Books & Magazines
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/
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.
We are pleased to have as our guest contributor Gigi Berardi, dance author and critic, who has written over 150 articles and reviews that have appeared in Dance Magazine, Dance International, The Los Angeles Times, among others. She is also a natural and social scientist currently on the faculty of Western Washington University.
Her academic and background and performing experiences allow her to combine her passion for both dance and science Her fifth book, “Finding Balance: Fitness and Training for a Lifetime in Dance” is in its second printing, and is one I highly recommend especially for younger dancers. Gigi’s master degree thesis in dance, from UCLA, focused on older dancers who were able to continue dancing and performing well past the age when most have to retire because of injuries – i.e, what were they doing differently that kept them actively performing into their 50′s, 60′s,70′s? Her current book project is called “A Cultivated Life” — look for it soon!
-Jan Dunn MS, Dance Wellness Editor
by Gigi Berardi, MA
How do dancers find balance — literally and figuratively? I feel that the literal part (actually balancing in an unsteady position) is almost the less interesting. As I wrote in the final chapter of the second edition of Finding Balance: Fitness, Training, and Health for a Lifetime in Dance (Routledge, 2005),
The essential information [for] managing a life in dance can be summarized in a handful of principles. Some of those are:
- Practice – in the form of endless repetition of dance movements – does not necessarily make perfect.
- Dancers need to work with limitations, and in so doing, recognize their strengths.
- Being injured is an opportunity to learn and become more sensitive to the warning signs of pain.
- The brain-mind connection is important in learning dance and dances; thus the need for growing neural structures (dendrites), in which visualization techniques can help.
- Learning (and therapy) is most effective with respected teachers (and practitioners) and in supportive environments.
- Certain dietary practices … are counterproductive to long-term weight management (avoiding good, saturated fat; bouts of restrictive eating).
- The science of dance is fraught with controversies …. healthy debate, and multiple interpretations (as is the art of dance); this is another way of saying that there is no one truth, but multiple truths (good and effective practice is often multidisciplinary). However, good ideas and good practices often converge.
In two Seattle performances this winter, I could see such principles in practice:
- practice with a focus on artistry as much as architecture (the number and types of movements)
- a dancer with the flattest feet imaginable dancing handsomely in a principle role (thus, working with limitations)
- dancers who have returned triumphantly from catastrophic injuries
- highly complicated new choreography (expertly danced), but taught with imaging exercises
- working with (well respected) choreographers and ballet masters, and the good working relationship being obvious
- body sizes of all shapes and sorts, indicating a more relaxed attitude of a “company look” (i.e., not sickeningly thin)
- both companies having access to experienced health professionals, who are mighty aware of controversies around and variations of treatment styles.
And, what did I actually see in the performances? Great beauty, focus, and art – from Whim W’him’s season opener Crave More (choreography: Olivier Wevers and Anabelle Ochoa Lopez) to Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Romeo et Juliette (choreography: Jean Christophe Maillot). Dancers in both companies embodied many of the principles I mentioned – showing great control and remarkably imaginative interpretation.
In Lopez’s Crave, guest artist Lucien Postlewaite (former PNB principal and on loan from Les Ballets de Monte Carlo) and Lara Seefeldt danced a moving pas de deux, outrageous for its bold ideas and intimacy. Looking sharp off-balance, the couple maintained a tight bond. Disjointed music added to the jigsaw puzzle of it all. In PNB’s Romeo et Juliette, counterbalance is de rigeur, but therein is also one of the most striking examples of finding one’s center of mass, as given by the principal ballerinas (Kaori Nakamura, Carla Korbes, and Noelani Pantastico). Each Juliette balanced on the balls of her feet in one of the most mesmerizing moments of Act II, balancing for a full 8 bars of music, as she contemplated the faux-poison she was soon to take.
Back to the introduction of this short post, although balance typically is a great physical accomplishment, how much more the psychological balancing, so necessary to be fully the overeager Tybalt, the impetuous Romeo, the strong-willed but also fragile Juliette. But how much also, for Lopez’s dancers in Crave, or Olivier Wevers’ schizophrenic colleague in More (the gorgeous Andrew Bartee), or Wevers’ compelling couples in The Sofa, so present in the strangeness of it all. And as for Ochoa’s brilliant solo piece, the famed Before After, quite simply, there’s nothing like it – which makes it worth seeing again and again for its ferocious and soulful soliloquy – holding true for all the pieces in Wever’s stunning January program.
