By Janet Neidhardt
It’s that time of year again–time for the end of the year performance for dancers in schools and studios. My students just performed their dance concert and I’m pleased to say they did a wonderful job! A lot goes into teaching students to give their best performance and I often seek out new ideas on how to pull out their strengths in the art of performance.
But how do you get your students to really perform movement fully and to the best of their ability? I find performance is a quality that can be difficult to teach and is sometimes difficult to articulate with words. My students are required to see professional dance concerts during the school year and then they write a critique on the show that specifically describes a performer that catches their eye. In anticipation of their upcoming performances, I asked my students”What does it look like when someone is performing movement well?” Some of the responses I got were:
- They look confident
- Moving from their center and into their limbs and finger and toes
- Their focus in the face is clear
- They have purpose in their movement
These are all important elements of crafting a strong performance. I think that being able to articulate this information helped my students to find that performance within them. Things I do as a teacher to help my students perform to their fullest are: talk about performance with all movement executed in class (like during warm-ups), videotape their dancing and have them critique themselves, have them watch each other and discuss what they are doing really well, and of course ask them to articulate what performance looks like.
I find that when I build performance into the craft of choreographing a dance my students have more time to work on the movement and its projection. Instead of teaching movement first and then talking about focus and performance later, I try to talk about meaning and stylization right from the start so the dancers will know what is expected from them and their movement.
Students also perform more strongly when they have ownership over the movement they are dancing. I have my students choreograph movement for their pieces all of the time so that they are more invested in the work and deeply a part of the process. The emotional connection to the work can be another catalyst to a great performance.
Needless to say, teaching students to perform to their fullest can be challenging. At the end of the day, if I know my students felt good about the show they performed and they had fun while doing it–then they have succeeded greatly.
Contributor Janet Neidhardt has been a dance educator for 10 years. She has taught modern, ballet, and jazz at various studios and schools on Chicago’s North Shore. She received her MA in Dance with an emphasis in Choreography from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and her BA in Communications with a Dance Minor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Throughout her time in graduate school, Janet performed with Sidelong Dance Company based in Winston-Salem, NC.
Currently, Janet teaches dance at Loyola Academy High School in Wilmette, IL. She is the Director of Loyola Academy Dance Company B and the Brother Small Arts Guild, and choreographs for the Spring Dance Concert and school musical each year. Janet is very active within the Loyola Academy community leading student retreats and summer service trips. She regularly seeks out professional development opportunities to continue her own artistic growth. Recently, Janet performed with Keigwin and Company in the Chicago Dancing Festival 2012 and attended the Bates Dance Festival.
When she isn’t dancing, Janet enjoys teaching Pilates, practicing yoga, and running races around the city of Chicago
Paul Taylor with foreword by Robert Gottleib, introduction by Susanne Carbonneau
Taylor celebrates and satirizes indiscriminately: Martha Graham, the “Creative Process,” members of the press, himself, the institutions of Ballet and Modern Dance…the list of victims and heroes goes on.
As author and as subject matter, Taylor gives us many versions of himself: benevolent dictator, escapist (“My edges seriously frayed, I needed a quiet place to mend.”), keen observer, crafter of aliases, poet, satirist of self and others (His characters Dr Tacet and Sheriff O’Houlihan are foil and mirror), and, at times, cynic. Bewilderingly, or maybe not so, he asserts: “Ideally, my work would be anonymous.”
He tackles the very concepts of art and creativity as borrowing exercises. As his highbrow alter-ego Dr George H Tacet, Ph.D., Taylor gives himself a talking-to for his “shameless pirating of dance steps,” then in his own voice he asserts that “the whole world is one big, glorious grab-bag,” and “we don’t really own anything.” The episode titled “In the Marcel Proust Suite of L’Hotel Continental” is both a jab as the pervasiveness of American culture and an allusion to all art as pastiche. (And besides all that, the whole essay is sublimely, perfectly absurd.) He tears mercilessly into classical ballet, and writes that a fictitious colony of bees “…have all but mastered a simplified version of Pavlova’s ‘Dying Swan’ and as soon as they get the snake arms right they should be able to dance the whole routine in toe shoes!”
Taylor’s younger self also falls under his microscope. The ironic and heartfelt “Two Bozos Seen Through Glass” is titled as much for the past and present Taylor as for the two modern dance students auditioning on his rain-soaked patio.
