Saturday, May 24, 2008

Herbal Options for Dancers and Stress

Being a dancer means, among other things, pushing yourself. The dark side of the matter can be stress and anxiety. Here are some widely used natural herbs that can ease anxiety, stress and depression. Please note that I am not a doctor and what follows is not medical advice.

Chamomilein the garden is often called the doctor plant because it helps to strengthen and revive any weak herbs growing nearby. Chamomile is good for the circulation, stomach and uterus, and also sooths the nerves. It promotes normal menstruation and relieves muscular pain, spasms, and colic. As a strong tea, this herb is anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and anti-spasmodic. In Germany it is said that the curative powers of Chamomile are endless and call it alles zutraut-capable of anything.

Kava Kavawas first mentioned in scientific records in 1886, and it is gaining popularity in the U.S. for its relaxing effects. Clinical studies have shown that the herb kava kava is a safe, nonaddictive, anti-anxiety medicine, and is as effective as prescription anxiety agents containing benzodiazepines, for example Valium. While benzodiazepines tend to promote lethargy and mental impairment, kava kava has been shown to improve concentration and memory. The roots can be made into a beverage that's comparable to popular cocktails in our culture. Kava Kava is used in Hawaii, Australia and New Guinea both medicinal and recreational purposes. Kava Kava also is effective as a pain reliever and can be used instead of aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

Passion floweris a good herb for many nerve conditions. Nervous tensions, agitation, anxiety, hysterical behavior, hyper-activity in children, poor mental concentration. Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, neuralgia, shingles, high blood pressure, and spasmodic asthma. It is also effective for nervous conditions associated with menstrual periods, child birth and menopause. Passion Flower is an herbal sedative, helps relieve muscular spasms, and relieves pain. It is often used for insomnia, without the common side effects of drugs used to treat insomnia such as stupor, depression, and confusion. Passion flower is often available combined with Valerian in nerve relaxation formula.

St. John's Wortis good for mood elevation, controlled studies have shown positive results in treating patients with mild to moderate depression. Improvement was shown with symptoms of sadness, helplessness, hopelessness, anxiety, headache and exhaustion with no side effects. In Germany, nearly half of depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders are treated with hypericin. St. John's wort should not be taken with any other antidepressants, it is not effective for severe depression, and no one should stop taking any prescribed medications for depression without proper medical care.

The active constituents in the herb (there are over 50) include hypericin and pseudohypericin, flavonoids, tannins and procyanidins. The tannins are responsible for the astringent effect for wound healing. Hypericin increases capillary blood flow and is a MAO inhibitor. There are many studies documenting the clinical effects of hypericum as an antidepressant treatment similar to several synthetic antidepressants, but with almost no side effects. