Critique As Love: Constructive Criticism and Curation

by Kimberly Peterson

dancer on stageI just finished reading a fantastic book called “Girls to the Front” which carries you through the Riot Grrrrl movement of the 90’s in fantastic form. Filled with feminist theory and punk ethos, I find many similarities between the openness and experimentation of this movement, and post modernist theories of dance. Much like my alma mater’s motto of “Every Body Dances”, there is a deep seated recognition and unapologetic validity of the creative journey, and wherever you may find yourself along that path.

It is a noble attitude, one I embrace and look for in dance communities. However, there does exist a personal, social and collective aesthetic which shapes not only the work we create, and the work we enjoy seeing, but also influences the works created in the future.

As artists, we tend to make work that we enjoy and emulate the work and themes we relate to. Through our individual choices, we not only shape the concerts we see, but the funding that is directly or indirectly given to those performances. Through our communal aesthetic, we shape the definition of our art form in the common vernacular. So intertwined are these connections that aesthetics at the personal level, can in fact, shape the type of work we see on a global level.

Criticism is the vehicle by which we shape our individual aesthetic values, and through this, our collective and social aesthetic values. This process of critique, artists with like minded ideas about how art is made, and what art is effective, tend to draw together. This kind of self curation is one that fascinates me as an artist – further, it causes me to contemplate how artists may be able to use this as a curatorial process to our own advantages in models of artist representation.

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Ballet Dancers: Special, But Expendable….

by Kimberly Peterson

Photo by Catherine L. Tully

In the new series “Breaking Pointe”, a documentary style show highlighting the world of professional ballet inside Ballet West from the CW network, there are several brilliant things which happen here: 1) – a no holds barred look at life as a professional dancer, the ups and downs of this on their professional and personal lives, their own development as artists and people; 2) – it brings into sharp relief the nature of the competitive atmosphere of professional ballet and the ramifications of this atmosphere on the work ballet produces.

In the first episode, we are introduced to several of the dancers in differing points in their careers, who are getting ready for their annual contract renewals, or conversely, their pink slips. The Artistic Director, Adam Sklute, in speaking about how he must make difficult decisions for the good of the company, states: “The best recipe for creating a hardworking and well-functioning dancer and artist is if all the dancers know that they are special, but also that they are expendable.” This statement resonated with me and instinctually. I found myself bumping up against it as I watch these people struggle for an unattainable perfection, while knowing and accepting that they will never truly find it, never really have security or rest. There is only the constant pursuit of perfection.

While this may be the way in which ballet chooses to conduct itself, the manner in which they operate their business, I seriously doubt the efficacy of this kind of an environment not only on the people who work there, but also the work that is eventually produced.

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Musings: Every Body Dances

by Kimberly Peterson

When I first began college at Texas Woman’s University, there was a slogan – a motto of sorts for the department: Every Body Dances.

Not everybody dances, but Every Body Dances. The distinction is important – because it necessarily includes every body: type, shape, size, age, and ability. This belief is so integral to TWU’s Department of Dance, that it radically changed how I approached movement, creativity, my body and my journey as a dance artist.

Ability is something most dancers pride themselves on: the ability to execute movement well, the ability to perform, the ability to manipulate their bodies to do as they desire. However, ability is a spectrum – and the loss of an ability need not negate the ability of an entire body. And it certainly does not consume the identity of the person.

Adaptive dance seeks to allow for differences in ability while creating high caliber performances. In essence, it treats all dancers, regardless of ability, as dancers and works within whatever levels of technique, skills, performance they bring with them. It is a deceptively simple concept – and marvelous to behold!

Two fascinating examples of great work come from DV8 Physical Theater and AXIS Dance Company.

DV8 Physical Theater is a UK based movement troupe. The clips below are from their Film The Cost of Living and feature David Toole, who is a remarkable mover and actor.

What I find most engaging is that David Toole makes full use of his abilities. He’s not attempting to look like he has legs, he simply moves without them – furthering the creative development of movement within the pieces he dances in. I find the perspective shot from David’s level to be highly interesting, and find the movement his body attains extremely engaging. The perspective of these shots highlight the relationship between the dancers’ bodies and space which, in some instances, is much more interesting to me than the actual movement. (Video 2) David displays a level of physicality and commitment to his movement that is equally impressive!

AXIS Dance Company, who you may remember as a guest performance from So You Think You Can Dance, has stunning work involving a wheelchair.

The fantastic movement made with the bodies they have, highlights their ability rather than the differences between them. The movement varies in tempo and intensity, dynamically pushing the limits of what is “safe” into realms that are both interesting and captivating. I was especially excited to see that they utilized the full range of possibilities with the chair: using the chair off balance (1:27, 1:31, 2:16), utilizing weight sharing (:45-:51) from both partners (3:15), both physically initiating (1:14) and receiving partnering (1:20), and was especially excited to witness the chair in use for counter-balance (1:00) and the initiation of bodily momentum (3:00). The choreographer, Alex Ketley, really utilized Rodney Bell and engaged his whole body, which includes the use of a wheelchair.

However, there is no condescension, no “inspirational” tone. There are just artists, doing what they cannot help but do – dance beautifully. However, this lack of “inspiration” is important. While it is always enlightening and exhilarating to see amazing work, we do the dancers a disservice if we only focus on what ails them – or what makes them different. What is most important in a dance work, has to be what the work is saying to you, the communication and dialogue happening between you, the dancers and the choreographer. We take away the beauty and magic of that moment by reducing the whole to the sum of their parts.