Truly good art, whether written or performed, is made best by the creators who are not afraid to show up and be vulnerable, to borrow, to laugh at themselves…and to occasionally be “stark naked,” as Taylor says of his solo in Aureole. Facts and Fancies is one of those good works, and well worth adding to every creative person’s library.
Footage of Aureole danced by the Royal Danish Ballet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0q-ztXxdG_o
Esplanade danced by PTDC: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qyGWsGl7Ezo
Commentary on the Taylor documentary Dancemaker: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gs3B-Bzo_HM
Dancemaker on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/danceconsortium/videos?query=dancemaker
Lovely 80th Birthday tributes to Taylor: http://ptdc.org/artists-dances/paul-taylor/80th-birthday-tributes/
by Allan Greene
(Read part one of this series here)
Arvo Pärt (pronounced “pair-t”), the contemporary classical composer, insists, as recorded in Arvo Pärt in Conversation (Enzo Restagno, et al., 2010), that in contrast to whatever anybody else takes away from his highly spiritual compositions, he is driven by technical goals; and that the “system” that he devised after 1976, which he calls Tintinnabuli, is meant to prove that “1+1=1”, that in the End is the Beginning. In other words, Happiness is a Cosmic Blanket.
His route to happiness took him through his own extended breakdown, between 1968 and 1976, a span during which he had largely stopped composing. He had already changed direction twice in his short career.
Born in 1935 into an independent Estonia at the fringes of Western culture, he grew up as the Soviets took effective control during the war and then complete control afterward. The Estonian musical community had been pretty much ignored by the powerful and reactionary Composers Union in Moscow. Pärt, however, was a seeker, not an entertainer, and when visiting artists performed and brought recordings and scores of what was happening in the West (Boulez, Stockhausen, Henze, Dallapicola, Berio, and above all Webern), he found the path he was seeking. His early popular success (1960) with a student composition, Nekrolog, which was one of the first twelve-tone pieces written inside the Soviet Union, drew “relentless criticism from elevated cultural circles” (Restagno, p. 14) because it allowed a corrupt Western aesthetic to penetrate the Iron Curtain. A few years later he was trying heterogeneous pieces (Collage on B-A-C-H, 1964) which he described as:
A sort of transplantation: if you have the feeling you don’t have a skin of your own,you try to take strips from skin all around you and apply them to yourself. In time these strips change, and turn into a new skin. I didn’t know where this experiment with the Collages would lead me, but in any case I had the impression I was carrying a living organism in my hands, a living substance, such as I had yet not found in twelve-tone music… But one cannot go on forever with the method transplantation. (Restagno, 17)
He was in a record store (remember those places?) and overheard a short Gregorian chant, just a few seconds of it, as he recalls (ibid., 18).
In it I discovered a world that I didn’t know, a world without harmony, without meter, without timbre, without instrumentation, without anything. At this moment it became clear to me which direction I had to follow, and a long journey began in my unconscious mind. (ibid., 18)
Pärt continued to experiment in the mid-Sixties with works juxtaposing radically different styles, like his Second Symphony (1966), which after the most frightening clashes of sound masses introduces a note-for-note symphonic quotation from Tchaikovsky twice in the final movement.
He gave up on twelve-tone, serial, musique concrète, even Webern-like miniatures, after that, having decided that mid-Twentieth Century New Music was a carrier of “the germ of conflict”. The conflicts had lost their power and meaning for him.
One could say I had come to terms with myself and with God – and in so doing, all personal demands on the world receded into the background. (ibid., 22)
I have come to recognize that it not my duty to struggle with the world, nor to condemn this or that, but first and foremost to know myself, since every conflict begins in ourselves. (ibid.)
And so I set off in search of new sounds. In this way, the path itself becomes a source of inspiration. The path no longer runs outwards from us, but inwards, to the core from which everything springs. That is what all my actions have come to mean: building and not destroying. (ibid.)
In 1968 he composed a Credo (Summa), a work for piano, orchestra and chorus with Latin texts from the Gospels. The Composers Union caught up with him, and soon he was receiving coded threats that investigations were going on at the highest level. This combination of twelve-tone language and Jesus’ suffering proved too provocative for the authorities.
After this I was interrogated several times, and the interrogators repeated the same question over and over again: “What political aim are you pursuing in this work?” (ibid.)
His wife Nora added, “And they added, ‘And do not forget that this work must never again be performed, and you must not offer it to anyone else’”. (ibid.)
