Tangente Blog 1: Do we dance to the music?



(Photo: Ellen Furey & Alanna Kraaijeveld © Alejandro De Leon / Lost & Found media lab)

Are contemporary choreographers, once again, “making dances to music?” If you stop to think about it, this is possibly the premise for most dancing taking place in today’s world, and especially in the force of percussive instruments that drive the rhythmic patterning of the choreography (in much of Asian, African, Pacific Islands and indigenous dancing).

Sitting at the Monument-National watching “The Muted Note,” I can’t help but reflect that it is now more than fifty years since John Cage and Merce Cunningham unchained dance from music and, along with Yvonne Rainer, freed them both from codified systems, styles, and forms. It was of course the impetuous 1960s in the USA when we were all engaged in making everything possible. These artists asked: what if all sounds (Cage’s “4’33” “ composition) and all movements (Rainer’s “Trio A” choreography), from the banal to the sublime, were considered as artistic material? Dance historian Sally Banes wrote about Democracy’s Body . These simple but radical ideas gave way to sound sampling directly from sounds dancers made live, electronic soundscapes texturing the dance work, dancing in silence, dancers with sensors triggering pre-programmed sounds, ambient sound surroundings for choreographies, musicians taking the stage alongside dancers, and more.

It is 2014, and everyone appears to be talking about dancing, if not “to”, at least “with” the music again (as in pre-postmodern times). So many university arts researchers are presently examining the element of time, the seminal new dance school of Anna de Keersemaker just announced a special programme “to develop new ideas and practices relating choreography to music” (www.parts.be accessed on Oct. 6, 2014), and a large number of very cutting edge dance-makers here and abroad are taking iconic musical compositions as their creative framework (think for instance of recent projects by Danièle Desnoyers, Ginette Laurin, and José Navas).

As if taking part in this renewed interest, Susanna Hood and art/life companion Scott Thompson are seeking once again to refresh this sound-and-movement relationship by creating a “synthesis” in which dancers and musicians together form “a band.” In the audience talk and programme interview, Hood told us how it was that vocal sound and movement were linked within her own body as she slipped between the roles of singer and dancer. But have they actually created some kind of new form with underpinnings in those free jazz improvisations that spring from a “home” dance phrase and music melody, and in which musicians and dancers call and respond to each other in turn?

And what to think about the double programme, so coherently curated on the theme of rhythm, and that we have named “deconstructed pulsations”? Young experimental choreographers Nancy Gloutnez and Meena Murugesan are quite literally dissecting and recreating the patternings and significations of two widely different traditions: the folk form of québécois gigue and classical South Indian Bharatanatyam. Both have mastered the forms as dancers, and are bringing them into the realm of postmodernism, moving beyond postcolonial “expressions of cultural identity” by shaping them as idiosyncratic movement material that serves to express many aspects of contemporary society.

So music continues to be a frequent companion for dance. But the relationship can certainly take multiple, and often unexpected, forms.

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