Monday, June 28, 2010

Shameless self promotion...

After months of agonizing and re-editing and searching and stalking of various persons, Jesse and I finally completed Art Is...

And then promptly lost our re visioned copy in a massive hard drive crash. Since I have no idea if the completed version will ever be recovered by this data recovery company, I am putting up our first version of this video. The music too will be available on iTunes soon! Yay!

For those of you who are interested in the process, about a year ago I wrote a poem I entitled "Art Is..." during a time when I was searching for reasons as to why I had fully entered the dance world. I decided to make it a film piece and translate the poem into solo movement and then re-translate it with "subtitles" on the film. And because I felt it was a universal thing for a dancer to struggle with why they dance full time and reason it all out within a studio, I wanted to utilize the film in such a way that it was 3 distinct solos proclaiming the same idea to the world. A few month's later I came across Liz's song, but wanting a more global feel, we asked Arun to join her on the record. Six months later I got the recording. And for two weeks while I was in India last year, I stalked a street artist and filmed him doing his job in front of the Mylapore temple. (I think it was Mylapore). Finally, in January, we filmed the dancers at the Sukha Yoga studio and Madison Square Park and premiered it at Navatman's one year anniversary. So this simple, six minute piece took about a year and a half to complete.

I hope you enjoy it!


I just wanted to post this link - a choreography I was a major part of from my college days that still brings a lot of emotion to my being each time I watch it. Just for memory's sake.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Yet Another Clip Showing The Power of Dance

Whether it was the medicine that cured her or if there was significant physical help from the dance itself is always a point to ponder but what you cannot question is that it was the focus and positivity she brought to herself through dance that gave her emotional stability:

A beautiful, inspiring story that was brought to my eyes by a member of the NYC Dance Community

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The "So You Think You Can Dance" Formula

The most interesting pieces from So You Think You Can Dance - and usually, the most popular - all follow the same piece wise structure, like a pop song does (quiet beginning, add instruments, catchy verse, loud hook and end).

For hip hop:

Beginning: Allude to storyline, usually a guy and girl in love.
Middle: Break out from the introduction of the story/characters with a series of complex movements in synchronization.
Next: Do a series of individual complex movements and/or duet stunts.
End: Resolve the story with some sort of "quip" ending alluding back to the characters here.

For contemporary:

Beginning: Allude to storyline
Middle*: Separate out to do your own thing, then allude back to the story line in a count
Next*: Break out stunts
End: Resolve with no resolution, alluding back to the storyline.

*The two starred steps may intertwine...and this is far less structured than the hip hop pieces, but there's definitely a pattern to it.

Example: (And don't get me wrong, I think this is brilliant anyway):

Stunts are lost without style

I think I don't need to say much more than that, but you can't appreciate technique and jumps and leaps without connecting to the audience first, and that only comes with style, flow, choreography, and some hook - some reason why the dance matters to the audience.

It's why so much of the choreography in "So You Think You Can Dance" can't hold an audience for more than two minutes and bhangra gets so incredibly repetitive after a singular performance.  There are those who would argue that classical dance is equally repetitive but the catch is that the more you know, the more you are intrigued and are able to uncover about the dance.  The same is not true for bhangra or these dance TV shows.

That's not to say there aren't great choreographies.  I vaguely remember Zee TV's competition a few years back where Phul-orida won with a hip hop battle scene which is why it's stuck in my head for so many years.  Much of Mia Micheal's choreography in So You Think You Can Dance is also wonderful because you're caught wondering what's happening, connecting words to movements, making up stories, enjoying the playfulness, and most of all: finding ties back to memories and desires, which I think is so much of what dance does.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Ragamala Dance Theater - at the cusp of change

I had the privilege of seeing Ragamala Dance Theater perform their show "Sva" in Washington, D.C. in the fall of 2008.

I left with mixed feelings.

While I found the choreography quite interesting and the Taiko drummer collaboration  an unexpected meld, the execution confused me.  These dancers were extreme in their movements: there was no subtlety within their limbs.  Extensions became rigid hyper-extensions, eyebrow raises meant to show compassion or karuna became rapid up-down movements.  At first I was aghast, off put by their supposed lack of technical skill and then, I started to wonder...

In bharatanatyam subtlety and grace/laya is usually considered the mark of a mature dancer.  This was discarded - on purpose - by Ragamala.  I wonder two things about this conscious (yes, it is conscious, I was informed by one of their dancers) decision -- one, if their intention of removing this aspect also removes it from the realm of bharatanatyam; and two, if the super forceful nature of their dancing is a wise choice in dancing the form.  It's a question that questions what the "essence" of bharatanatyam really is.  What makes their dancing belong under the bharatanatyam umbrella, what makes bharatanatyam beautiful?

The problem stemmed from their use of traditional pieces with full intention of achieving a performance experience that duplicated more traditional dance aesthetics (such as starting with a kauthuvam) that made the viewer question the execution.  I didn't enter the theater thinking I was going to be watching different and significant stylizations of a traditional their rendition just didn't sit well.  But if I had come in not knowing what bharatanatyam was, or knowing that they were changing aspects of it for aesthetic purpose, I might have had a completely different take on the evening.  So the intention - of the troupe and the audience member - mean so much in this context.

So the question transforms yet again: at what point does changing valued aspects of it: form, structure, lexicon, and execution - differentiate between expanding boundaries and the creation of something new altogether? If the performer doesn't acknowledge the change they have created should I judge the dancer on what I expect to see, based on the expectations she herself has created through her visual look and her dance description?

It is clear that intention - and carefully relaying that intention to the audience member - has a great deal of meaning in South Asian performance.  I actually think that intention is key in any rasa experience - it's like asking for tiramisu at a restaurant and receiving raspberry lady fingers and orange marmalade on top of a marscapone mouse.  Yes, the second sounds delicious - but tiramisu is so well known that had I not known of the variations to the dish before I ordered I probably would have been upset receiving it.  Not only that, but if you took the marscapone and made it a ricotta mouse, it becomes a deconstructed cheesecake.

At some point you can't imagine having tiramisu without raspberries, and at another point it's just become cheesecake.  So where is Ragamala in all of this? Tiramisu with some bells and whistles (so still bharatanatyam) or cheesecake (postnatyam?).  Or have they left the dessert genre altogether? :)

Interesting how food can make a three paragraph delve into the highly interpretable much more clear in a matter of three sentences, eh?