Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Spoilt for Choice

This piece I wrote for DANZ magazine re: a trip to Europe last year. Photos by Francisco Rodrigues, taken at a workshop led by yours truly at Dans Centrum Jette in Brussels 2005 “How does New Zealand dance compare to dance in Europe?” It is a question I was asked not long after I arrived back after a recent work and research period in Brussels and Amsterdam. And it is a question that is impossible to talk about with any degree of accuracy because European dance is far too diverse to oversimplify with generalizations like “European dance” for example. What I am prepared to say is that dancers in Europe have access to a large array of technical approaches from gifted, accomplished, and influential teachers In Brussels (where Claire O’Neill is well respected as a teacher and performer) on any given weekday there are professional dance classes in two or three studios in different areas of the city. Company classes are also accessible to a lesser degree. The teachers are often choreographers drawing on a very broad knowledge base to create their own hybrid practice which in turn is what they offer professionals. The atmosphere in class was consistently friendly and supportive. At one studio there was a volunteer whose job it was to simply welcome you at the door. The range of abilities, skills and backgrounds of the freelance professionals are so diverse that it sabotages any narrow notions of what a good dancer is. It seems acceptable to be who you are, working on whatever it is you want to work on. Walking into any freelance class you are likely to encounter trained dancers at student, semi professional and professional level with technical influences too extensive to list. Also you find circus acrobats, martial artists, breakers, contact improvisers, and people with relatively little training who have somehow found work with choreographers (men relatively common in this category). There is a constant and extensive choice of workshops available. A few things I saw were: acrobatics and floor work for dancers, ballet adaptively geared for contemporary dancers, the usual physical theater and voice workshops and a workshop devoted entirely to learning the air track (a break move). I attended a four day workshop in Amsterdam in improvisation and composition taught by two different members of Magpie Dance Music Company on each consecutive day. There is extensive history in this group. Each member has their own artistic concerns and are very strong individuals. But onstage and off they work together like a cross between a punk band and a close knit family. As I was invited to perform with them I got to experience that directly. I got to sneak in a ‘rehearsal’ and share ideas on the practice of composition with another accomplished Amsterdam based improviser Lily Kiara at the School of New Dance. Lily is a disciple of Julyen Hamilton whose work I studied in 2003 in Spain. In Brussels I attended a contact improvisation workshop with Frey Faust whose system of movement organization called “The “Axis Syllabus” not only helped me sort out a chronic knee condition but also taught contact improvisation in easily understandable biomechanical principles as opposed to the more mystical language of image based approaches I’ve encountered. At a jam at the PARTS school I found myself being caught off guard simply because people I didn’t know smiled at me as I entered the room and I wasn’t used to that. Every person I worked with that evening was a highly competent dancer and capable improviser. David Zambrano, a veteran improviser and a teacher in high demand all over Europe, taught a week of classes at a special price of five euro per class (when he runs a workshop there is a higher price tag) Approximately forty to forty five dancer’s attended everyday and the guy on the door whose job it was to welcome you also got to stop excess dancers from coming in. David’s technique is called ‘Flying Low’, works on getting in and out of the floor efficiently at high speed, and has been in development since before Catherine Chappell encountered it in the nineties An essential idea that I gleaned from all this is the idea that technique is treated as a servant of the required task. By this I mean that the aim is to achieve efficiency of function rather than being focused on a look. In working in this way the dancer was not a victim to the aesthetic of dance. A lot of practitioners are working this way. I was surprised at the common usage of improvisation in a class setting. It was used as an exercise to achieve specific technical aims and to facilitate different enquiries. This meant that there were sections of class that were tightly choreographed exercises and sections where guided improvisation was used to appropriate a specific outcome. The net result was that the dancer worked on developing a body consciousness that was intelligent, sophisticated, articulate and responsive. Of the performances I saw I observed that hybridization and references to the past were prevalent in every single work. Influences from the eras of romanticism, modernism, late modernism, post modernism, and whatever phase we are in now were all on display. Minimalism, athleticism, complexity, simplicity, physical theatre, abstraction, multi media, fashion, design & performance improvisation were all made use of in different ways. Hybridized vocabularies of cultural dance, popular dance, martial arts, somatic practices, character based movement and different contemporary dance techniques meant that anything was put with anything. And voice was used, often extensively in almost every work. Contemporary dance appears to be a significant blip on the broader cultural radar in Europe. The art form is both relatively visible in the media and prolific in output. Dance and its practitioners interact with popular culture in a range of media. From artist initiated spaces and squats, to project based networks, to fulltime companies there is an abundance of practitioners and works. And they have a public that are both relatively dance literate and very willing to meet what it is that dance demands of them.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

How to Provoke Dialogue with Postive Feedback


I was given this by a visiting masters student from America. Its about a solo performance I did for Late Nite Choreographers.
These are notes Rachel Bruce sent to her professor in the US.

