Saturday, June 7, 2008

NY Event Number Eleven: Finally seeing modern dance again.

My friend and yoga cohort Melissa is a dancer and relatively new to New York (that's her, above). She's been here since September, and after a few frustrating months things are starting to come together in terms of her career. On top of her three jobs, she also takes class, rehearses for the couple shows she's in, and even occasionally goes to yoga. Whenever I get upset about my schedule, I think about her, and my life suddenly seems just a little bit easier. After months of promising her I'd catch her work, I finally made good and caught her show Hearsay at Dance New Amsterdam this weekend.

I know almost nothing about dance, and actually have some personal baggage regarding modern dance so this won't be any kind of review, or even an informed reflection really, but I would like to identify the elements I really loved about the work, the same elements I'm going to try and include in my own work as I go on with my life.

One of the interesting things about a lot of dance work is the use of space. Many choreographers seem to have an understanding of seeing the whole space, and they don't isolate movement to one specific area, unless very much intended. This is harder to do with intricacy in a dance show than with staging a play, which can be made easier through the usually realistic movement of the actors, and an understanding of their motivations: "He would move away here because she said something nasty and he became intimidated." That sort of thing. An idea of shape does come into play, but not nearly as much as it does for dancers, who are constantly creating it--in the scope of their movement through the space as well as, of course, within their own bodies. What's also interesting about the use of space is how you can create little pictures--groupings of people doing different specific actions, put together to make one larger picture, noticing how those actions compliment, inform the others. Anyone who's ever seen a musical's opening number probably has an understanding of this visual. But here it was terribly apparent, due to the abstractness of the gesture and movement involved. And very interesting.

The director/choreographer used sound in voice overs and pre-recorded lesson plans of tips on how to get through your business day. I thought that was pretty interesting, and hearkened back to an idea I had had about my grad school auditioned piece that I didn't fully realize. I hope to go back to it in the future. (<--is that phrase oxymoronic: "back to it in the future"? Or just ironic?) However, she did have the dancers speak a couple times, and I was reminded that this is an art form that does not usually train a person how to speak on stage. Conclusion: Dancers probably shouldn't talk. (At least, not on stage.)

The lighting was great--oh, the power of gobos! And predominately from the side, like any good dance show. (General lighting rule: When you light the body, light from the side; when you light the face, light from the front and above.)

Another aspect of movement that was terribly affective and aesthetically interesting was having the dancers do small gestures en masse. This is something else I want to play with, particularly with a piece I'm currently working out in my head, set to Muse's "Map of the Problematique." Having a group of people do one small gesture all at once gives that gesture added value and brings focus to it. That's what I got from it, anyway.

Lastly, I was reminded of the overall bodily control of a dancer, and was reminded of my personal awe of it. It made me miss working out and all the yoga I used to do when I had a consistent practice (I was in killer shape last summer), and it also made me want to take a dance class. It also reminded me how important this kind of thing is to me now, as an artist, in terms of trying to use it as a means of expression. Which is good when you're going to grad school for physical theatre.

So thanks for letting me in on the not-so-secret, Melissa. Merde!

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