Tuesday, December 7, 2010

From Naked to Gloria: "Go," a Collaborative Dance Thesis Show

What can we define as “dance”? Where do we draw the line between “dance” and “performance art”? Fred Astaire is quoted as having said, “I have no desire to prove anything by dancing. I have never used it as an outlet or a means of expressing myself. I just dance. I just put my feet in the air and move them around.” I understand that sentiment. When I attend a dance performance I want to see dancing. I hope to be transported from my seat by the beauty of movement. I want to experience afresh how the body can play with space and time.

What does this mean for a performance like “Go,” where five out of the six pieces represent the thesis work of seniors in the dance department, asked to create something new and fresh for this final product of their time at Princeton? It’s a tough question when there’s so much pressure to create a masterpiece unlike anything before it, and I think it’s the wrong question to ask. I don’t mean to undermine any of the hard work and dedication of the students, but it’s clear to me that this pressure to over turn tradition in every sense of the word led to works that were in some cases far less successful than what could have been produced by such talented students.

Before looking at the seniors’ pieces more specifically, it might be beneficial to consider the last piece in the performance: “Gloria,” choreographed by Mark Morris in 1981 and staged by Dance Department faculty member Tina Fehlandt. A renowned modern dance choreographer, Morris is well known for his interests in folk dancing and forms of religious expression, which often inspire his choreography. “Gloria” is set to Vivaldi’s Gloria in D, a musical setting for part of the traditional Roman Catholic mass.

In “Gloria” Morris has created this full and joyous movement, born out of Vivaldi’s music and working within the world of “Glory be to God.” It is movement born of tradition and freed by its own artistic merit. The difference between “Gloria,” the final work in the performance, and the very first is striking. In so many circles, “tradition” is seen as some manifestation of the fear of change. And yet what it really represents, and what I think Morris is so fascinated with, is the expression of our humanness. While “Gloria” embraces this expression, “/.The Flower Child-- Forty Years Later /..” by Sarah Fingerhood seems both to reject it and also to willfully misunderstand it.

Throughout the piece, a dejected-looking woman in a frumpy dress meanders about the stage acting depressed. All around her dancers strip down to nude unitards and draw on each other’s breasts with marker. There are several sexual-looking vignettes, a little bit of dancing, and at the end the dancers spit water onto the dejected woman and leave her folding their discarded red dresses. After the show I was told that it was “one of those pieces you’re not supposed to get.” I think I got it, though. I believe I’m right that the woman—who begins the piece by playing the piano beneath a crystal chandelier and changing out her flower vase—in some way represents “tradition” and “society.” And yes, she was actually spat upon. By any definition, this aspect at least constitutes not dance but performance art.

Though rather high in shock value, this piece did not manage to steal the spotlight. “Internal Laws” by Jennifer Oswald featured live musicians and both live and recorded speaking, both of which added a unique dimension. “if/when” by Patty Chen was a fascinating exploration of Billy Collins’ poem Walking Across the Atlantic, although it could have benefitted from a little more attention to the principle of visual unity, and Kate Adamson’s “…within and without” left me both satisfied and curious from its playful juxtaposition of adult longings and childhood games. “5 Minutes to 3” by Bridget Wright was one of my favorites. The choreography was well thought out and showcased the dancers’ technique extremely well, and the ending was striking as a wooden hoop spins faster and faster in a spot of light before finally collapsing.

In all, the show was enjoyable, and many of the pieces were successful. However, the misguided idea that we must always have something newer than new to thrust in the faces of our unsuspecting audience will always lead us down an ugly path. If I wanted to see performance art, I’m sure I could find plenty to see in the City. I went to the Berlind to watch dance, and if it hadn’t been for Mark Morris and one or two of the Dance Department seniors I’m afraid I would have left it rather disappointed.

--Chloe Davis '12


Sarah said...

re: willfully misunderstanding dance as an expression of our humanness.

we live in a world where 'to be human' does not always mean to feel united with something greater (Morris expertly uses music as something greater, along with other more abstract metaphors).

humans can be wonderful and caring, beautiful and surprising-- they can also be angry and apathetic, ugly and disappointing.

to deny this, would be to deny truth.

and to quote a poet, whose merits the author of this article may value above the choreographer of this dance: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty"-- John Keats

... something to think about.