"I went to Late Night Choreographers tonight to get a glimpse of the local fare. Almost everything was crap except for an improvisation performance by Kristian Larsen and some interesting film work by a woman who's name I will insert later (damn, my memory). He has a really keen sensibility for improvisational choreographic structure and his piece was satisfying at multiple points. He set up a dialogue with the space almost immediately – actually, yes, immediately. He was in performance as we approached the building. He was sitting in a chair in a suspended glass hallway outside the entrance. In the performance piece, there was more than just repeating motifs, they informed our sensibilities as the piece progressed. We were set up for the experience and then carried along throughout the duration. As he tried to get reception (almost like antennae reception from some outside communica), I found myself totally immersed in the details of what was being received and yet I was unconcerned with what it all meant and how it might inform me. What I mean to say is that I found myself unconcerned with what the 'big message' was and was instead intrigued at the business of him placing himself in a position to receive it rather than the 'message' itself being the end-all-be-all. I just received it as it came and as I experienced it. I found myself complying with the suggestions to relax but perceiving tension as a result – living somewhere in between, in some sort of liminal space, like the space of a door frame in between two rooms. He ended with that song, 'stuck in the middle with you…' as a sort of closure to an unfulfilled expectation. Relief didn't come, but relief wasn't needed. Being okay with ambiguity was. The trying could continue, this was the course and I was fine with it. Nice bit of work."

Monday, May 22, 2006

An Appropriate Metaphor

An Appropriate Metaphor A consistently awkward social experience for me is being asked by a stranger what it is that I do for a living. “Contemporary dancer? What’s ‘contemporary dance?’ Or if they do know something about it they often follow up with something like “Is there any money in it?” Given that our luminaries in NZ are barely known outside the sphere of the dance community, it’s very tricky to describe our work without common ground references between practitioners and the mildly curious. Then again it’s tricky to describe contemporary dance…period. During one project I spent a great deal of time and energy working with a designer and a publicist on providing text that integrated marketing language, and dance speak for the layman order to describe improvised contemporary dance. This was specifically done to attract an audience that was likely to be unfamiliar the genre. It was a difficult task. I used a story to describe a personal experience and used metaphors such as a dinner party. After one show an audience member left me an angry note saying that the show was nothing like a dinner party and wanted her money back. The language of marketing and advertising is not the language of dance. It has its own agendas and outcomes to fulfill. That’s why it has evolved the way it has, to sell product. If dance was clearer about is functions and objectives its text would be clearer. When asked what he felt was the most important development in New Zealand culture in recent times a representative of the British Arts Council talked about the publishing of the dictionary of New Zealand English. As part of the coming of age process of our ‘national identity’ we have taken ownership of a language otherwise known as English and made it distinctly ours. Somehow Any subculture, special interest group, trade, corporation, nation develops its own ‘language’ over time. This is part how it finds context and relationship (or not) within the larger culture that it occupies. Our language for communicating about dance isn’t yet sufficiently developed for us to communicate concisely and clearly to each other, to other groups and to the broader culture that we are a part of. This makes it very difficult to take ownership of who we are and what we do. To quote Steve Paxton: “...we have but we do not use our literacy. We are still pre cultural. A culture after all is a construct understood by its members. We have no useful words to define that construct, nor ways to limn aspects of that construct. We remain mystical and so fail to provide the terms with which the public could understand that culture…” The old argument that one media does not adequately describe another i.e: words don’t serve movement, that a dance performance should speak for itself is an argument that refuses to understand that actions are based on motivations. Onstage there is a reason for the behaviors and actions of the dancers. There has to be otherwise it’s nothing but an irrational act. I recall a review of an art exhibition in the Listener and feeling a degree of envy as the writer did more than a good job of contextualizing the works in the exhibition. There are not many reviewers and dance writers up to the task of identifying and describing our work to a high degree of detail. We shouldn’t complain though because most practitioners can’t either. An overlooked component of the relatively sporadic development of dance here is the lack of understanding of history of art, dance, politics, significant individuals, events, & practices. The things that specifically shape and influence who we are and what we do in dance. We don’t seem to demonstrably and accurately locate genealogy, materials and references. Without a capacity for developed communication it’s not only impossible to describe dance but it’s impossible for us to locate social context as artists living, working, functioning and making quality contributions in the broader culture. Without a developed language we don’t have permission to speak. Clear and intelligible process articulated by clear and intelligible language is a key to sharing information with each other. It is also a key to taking ownership of what it is we do.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Glossary of Terms (non alphabetical order)

Fundeographer - A dance maker whose key talent lies in their ability to consistently secure funds for their copious output of relatively benign works.* Choreopathy - Therapeutic choreography. Cathartic work based on intense periods of suffering endured by the choreographer for future benefit of an audience(& usually made at the expense of the dancers immediate sense of well being) Choreopath - A tyrant. A sociopath with choreographic tendencies.(NB: male examples of this genus are mystifyingly popular with female dancers) Improveography - A combination of set choreography and improvisation. Obviously. Neurophiliac - A compulsive mind fucker. Foresighth - A quality strangely lacking in various funding bodies who pull the plug on artistic initiatives that a:work and b:are actually any good. Fourth Wall - Imaginary barrier between audience and performer(s)Doesnt actually exist, although there is one behind the audience. Keeps the heat in the theatre. *thanks to Johnny Second CDE for this one