Books & Magazines

Book Review: STORY/TIME: The Life of an Idea by Bill T. Jones

by Katie C. Sopoci Drake

STORY/TIME: The Life of an IdeaSTORY/TIME is a three-part book that also serves as a companion piece to the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company’s live production of Story/Time that will appear at New York Live Arts on November 4-8, 11-15 at 7:30pm. More information: http:www.newyorklivearts.org

After the lengthy acknowledgements to many honored academics, distinguished artists, and an impressive list of foundations and trusts, the first thing to strike the reader soundly across the brain is a preface that warns you that what you are about to experience is really a structured event, “a performance yearning to be a document, a book” that serves as a “record of a needy, angry, and confused man” with a need “for a tradition, an intellectual home”.  After a description of the book’s layout, a hint at how you might best take in the information (an “invitation to play” or “reorder if you will”), and properly braced with what contradictions may present themselves, you delve into the first of three sections of the book.  

This first section, titled “Past Time” plunges you into Jones’ experience within the 1970‘s dance scene. You witness him meeting with the ideas of John Cage, the growing importance of his ideas on Jones’ own artistic inquiries, and are confronted with random stories and images that evoke place and history. Jones’ feelings of exclusion from the intellectual community of scholars and artists of the time surfaces within the narrative providing fire behind Jones’ evidently voracious appetite for inquiry and the contradiction within himself between “comfort” and “provocation” within his own methods of creating live performance that “reveal the most personal aspects” of himself.  

The second section, “Story/Time”, “a response to John Cage’s 1958 Indeterminacy,” is laid out like a score with dashes and brackets marking the time and random order (with the help of www.random.org) of 60 one-minute stories. These nuggets of prose, with words that are nudged and pulled apart on the paper to mark the passage of time, span the range of Jones’ own history and memories. Some having to do with art, some with family, some with characters from his life, certain stories swim back to the surface after their initial appearance in the first section of the book “Past Time”. Here they are washed clean of their previous context, and elevated to the status of art.STORY/TIME: The Life of an Idea 

“Story/Time” begs to be read out loud. At the end of the previous section, “Past Time”, Jones gives us hints at his approach in performance which certainly invites the reader to try one or all stories in their own tongue. 17 unsentimental performance images accompany this leg of the journey giving the viewer a setting for the stories and reminds us of Jones’ questioning of his own interpretation of Cage’s theories assigning “a higher priority to the author’s intent or choices of presentation than to the audience’s capacity to interpret that intent.”

In “With Time”, the final section of the book, you read Jones’ thoughts on the direction of dance as an art-form with the benefit of having read about both his own journey towards this end and experiencing a sample of what his deep artistic inquiry has rendered. In it, he offers yet another twist in his journey in the form of praise he received from his niece in 1999 after a performance of We Set Out Early… Visibility Was Poor. Jones reveals that at that moment, she had represented another “community I had — justifiably or not — felt estranged from.”  This revelation brackets a series of “provocations” that keep circling back around within the book: detachment from emotion in art, exclusion from intellectual society, estrangement from community, the class context of searching for identity versus the search for meaning, the role of history and personal experience in experimental art. 

STORY/TIME: The Life of an Idea

In a final interview with Laura Kuhn, Executive Director of the John Cage Trust, John Cage, Jones’ “icon of modernism”, is partially laid bare. Kuhn relates a story of Cage being so detached from society that he didn’t realize Jesse Jackson was black. The story doesn’t seek to embarrass the man, but to reveal a consequence of a philosophy that separates the artist from society. Directly after the interview, Jones identifies his desire to reconcile the community he grew up in with the artistic community he is immersed in and the contradiction of “choosing to engage seriously with such a socially ‘unengaged’ artist who seems to hard back to an era when the only artists who mattered where male and white. And yet engage with John Cage I must.”