If this dance made you uncomfortable, then maybe you should question why, instead of rejecting it into the realm of the sensational and meaningless.

I commend the author of this article for understanding the 'rejection' aspect of this piece, but it saddens me (and THIS fact is reflective of why I-- yes, this is Sarah Fingerhood here-- choose to create such a piece) that she didn't take that interpretation further.

There are two sides to every rejection story and the author of this article seems to have totally disregarded the agency and reaction of the person (Elizabeth) whose gaze is being rejected (and NO, she doesn't represent tradition or society... she is a woman. a lonely woman, in her house-- NOT playing the piano-- this is a correction from the article-- she can't play. instead she reminisces about a time when someone was there to play the piano for her. and yes, this does make her sad, but to cover the sadness, to fill the void, she cleans, she decorates, she checks things off her to do list and revels in her ability to live in central manhattan and still fill her house with the scent of freshly cut flowers).

The ending is a rejection, on the part of the chorus of flowers (it is a rejection of being put on a pedestal, of being a replacement for people, of being seen as something other than what they are...). It is also an acceptance, on the part of Elizabeth-- through the acceptance, she is reborn.

The last sequence is a baptism, a rebirth-- and I think the woman 'in a frumpy dress' conveyed that quite clearly with her resolve at the end-- I'm sorry that the author of this article didn't feel that.

Perhaps if I had made her do a tombe pas de bouree, glissade, jete into the wings at the end, it would have been more clear?... for next time :)

another note: "yes, she was actually spat on"

in some cultures spitting is not seen as a malicious gesture.
Even within our own culture, couldn't kissing be seen as a type of spitting on one another?

I would like to think that today, with literally the world at our fingertips (getting meta as I TYPE THIS NOW) we might be able to understand such things... to understand that the western notion of proscenium dance is ONE interpretation of what dance is...

there are infinite ways that it could be.
There are infinite ways to move, to organize energies, to play with space, to dance.

please don't reject my interpretation of infinity and say that what I've created isn't dance because it doesn't align with your definition of what dance is.

I'm not doing that to you.

also, please don't ever assume (with any art form) that you 'got it'-- and go on to tell a public audience what 'that' is... it's not good form.

if you didn't like the piece, great.

if it offended you, wonderful.

say those things. and say why.

I'm sorry you were disappointed by the piece, but hey, sometimes life disappoints... maybe that's part of it :)

I'm also sorry that this comment is so long, but I hope you will give my words more consideration than you gave my 'dance'... or whatever it was.

to beauty, in all it's myriad forms.


Sarah said...

also... no one got naked.

I'm confused by your title.

Sarah said...

and ALSO--

'curious and satisfied' after Kate's piece.

I was in that, and well... at one point I sit and observe the action on stage:

a flailing woman, being pushed around by a crowd of people encircling her, as a homeless man sings about jesus's blood over the sound system.

I found this disturbing-- I'm interested to hear how it was curious and satisfying for you.

Johnny said...

"Throughout the piece, a dejected-looking woman in a frumpy dress meanders about the stage acting depressed. All around her dancers strip down to nude unitards and draw on each other’s breasts with marker. There are several sexual-looking vignettes, a little bit of dancing, and at the end the dancers spit water onto the dejected woman and leave her folding their discarded red dresses."

hardly an accurate description of the piece... the sentence beginning with "all around her..." is just factually wrong.

...talk about "willful misunderstanding"

'12 said...

I wonder, though... If the author didn't perceive the piece the Sarah intended it, is it really a successful piece? And how was anyone else supposed to know how she intended it? Isn't communication part of art? Like... the most important part of art?

Sarah said...

oh baby-- you have no idea how 'successful' this piece was for me...

part of what I set out to do was to question the rules governing what constitutes 'dance' in the western context.

this review put me over the moon for that reason (at least THAT was surely communicated).

success is relative.

everyone is going to have a different experience. and hopefully people will (and I know they have, through discussions I've had) see things that I didn't even realize were there... my intention is really not relevant

... hence reviewers should not assume to know what my intention is or really discuss it at all... let's talk about what happened on stage.

what was that experience we all just had?