A Wish for Organic Dancing to be on the Rise

 

Most of the true remarkable dancers of the generations – Fred Astaire, Margot Fonteyn, Erik Bruhn, Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov were all born to dance. Even Michael Jackson in MTV Landmark Video “Thriller” was amazing as he held the viewer’s memory in the palm of his hand.    These artist’s bodies claimed a sense of full absorption, complete commitment and underlying passion. How did they do it?

Sweat Equity of course and I say: It’s time to cover up the mirror.

Ouch!!!! 

”We had no mirror,” whines a black- tighted, fully covered up company member. ”No mirror! In ballet, you spend hours correcting yourself in the mirror. Now you can’t judge yourself. ” 

Now… young dancers .. this is not for you and pros –this is not to abolish or cancel or change your techniques. Why not consider that mirrors are totally out of kilter for dancers. They tend to be old-fashioned, narcissistic and unadventurous. They blemish you and disrupt you. They don’t help you in sensing where you are in space. Why not consider the possibility there could be a unique opportunity to have movement language become yours. It’s about changing habits and learning new ones. And you have the time, the talent, the desire to do it.”

“Now.. Don’t say no just yet. Engaging in this cover-up exercise,, I have found the dancers (re)experience the joy of dancing and the power of dance, by creating new possibilities that will affect their virtuosity and their creativity.

And I am not the first person to think this way.   Jerome Robbins spent time doing this, as did Anna Sokolov, Paul Taylor, and Ohad Naharin. I am sure there is more.

The Perfect example

A GENEROUS, visionary patron with limitless funds is the dream of every performing arts organization. Few get to experience that dream in real life, but the Cedar Lake Company, a contemporary-ballet ensemble, has been an exception: it was founded in 2003 by Nancy Laurie, a Wal-Mart heiress who is by all accounts a devoted dance fan, with the laudable intent of creating opportunities for New York dancers and choreographers. But as the company has learned, deep pockets aren’t everything.  Some of the benefits of patronage are undeniable. The dancers have an almost unheard-of 52-week contract, with health insurance and vacation pay. The buildings contain a large, well-lighted rehearsal studio, dressing rooms and a dancers’ lounge adjacent to the theater. A physical therapist is available to them, as are a resident video artist and an in-house wardrobe department.  In fact, such largess has occasioned a certain amount of jealousy in the dance world. “They are in a luxury situation, and that generates envy,” said the choreographer Emily Molnar. “I told the dancers, ‘You are going to have a hard time because you have what everyone wants.’ “

Master Choreographer Ohad Naharin recently discussed his commission with the Cedar Lake Company Though Mr. Naharin has staged ”Decadance” for companies other than his own, he says he has never received an offer like the one Cedar Lake made last year: three months of rehearsal, license to retrain the company’s dancers and 24 performances of his signature work. ”Usually when I work with another company, the time is shorter, and there’s a bigger adjustment of my work to the dancers’ habits,’’.  The generosity of the offer was typical of Cedar Lake, whose resources include a stable of highly trained dancers with 52-week contracts and two spacious, light-filled studios on the western edge of Chelsea, which once belonged to the photographer Annie Leibovitz. Yet its pristine rehearsal studio has been without mirrors since the day that Mr. Naharin’s assistants arrived and covered them up.

Nigel Redden, who presented Batsheva Dance Company and Mr. Naharin’s work at both the Spoleto Festival U.S.A. in Charleston, S.C., and the Lincoln Center Festival in the last year, , places him in ”a rarefied group” of the world’s foremost modern-dance choreographers.  For those of you who do not know Ohad. —

Ohad Naharin was born on an Israeli kibbutz 55 years ago, to an actor father immersed in psychodrama and a dancer mother. Genetic dispositions aside, his dancing life started at 22 with the Batsheva Company in Israel, then under the tutelage of Martha Graham. That strand segued into a yearlong stay with Graham’s company in New York. Naharin pursued advanced training, and fresh discoveries, at the Juilliard School before joining Maurice Béjart’s Ballet du XXe Siècle in Brussels. Neither Graham nor Béjart has had any measurable influence on his work

After a lifetime of mornings at the barre Cedar Lake’s ballet-trained dancers found themselves warming up in ”Gaga” class. , “Gaga,” is the class structure which his company, or any dancer he’s working with, trains with daily. It’s a system that he uses in his creative process to help dancers (and non-dancers) understand their movement habits, understand their places of atrophy, and explore new ways of moving, and ultimately being.  Gaga works on sensory awareness, co-ordination and sensitivities. The dancer is strong and loose at the same time. Gaga taps into the use of stretch, over- and under-exaggeration, high and low volume, and affects suppleness, agility, movement efficiency, intentionality and clarity. It’s about connecting to weaknesses, physical fixations, and what each one of us adheres to unconsciously. “It’s about giving yourself over to the movement, and the connection between passion, effort, pain and pleasure, sexuality and sublimation,” Naharin says.

Imagery — say, the suggestion of rubbing oil into the skin — stimulates the imagination. Dancers are encouraged to explore their weaknesses and break old movement habits. Other exercises focus on the placement of the body in space and developing sensitivity to the energy of the dancers nearby. The goal, Mr. Naharin said, is to connect dancers to ”pleasure and effort, madness and demons, to all the things that really create an interesting performer.” The kind of performer, he might add, that makes a potent vessel for his very specific body language.  

 ”I see a more intimate relationship with their bodies. I feel more the animal that they are.”  The changes were technical too. Lifelong ballet dancers dug their knees and feet into the earth, rose up in the air and came down flat-footed. In his quiet way Mr. Naharin gave corrections: never angry, never critical, yet in utter command of the room. ”Make sure you connect to the sensation and not to showing a picture,” he told the group. ”Relax your jaw. A little bit of space between your lips. Feel that?” They did. ”The whole attitude changes,” he said. ”It’s more alive.”

Well.  I got to agree.  It’s all about this higher education- to make you as good as you can be.  Fuel for Thought Maybe? 

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