter analyses audience as improviser in immersive practice with close consideration of the work of Lundahl & Seitl. It touches on how immersive performance might position the audience member as practitioner, and the ways the audience-participant in immersive performance could contribute to practice-as-research. In so doing it offers an approach to audience appreciation as embodied philosophy, performance theory that evolves from improvisatory practice.
Reviewers of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! (2001) often claimed to be bombarded, overloaded, or pathologically infected by the film’s rapid-fire imagery and eclectic cultural references. This chapter explores these visceral experiences of spectatorship, focusing on the film’s dance sequences. It argues that in these sequences, choreography and digital technology (including computer-generated imagery and editing) combine to allow spectators to physically experience on-screen bodies that are historically and culturally complex, distant, and “other.” Alison Landsberg’s notion of “prosthetic memory” (2004) suggests that films can physically connect spectators with pasts and memories they have not directly experienced. This chapter argues that Moulin Rouge! achieves this physical connection by tapping into, and updating, a bohemian tradition of cross-cultural and transhistorical self-performance.
This chapter explores the possibility of a relationship between spiritual practices and some of the many facets of wellbeing. It considers the distinction between religion and spirituality with reference to the literature. It discusses Authentic Movement, an inner-directed movement process rooted in the intersection of dance/movement therapy and Jungian depth psychology, and the concept of embodied spirituality in which the relationship between the mover and the witness is explored. In particular, it explores the relationship of this practice to health and the increased sense of wellbeing that stems from a direct experience of the sacred, which supports a deepening sense of connection to one’s true self.