As a written document, this book is clearly organized, quickly read, and dense with musings that can be dissected by dancers and non-dancers alike. As a piece of art, it is both process and product in one. The engagement and participation of audience member might be enhanced if the book is read and discussed in a group setting which makes me curious to see how it will fit with the live performance and how many people will pair the two. The experiment in creation, design and performance certainly poses many questions that, identifying as a dance artist, I found myself musing in the context of own work. Likewise, as an academic, I found I was concurrently dissecting the book for use in a future class. I found the “provocation” of personal context and its link to the audience’s experience of art particularly poignant when my thoughts swung back around to a quotation of Michel Auder which was, perhaps, not so randomly selected to end “Story/Time”: “’You motherfucker! You were thinking about yourself while watching my work!’”.

STORY/TIME: The Life of an Idea 

By Bill T. Jones

Performing Arts, Dance, Memoir

108 pp. Princeton University Press. $24.95


Katie Sopoci Drake Photo by Scott Pakudaitis

Katie Sopoci Drake
Photo by Scott Pakudaitis

Contributor Katie C. Sopoci Drake, MFA, GL-CMA, is a Washington D.C. based professional dancer, choreographer and teacher specializing in Laban-based contemporary dance. Holding an MFA in Dance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a Graduate Certification in Laban Movement Analysis from Columbia College – Chicago, and a BA in Theatre/Dance with a minor in Vocal Performance from Luther College, Sopoci Drake continues to take classes in as many techniques and practices as she can handle to inform her work and life as a curious mover.

Katie has been on faculty at The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Nova Southeastern University, Miami Dade College-Wolfson, Miami Dade College-Kendall, Carthage College, and Lawrence University.  She currently guest teaches and gives masterclasses around the D.C. area and wherever her travels take her.

As a performer, Sopoci is described as a “sinuous, animal presence of great power; watching her dance is a visceral experience.” (Third Coast Digest).  Company credits include Mordine and Company Dance Theater of Chicago, Momentum Dance Company of Miami, Wild Space Dance Company of Milwaukee, and Rosy Simas Danse of Minneapolis.  Katie has also made appearances an an independent artist with many companies including Brazz Dance, Your Mother Dances, The Florentine Opera, and The Minnesota Opera.

Katie’s choreography, described as “a beautiful marriage between choreography, music and poetry” (On Milwaukee), arises from her fascination with the idiosyncrasies of daily life, and the flights of fancy that arise from ordinary inspirations.  Her work has been performed by numerous companies, colleges and studios across the country and her latest collaboration, Telephone Dance Project, will take her to states up and down the East Coast while investigating long-distance creation and connecting far-flung dance communities.

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Book Review: Ballerina – by Edward Stewart

ballerina bookby Emily Kate Long

Reading Ballerina by Edward Stewart is like snacking on too many Girl Scout Cookies. There’s something sentimental about them, and it’s so hard to just have one. Chapter after juicy (and sometimes eye-roll-inducing) chapter, I couldn’t put this novel down.

Ballerina was originally published in 1979. The latest edition comes in e-book format from Open Road Publications. At 500 pages, it’s a quick read with plenty of theatrics. A few of the forty-nine chapters seem like separate episodes in the often scattered plot, and as a whole the book has the slightly dated feel of a yellowing Polaroid photo. If you’re looking for a good soap-opera-type travel read, though, this definitely fits the bill.

The plot follows dancers Stephanie Lang and Christine Avery from their audition for the country’s top ballet school at age sixteen into their early twenties as they navigate promising careers, romance, and friendship. Steph’s overbearing mother Anna and the manipulative artistic director Marius Volmar are in turns detestable and pitiable as secondary characters, twisting and prodding Steph and Chris for personal gain.

The world Stewart creates is one of catty backstabbing and sleeping around—think Dancers, The Turning Point, or Center Stage. Despite the book’s shortcomings, the intrigue of the insider-outsider dance world makes Ballerina a readable jaunt for dancers and non-dancers alike. I rate it three stars out of five for exciting drama but lack of depth, and PG-13 for some strong language and few graphic scenes—it’s not a novel for the Girl Scout-age set.

