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Pantomime, the art of telling a story and of expressing ideas and emotions without using words, relies on body language. Pantomime first appeared in France in the 17th century in a spectacular choreographic genre known as the Ballet de Cour. In 1760, in his "Lettres sur la danse" (Letters on Dancing and Ballet), Noverre initiated a sort of union between dance and pantomime when he theorized “pantomime-ballet”, an autonomous choreographic genre.
Dancers frequently talk about “state of the body” in their conversations to convey the multitude of feelings that help work the movement. But, as the Quebec-based choreographer Mélanie Demers recently wrote: “Everyone says state of the body without thinking too much about it. We’ve heard the idea mentioned a few times. We think it’s wonderful. It sounds great. But it tells us nothing”. How can we move beyond this cynical observation? What does this ever-so frequently used expression really imply? This is what we are going to look at in this Thema.
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.
The round (or circle) has been a dance figure in its own right since time immemorial.Yet, one thing is clear: this dance is centripetal and not centrifugal. As the performers contemplate the centre, this dance is directed towards the focal point that bonds the community together. The round is frequently linked, in our minds, to “traditional” dances or to “folk” dances. Does it have a role to play in 20th and 21st century choreographic art, qualified as contemporary and performative? In other words, is it still a key figure of dance today?
The Ankoku Butoh was born, "dance of darkness" or, literally "compulsive movements in the dark". It has often been written and said that this current bloomed on the ashes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One thing is certain and that is that Japan, as a defeated country, should turn the page and protect the memory of the hundreds of thousands of dead buried beneath the rubble of these martyr cities. And so, it was from the darkness that Butoh arose and the term Ankoku is there to remind us.
"Improvisation" is frequently used to refer to the creation or performance of a task in a spontaneous manner, in the instant and unplanned. In many professional fields, its use is rather pejorative and refers to the lack of preparation or organisation. However, this is quite different in the arts.
The term "folklore", coined in 1846 by William John Thoms, was originally written with two words which were separated by a dash: folk-lore. It refers to popular traditions, those of sharing and community festivity in groups. Folklore has often undergone forms of "revivalism", whether to reactivate dances and musical styles under the threat of disappearance, out of a need to come together to dance collectively or, so as to re-affirm the power of the State and the cohesion of a people. In Israel, many young people took part in traditional dance workshops, often makeshift, and countries in Eastern Europe, at the time of the Soviet Union, actively organised meetings of folklore groups. Many choreographers are interested in these popular traditions to seek inspiration, concealing the living aspect of these often rigid forms.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
The social changes that took place in Poland in the second half of the 20th century led to the disappearance of many traditional dance forms with their original functions. Participants of today's wedding receptions or dance parties only rarely and in few regions engage in old-time local dances and dance games. Yet they proved important enough for many circles to give them new – often symbolic – significance and function, and continue to practice them today.
Animal motifs can be present in dance as an evocative element of the performance or as a vector of the body’s line of thought, the body being the basic working tool for the choreographer and the dancer, as well as the means of artistic expression. But it can also reflects the parallel existing between the history of the human and the animal world. We will discuss examples of choreographies that illustrate these three areas of intersection.
Italy has never established real political and cultural policies for contemporary dance and, except in a few rare cases, choreographers have never been given the run of institutional theatres. This aside, the current outlook is lively and diversified, not only in generational terms, but also from the point of view of the variety of formats, practices, and creative processes.
"A choreography in which a disabled person is present is not necessarily an example of integration [...]" Adam Benjamin. It is within the thickness of time that a more balanced perspective of inclusive dance can be achieved, one that integrates different characteristics and capabilities of what is usually considered a conventional body. The concept of inclusion focuses on building a new relationship stage. It requires infection, influence and/or a simple encounter between human landscapes.
“Berlin! Berlin! Ich liebe die Stimmung, L'atmosphere c'est tres bizarre, Right over here“, Nina Hagen sings in “Berlin (is dufte!)“. Nina, the ultimate West Berlin bohème brat, shrieked it in the languages of the occupiers who determined West Berlin politics until 1989, when the GDR’s capital opened its gates. Berlin is a magnet for independent culture and the international dance scene. Here we attempt to offer a more-or-less current and definitely incomplete overview that includes certain historic observations.
In the West, the early 20th century saw noise, as an element of the environment, becoming a source of fascination and inspiration for new soundscapes, which made increasing use of the constantly evolving percussion family. Growing awareness of non-European music also generated more interest in rhythm and gave a new dimension to compositions for percussion. Dance and percussion are partners in crime, two histories colliding, often intersecting and growing together, enriching the other and always reinventing themselves, to our constant delight.
An action taken by an artist who throws his body into the struggle , performance has seen its forms ceaselessly multiply and renew themselves. It is thus difficult or even impossible to precisely define it or to identify its limits. The borders have thus become increasingly porous between performance and contemporary dance which is, for its part, open to movements from other disciplines or to those from everyday life. All the same, we can wonder what performance has given to dance or what dance, in certain works, takes from performance.
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.
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.
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.
Why does hand dancing make us laugh or smile and why is it generally ever-so rhythmic and melodious? Maybe because, all of a sudden, our hands become just like our feet, everything seems to be turned upside-down and becomes poetic, sensitive, fragile. In the collective psyche, music is played by hands and feet dance. Yet, hands are also highly capable of calling the tune, leading the dance and using tables as a floor.
This thema provides an opportunity to question the variety of bodies offered by contemporary dance, from the glorious bodies to the “ungainly” bodies, and the greater or lesser visibility of certain bodies. But it is also the way of showing a body that changes: from complete nudity to the completely hidden or covered body. It will also look at how the body dances, whether it is an "expert" or an amateur, and the forms of its presence on stage.
A dance performance is generally created in several stages, from the moment when an initial desire is stated, which launches the project, to that of the first performance. What exactly is the starting point of a choreographic work? What motivates an artist to begin a new project and to then devote themselves to it for several months?
About new contemporary dance works and new ways of creating dance. They try out new relationships to the stage, question many elements of the performance and immerse themselves in new practices.
This thema in the form of a question is searching for the technique(s) revealed by various contemporary dance shows and also aims to give an idea of the training methods or technical training of contemporary dancers.
This thema proposes various examples of cross participation in the same process of creation and dialogue between the disciplines, from choreographer “couples” to the creations involving musicians or visual artists, as well as some atypical encounters on stage.
The collaboration between a choreographer and a writer on a show reveals multiple combinations. Sometimes, it is no longer even the choreographer who sets the text of an author to dance – it is the writer who takes the dance as the subject or material of his text. Lastly, and it is a trend which is currently developing – for example with the Concordanse festival – dance and literature sometimes access the space of creation on a purely equal basis to propose a common artistic act and atypical performances, between literary event and choreographic show.
How do the works bear witness to the world? Is the contemporary artist themselves the product of an era, a medium, a culture? What are the various methods of relating among the artist, the work, reality and the world?
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.