Gigi Berardi holds a MA in dance from UCLA. Her academic background and performing experience allow her to combine her interests in the natural and social sciences with her passion for dance, as both critic and writer. Over 150 articles and reviews by Ms. Berardi have appeared in Dance Magazine, Dance International, the Los Angeles Times, the Anchorage Daily News, The Olympian, The Bellingham Herald, and scientific journals such as BioScience, Human Organization, and Ethics, Place, and Environment. Her total work numbers over 400 print and media pieces. Her public radio features (for KSKA, Anchorage) have been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Dance Critics Association, and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, as well as Book Review editor for The Journal of Dance Medicine & Science. A professor at Western Washington University, she received the university’s Diversity Achievement Award in 2004. Her fifth book, Finding Balance: Fitness and Training for a Lifetime in Dance, is in its second printing. Her current book project is titled A Cultivated Life.0
DANCE CLASS offers some fun reading material for young adults, and today we are happy to feature a behind-the-scenes look at this unique series of graphic novels by Papercutz…
What inspired you to write this series on dance?
Dance is an ideal subject for writing as it’s a whole world of passions and emotions, but also a hard and difficult universe. Extreme joy and pain are often mixed in dance rooms, and later, in competitions. It’s also a magnificent art form, where movement is at the heart of everything. All these elements make an ideal subject for a comic book, as much for an artist as for a scriptwriter.
How do you come up with the ideas for each issue?
There are a thousand ways to come up with an idea for DANCE CLASS because dance has as many emotions and surprises as life does in general. Some ideas come to us from reading, from a ballet, or from conversations with dancers. Other ideas come from the characters; they’re teenagers, each with their own little family and school world, their good and bad qualities, and this all gives us some very funny situations. Very often the ballets themselves tell a story, so we can transform those stories a little and find humorous situations that bring our characters to life.
What is the process of writing the issues like?
Once we’ve gotten an idea we look for how to tell it in the most efficient, original, and humorous way possible. That is to say, the way that’ll let us show the most beautiful routines, to foreground the personalities of each character, and to write the most interesting dialogue. The dynamism of the page is very important in comics.
Once we’ve found the right way to convey the idea, we lay it out panel by panel and work on this cut-out until we have a version that seems the best to us. We then send it to Crip, the series illustrator, who starts drawing it out.
Sometimes ideas remain in the draft stage for several weeks because there’s an element missing. And then one day, everything falls into place, we find what we were missing, and we finish the script.
What part of the process is the most fun?
It’s magical when the elements we’ve noted in the draft come together and the story appears. It’s very exciting because we know at that moment that the idea can become a page of comics. Then we’re very impatient to start writing dialogue, to find small, amusing details we can add.
Another moment that we love is when we receive the artwork from Crip and then the color version from Maela, our colorist. At that point we become readers again, impatient to turn the page and find out what happens next!
What is coming up next in this series?
Julie, Lucie, and Alia are going to go to Russia for an exchange with the dance school of the famous Mariinsky Theater. Then, in another story, Lucie’s going to realize her dream: to write a ballet for her friends. Our three heroines will next go to London, to participate in a Christmas musical performed only by teenagers. These stories have already appeared in France, but not in the USA yet.
At the moment, we’ve just finished writing a story where they revisit the ballet Snow White in a modern staging. We have lots of other ideas in store for the series, notably a story where the girls are introduced to New York City, but that hasn’t been written yet.
Disclosure: 4dancers receives compensation from Papercutz
by Emily Kate Long
How to Teach Beginning Ballet is a rich resource for teachers. In five sections covering 190 pages, Judith Newman covers topics ranging from how to give students a tour of the studio on the first day to cultivating a sense of rhythm to addressing behavior problems.
Newman’s emphasis on preparedness and thorough advice on classroom management (learning names, maintaining discipline without losing liveliness) are especially valuable. The bulk of that information is contained in the introduction in sub-sections for each of the first three classes. My favorite, and the most broadly applicable advice is as follows:
“Before introducing a new step, work backwards to determine the set of skills needed to perform the new step. Practice the skills first and then they have been mastered, teach the step
“Consider, for example, the demi-plie. Because the step is performed standing, consider that the student must be aware of correct posture. Because it is performed standing at the barre, she must know how to hold the barre…
“…After a while, you will find there are no new skills to teach, only new steps.”
“As the class progresses in complexity, use the following guidelines to make sure it is balanced both physically and mentally.
1. Alternate slow exercises with quick exercises.
2. Let extensions progress gradually from low to high.
3. Alternate the simple with the complex.
4. Repeat to strengthen but not to exhaust.”
Newman also makes an important point about marking, which can so easily turn into an excuse for sloppiness:
“Remember that marking means to perform the entire combination without actually jumping or turning. Use the upper body, the back, the arms, and the head with artistry while indicating the shape and direction of the feet and legs.”
There are some points of organization and nomenclature (eg., that of arm positions and classification of releves), as well as posture (keeping the weight entirely off the heels) that I disagree with as a teacher. Stylistic differences aside, I regard the majority of the content of How to Teach Beginning Ballet: The First Three Years as highly useful in planning a class of any level, and highly interesting as a study of pedagogy. Even as teachers, we should never stop learning!
How to Teach Beginning Ballet: The First Three Years, Judith Newman, Princeton Book Company0