Understandably, the confluence of all these doubts and pressures led to his choice to cease composing. This was his nervous breakdown moment, when nothing which had worked for him in the past worked now.1
by Allan Greene
Let me get this out right up front: if you go for Arvo Pärt, you’ll love the late works of Franz Liszt.
I’ve played and loved the late Liszt since I was kid. It was in the late Sixties on a trip into Manhattan to the old Schirmer’s that I found a newly published Schirmer number called The Late Liszt. I was thirteen or fourteen and I had been composing atonal music for a few years; but as a piano student, Liszt, the Romantic, was my god. After going to considerable trouble to master his Liebestraum No. 3, I was taken by surprise that late in his life Liszt had composed these spare, non-bravura morceaux. That some were nearly atonal, un-moored from traditional harmony, made me even gladder.
All these years I’ve accompanied dance I’ve used pieces from that collection in classes. I have never, with one unhappy exception (Sir Frederick Ashton’s Mayerling), seen choreography to this music. This volume held, and holds, such meaning for me, its contents might almost be my autobiography. I’ve been troubled me all these years that I haven’t seen great dances to this profound music.
And then, while researching a column on Arvo Pärt, who is wildly popular with choreographers, it hit me.
Late Liszt is late Pärt. I mean, really.
Do they have a spooky, supernatural, counter-intuitive relationship, filled with seemingly strange coincidences? Let’s see. Liszt was Hungarian, Pärt is Estonian. Their native tongues are both members of the the Finno-Ugric language group. Both had an affinity for the avant-garde from the very beginning. Both suffered mid-career life changes that sent them into a quasi-religious bout of self-examination.
Except for the “dark night of the soul” that each went through, the coincidences don’t prove much. Liszt was a very public figure who set the People Magazine standard for celebrity and scandale in his day; Pärt is a private person, thrust into the public eye by his success translating his privacy into music. He has a stable home-life and a happy family.
But it is extraordinarily interesting to me these two composers more than a century removed from one another cross paths at a very particular point in their artistic journeys, after having gone through depression and soul-searching. The fact that Pärt has become so popular among choreographers and Liszt is not tells me something is wrong.
I’m going to right that wrong.
Initially, I’d like to suggest that Pärt may have led us to the edge of an age of Radical Diatonicism, much as Liszt blazed a path to radical chromaticism 150 years ago.
Diatonic versus Chromatic
It is a bit easier to follow my thesis if we understand the historic relationship between the diatonic (white-key) scale and the chromatic (all the keys on the piano) scale.
The diatonic scale held absolute power in Western music at least as far back as the 12th Century, when the earliest surviving notated music, that of the monk Perotin, was composed. Music was organized around seven tones, what we today call A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Music was characterized based on which of those seven tones dominated the melody. Depending on which tone it was, the music had a certain sound, called a mode (modus). What we today call a major scale was called the Lydian Mode. What we today call the minor scale (or natural minor scale) was called the Hypodorian (or Aeolian) Mode. There were eight modes, the most dissonant being the Phrygian and Hypophrygian or Lochrian.
I had high expectations just reading the title of Debra Webb Rogers’ Dancing Between the Ears: accessing a dancer’s mind is the key to unlocking the potential of the body. Aimed at students, teachers, and professional dancers, this book does not disappoint. Over one hundred pages of ideas and images are organized into chapters for alignment, work at the barre, port de bras, turns, jumps, and traveling steps.
The value of Dancing Between the Ears can be summed up in a line from Rogers’ introduction: “For experienced students or professional dancers, the most important thing in dance class is not to learn new steps, but to discover new ways of thinking about the old ones.” This book contains many familiar images, and plenty I had never encountered. Some of my favorites included visualizing the vertebrae as jelly sandwiches and trying to keep all the jelly from squeezing out, imagining the legs as two opposite barbershop poles or two opposite tornadoes, floating the arms on imaginary water to keep them buoyant and supple, and running up a pretend ramp or runway on the takeoff for large jumps.
As an experienced teacher and former professional dancer, Debra Webb Rogers would know: Practice makes permanent! Sometimes all it takes to break an old habit is to practice a new way of thinking. Students and teachers all learn differently and think differently about their bodies in motion. Dancing Between the Ears offers a rich variety of images in multiple iterations—there is something for every kind of thinker in this work.4