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Dance, high-wire acts, juggling. Beyond their differences in intention, in form or in implements, the common thread of these arts is to explore the physical and expressive resources of the body in motion. Sometimes, some of these art forms rub shoulders with others, and give birth to enrichment. The ever-so traditional trapeze act, for example, becomes an airborne choreography. And sometimes, a dance goes beyond the realms of a dancer’s gestures: when it unites in harmony with the effects of lighting and images to transform the stage into an expanse in motion.
To question the role of the archive in dance is to question the very meaning of this art form so rooted in the present and in reality. While artists in previous centuries were particularly keen to make their works stand out, today's contemporary artists are beginning to draw from their heritage – real or imaginary – to (re)create works of the past. What does this exploration of our memories tell us about our world today? What can we learn from our heritage and the history of the world?
“Now I will dance you the war” When the Russian dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky uttered these words on the stage of the Hôtel Suvretta in Saint-Moritz, on the evening of 19 January 1919, the audience gathered for a Red Cross gala were aghast. The audience at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées on 29 May 1913 were just as stupefied by the premiere of Nijinsky's The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps), with music composed by Igor Stravinsky.
The 1980s were characterized by a revival of all the elements that had been rejected in modern dance over the previous decades. Nouvelle danse (New dance) included all the choreographic trends that appeared during this period. Inspirational movements and prestigious companies developed throughout Europe and in North America, and Belgium was no exception to this choreographic movement, which was somewhere between dance and theatre, raw energy and perfectly-honed movements, gestures and transdisciplinarity.
There are men’s dances and women’s dances; movements, steps and attitudes which are more suited to one sex than the other. There are others in which the two come together and, in their incessant close contact, evoke the relationship which has bound them together since the dawn of time. Social norms, values and ideals ascribed to the movement often dictate gender roles. Dance is a reflection of this fundamental identity issue. This "Thema" deals with the subject.
What is dance? In the 1960s, dance anthropologists attempted to arrive at a universal definition, applicable to all the forms that can be encountered worldwide. The American Adrianne Kaeppler suggested that dance might be seen as “a system of structured movements”. A system?, Here, surely, is a key notion for finding one’s way through the many genres and styles of dance that can be seen on the choreographic stage.
In France, at the beginning of the 1980s, a generation of young people took possession of the dancing body to sketch out artistic areas that would enable them to create their unique take on the world. From dancer to author-choreographer, the step was made enthusiastically. The Nouvelle Danse Française (New French Dance) was born.
During different periods of the 20th century, alternative movements moved dance away from the stage and the theatre to rediscover the body, to reintroduce ritual, organic dance in the Monte Verità community, dance that was highly-personal and inspired by everyday realities for the members of the Judson Dance Theater, dance that was urban and responsive to its environment at the turn of the 21st century. When dance moves outside, it uses the front-stage, and occasionally even horizontality and weightlessness. Its spectacular and performative aspect is, as such, questioned, shifted; its creative codes are shook up.
Dance and the visual arts have often been a source of inspiration for one another and have mutually influenced each other. This Theme cannot address all aspects of their relationship; it confines itself to showing the importance of the visual arts in certain choreographies.
“As a social animal, man is a ritual animal”, emphasizes the British anthropologist Mary As a Douglas. “If ritual is suppressed in one form it crops up in others, more strongly the more intense the social interaction.” Modernization, urbanization, globalization: nothing can be done about it: the life of social communities is always based on rites and rituals, far beyond religious matters. Just take a look at the Dance Biennial Parade in Lyon.
As soon as a work is reproduced, is it not inevitably transformed? Because the bodies are different and the steps, the figures are no longer danced in the same way. When choreographers reproduce a ballet, they take the liberty of incorporating little extras, modifications to the partition, the characters, the sequences… It’s a sign that the dance is well and truly alive! And revisions, no matter how unusual they are, definitely contribute to breathing life into the choreographic repertoire and to enriching it. They are proof that the works in question deal with major themes, which lend themselves to a host of perspectives.
For the American choreographer Merce Cunningham, “dance is an independent art.” But, he adds, other elements may come in and enrich it. By interacting with architecture, music, circus or theatre, with which it shares the common ground of space, rhythm, virtuosity, narration…, dance explores new possibilities and is ceaselessly reinventing itself. The eight sequences of this Theme illustrate this point. A panorama which emphasizes the openings in which dance, as a living art, continually participates.
The place where a choreography is performed is a setting that is viewed from the front and obeys the rules of perspective. At the beginning of the 20th century, however, the scenic space became the subject of research work and experimentation. In the 1970s, the American postmodern movement, which called performance codes into question decreed that dance could be performed anywhere: in lofts, parks, on the roofs of buildings... A Thema, which had every reason to exist!
By presenting primarily the body in movement, dance was able at last to depict the world and its agonies, to denounce the violence and failings of society, to lay bare the ordeals of human existence. Such are the ambitions of those committed choreographers who, whether over the course of a single work or longer term, choose to make their art both political and socially aware.
From tarmac to the boards of the stage, the route was still far from mapped out for hip-hop. Others had already tried to pass that way. Born on the sidewalks of New York in the late 1970s, this urban dance gained ground rapidly all over the world to become a global form of choreographic expression. Climb aboard this Theme and cruise the roads down which hip-hop developed. A melting-pot of cultures, fruit of movement and musical hybridisations, now – as ever – it continues to be nourished by new experiments.
How are dance and music articulated, how are they organized based on periods, styles and artists? How do they harmonize with each other to make sense and to offer a performance? The eight sequences of this Thema are an invitation to watch the music and to listen to the dance, to discover the musicality of an interpretation or of choreographic writing.
“Et vous trouvez cela drôle ?” (So you think that’s funny). It was this somewhat mistakenly scathing expression that the Hivernales d’Avignon used as the title for their 2007 edition dedicated to laugh and to dance. A theme that was rather unusual in so much as contemporary dance is perceived as serious and little inclined to making its audiences split their sides with laughter. It is true that it had, first of all, to prove its depth and its seriousness to stake its place in the French choreographic landscape. Yet, for the last few years, there has been an increase in humour. And, we’re not kidding you! This Thema perfectly demonstrates this.
From the end of the 19th century, the use of accessories made it possible to make bodies bigger, to stretch out or to curb the dance, to venture into innovativeness, above and beyond the narrative body.This body/object duo is perhaps the confirmation of the exploration of innovativeness and would result in the diversity of dance in the 20th century, in a myriad of schools and styles.