Accepting that no body is the same, that no mind thinks alike, that no one interpretation of movement can encompass the whole of the experience – this is what makes our medium a lived art, an experience rather than a stagnant piece.

Every Body Dances.


Suspension in the Transverse Plane

by Kimberly Peterson

Recently I was linked to an amazing video that kind of took me by surprise. I haven’t had a lot of exposure with pole dancing and knew very little of what it could be – save the intentional erotica that movies and television portray it as. However, this video of Jeynene Butterfly completely changed my perception of what this form of movement could be. Don’t be shy, she’s not nude or anything.

The most fascinating thing (besides the sheer strength involved) for me revolved around the use of the Transverse Plane of movement – that is movement which happens horizontally. The suspension achieved by the use of the pole enables a full range of movement options unavailable in the same way by dancing vertically on the floor.

Now, if you are anything like me, you’ve found yourself once or twice in a studio, frustrated with always being vertical, but not excited by a long form “floor” dance. Seeing Ms. Butterfly got me thinking about other ways in which dance could explore the Transverse Plane.

I first had caught wind about Project Bandaloop a few years back, when they performed in Dallas. This group, out of California, focuses on suspension as a way to engage their surroundings and by doing so – explores the possibilities of movement in the transverse plane as well as exploring the realm of gravity.

There are many things which further excite me about Bandaloop, in that it takes dance out of the theatre and directly into the world. It blends the two, merging the artistic with the mundane, asking us to re-imagine our surroundings.

It is exciting to see dance being transformed by such innovative means. It makes me want to know what is next for the field – what may be possible – and how re-imagining something as simple as verticality can open up a new world of movement where limits are routinely broken.

Kimberly Peterson

BIO: Contributor Kimberly Peterson, a transplant to Minneapolis from the Dallas area, received her BA and MA from Texas Woman’s University’s prestigious dance program.

Drawing on her experience with producing dance works, Kimberly has served as lighting designer, stage manager, event coordinator, volunteer and an advisor in various roles. She has taught in various roles and her choreography featured at ACDFA, TCC South Campus and Zenon Dance Studios. Her recent internships with Theater Space Project and the Minnesota Children’s Museum have served to expand her skills in arts administration and development.

Her graduate research explored the parallels between the independent music industry and current methods of dancer representation. Fascinated with how art is represented and presented in society, she continues to develop this research while delving further into this complicated subject through her dance writing.


Musings: Stimulate – Intrigue – Captivate

by Kimberly Peterson

There is a quality in movement that I love to see and makes me engage with material in a completely different way than other dance. It’s hard to describe, but I know it when I see it. In fact, I find most people have a certain stylistic choice or a certain way of moving that feels good to them, or that is interesting to watch or work within.

This clip instantly captured me. I realized that it sort of encapsulated the continuous motion that intrigues me as a choreographer, stimulates me as a dancer and captivates me as an audience member. It is the union of opposites that intrigues me – lightness and weight, controlled and yet abandoned, strength and yet ease…the complexity and texture this creates in performance is breathtaking to me and yet is not accidental.

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From the Mouths of Babes: Creative Choice Making and Children

Hello and happy holidays to you all. I apologize for the lack of posts, but have been busy with an internship at the MN Children’s Museum and getting some much needed perspective.

This time, spent partially observing children in active play and engaged in learning while creating, has opened my eyes to the skills of active choice making involved in creative play.

Playing is learning for children and is directly derived from their ability to make assumptions, try them out, learn from them and engage in the decision making process with others. It is their opportunity to learn from, socialize with, engage in and develop their sense of self and to context that self within their understanding of the world.

This doesn’t really change all that much when you become an adult either, though adults get far less constructive and creative play time than children tend to. Creative play is one of the amazing elements exemplified in contact improvisation.

The video below captures perfectly the duality of play, creative choice making and learning:

Immediately, we see active choice making from the little one. At :18 we see a decision to find a connection, seek hand holds and shift weight in an appropriate way to execute that choice. At :21, :25 and :32 we see her decide to leave that position – even using “safe arms” on her way out, to maintain a physical connection with her partner, make independence choices away from her partner, but re-engaging contact. At :38 there is a serious test of trust between the two partners – trust that is rewarded with a brilliant series of movement in :50, 1:43, 1:55 and 2:43 and carries over to her new partner at the end of the clip.

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Classical Roots: Embracing Qualitative Movement Within Classical Form

Ballet has always been my first dance love. Ever since I first saw a class while waiting for my tap class to begin, I was hooked. I loved the shapes, the grace, and the expressive elegance of its structure.

In early ballet of the twentieth century, the form was drastically different than the precision and technicality of what “classical” ballet is today. Never have I seen such stark differences between these two approaches as with the performance of Fokine’s “The Dying Swan”.

Anna Pavlova, the mistress of the bourree, one of the premier dancers of her time, was legendary for her expressive and emotive performances. Her epic role in “The Dying Swan” was said to have captured the very essence of the struggle for life.

In it’s modern interpretation, it is often used as a malleable piece designed to showcase each dancer at their best. The bourree’s in Fokine’s version were specifically for Pavlova – and to answer some critics who claimed he was only doing dances flat-footed. However, I can’t help but wonder if the difference between these versions has to do with these two divergent schools of thought with regards to the quality of movement and how this shapes performance.

Watch first Pavlova’s interpretation….

Fokine describes the work’s ambition:

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