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Book Review: Dance Medicine Head to Toe: A Dancer’s Guide to Health

by Emily Kate Long

dance medicine bookJudith Peterson knows dancers’ health. She served the Pennsylvania Ballet for ten years as attending physician and is currently a member of the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Her book covers the whats, hows, and whys of anatomy that are most relevant to dancers. The functional descriptions of each body structure (spinal regions, cardiovascular system, hips, knees, ankles, feet, and toes) are thorough enough to be really useful but presented simply. Most importantly, each chapter includes a bulleted summary and practical exercises for each body region. Dance Medicine Head to Toe makes it easy to see why anatomical knowledge is important to dancers and how they can put that knowledge into practice.

An especially important feature of this book (aside from the high quality and effective presentation of the information, of course) is the emphasis Peterson places on getting help from a qualified dance medicine professional rather than trying to ignore pain or “tough it out,” such unfortunately common practices in the competitive fields of professional and pre-professional dance. Cultivating a dance culture where it’s understood to be OK to get help for injuries is critical to the advancement of our art and expansion of our field.

In addition to the valuable information provided in Peterson’s text, the book is peppered with diagrams and dance photographs. Some are quite helpful, but many could benefit from clearer labeling or simply be omitted.

Succinct, comprehensive, and conversational, Dance Medicine Head to Toe should be part of every dancer’s and teacher’s library.

Dance Medicine Head to Toe: A Dancer’s Guide to Health, Judith R Peterson, MD, Princeton Book Company, 2011

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Review – Dance Class 5: To Russia, With Love

by Emily Kate Long

dance cartoonIn the fifth graphic story in the Papercutz “Dance Class” series, we follow dance friends Alia, Lucie, and Julie to St Petersburg, where they and the rest of Miss Anne’s students perform The Nutcracker with a group of Russian dancers. This book is as colorful, funny, and sweet as the first four “Dance Class” graphic novels.

While the Russia trip is the focus of the story, there’s plenty of humor at home before the girls leave. The dance dads have their day in Dance Class 5: Lucie’s dad performs a brilliant sissone ouverte while trying to save a batch of crepes, and Julie’s dad snores his way through a family trip to the ballet, to Mom’s great embarrassment.

Abroad, flirtatious Alia becomes frustrated with the Russian boys’ insensitivity…or is it just the language barrier?  “To Russia, With Love” closes with some casting surprises for Miss Anne before the curtain goes down and the students head home again.

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Book Review: Titian | Metamorphosis: Art Music Dance

9781908970046_p0_v1_s260x420by Emily Kate Long

What do an industrial robot, a Renaissance master, and an astronaut have in common? Last year, all three made appearances in London’s National Gallery and the Royal Opera House as part of a project titled Metamorphosis: Titian 2012. The commemorative hardback book Titian | Metamorphosis: Art Music Dance immortalizes the Royal Ballet-National Gallery collaboration in 180-plus pages of thought-provoking interviews and stunning photographs. The book gives us insight into some enduring tensions in art and dance: that between past and present, power and vulnerability, narration and abstraction, and technology and tradition.

This volume is itself a work of art, edited by Dr Minna Moore Ede, Assistant Curator of Renaissance Paintings at the National Gallery. Photographs by Gautier Deblonde, Johan Persson, and Andrej Uspenski decorate every page. Ede’s conversations with three contemporary British artists (Mark Wallinger, Conrad Shawcross, and Chris Ofili) make up the text in Titian | Metamorphosis. Together, the text and images reveal the project’s progress from nascence to maturity in a vivid and uncluttered package.

Each artist was commissioned to create work for the National Gallery, and was separately teamed up with a composer and choreographers to design a ballet. Wallinger created the ballet Trespass with composer Mark-Anthony Turnage and choreographers Alastair Marriott and Christopher Wheeldon. Shawcross’s Machina featured music by Nico Muhly and choreography by Wayne McGregor and Kim Brandstrup. Ofili’s designs for Diana and Acteon set the stage for choreography by Liam Scarlett, Will Tuckett, and Jonathan Watkins. Composer Jonathan Dove and librettist Alastair Middleton rounded out Ofili’s team.

Read more

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Book Review: Balanchine: Russian-American Ballet Master Emeritus

by Emily Kate Long

balanchineIn Balanchine: Russian-American Ballet Master Emeritus, Reine Duell Bethany gives young adults (dancers and nondancers alike) a highly readable, thought-provoking, and inspiring biography of the twentieth-century choreographer.  Over ten chapters, Bethany walks the reader thoughtfully through Balanchine’s early life in Russia, his work for Diaghilev, and his eventual establishment in the US as the head of New York City Ballet and the School of American Ballet. The author traces Balanchine’s personal history and relationships, his development as a choreographer, and his work and personality as a businessman and international cultural ambassador. Throughout, adequate yet succinct historical, cultural, and social context is provided, making Ballet Master Emeritus as useful and appealing to young people interested in history or politics as ballet. For creative types, Reine Duell Bethany’s poignant, inspiring writing reinforces the importance of such qualities as faith, sacrifice, integrity, courage, and dedication in the pursuit of artistic goals.

Balanchine: Russian-American Ballet Master Emeritus would make a valuable addition to the young dancer’s library. It captures the subject in a way that is both revealing and sensitive, while placing George Balanchine and New York City Ballet in a landscape beyond the self-contained.

Balanchine: Russian-American Ballet Master Emeritus

Reine Duell Bethany, 193 pages

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Review: The Pointe Book: Shoes Training, Technique

the pointe bookby Emily Kate Long

The third edition of The Pointe Book, published in 2012 (previous editions were released in 1998 and 2004), covers aspects of pointe shoes and pointe dancing past, present, and future. This edition has been extensively revised and includes one entirely new chapter of sample pointe classes.

Barringer and Schlesinger have compiled a quantity of hard data related to pointe work and pointe shoes. Included are lists of manufacturers of pointe shoes and accessories, shoe size charts, and diagrams of the foot and pointe shoe with accompanying anatomical and functional information. The authors also offer thoughtful discussion on such subjective matters as pointe readiness, training methods, and the relevance of pointe dancing today and in the future. Considerable space is also given to the issue of pointe-related injuries, their causes, and different treatments and therapies.

There is a wealth of valuable insight in these pages. The authors have consulted teachers, professional dancers, and medical professionals with extremely diverse backgrounds, and do a thorough job of presenting the many (sometimes conflicting) viewpoints of their interview subjects. Barringer and Schlesinger do justice to pointe dancing as both art and craft.

The value of The Pointe Book for today’s teachers and students is perhaps best summarized by a passage from the authors’ interview with Kirk Peterson, from the final chapter of the book, “Will Pointe Work Be Relevant in the Twenty-first Century?” Peterson states:

“A healthy respect for ballet’s time-honored traditions, an educated understanding of twentieth-century concerns for artistic relevance, and a respect for the public’s very real love affair with ballet as a theatrical art form, will point a contemporary ballet choreographer in the direction that will guide him or her in a way that embraces ballet’s traditions, yet stretches its potential and still uses pointe work as a valid tool for creativity and artistic expression.”

In The Pointe Book: Shoes Training, Technique, Janice Barringer and Sarah Schlesinger write with evident respect for the traditions and history of classical dance, and carefully provide the most current information on the state of our art and craft. This compendium also raises provocative questions regarding training methods, injury, and general attitudes of teachers, artists, and audience toward pointe dancing. The authors have given a useful resource to teachers, dancers, and parents for the development of the kind of artists Peterson describes above.

Disclosure: Janice Barringer is a contributing writer at 4dancers.org

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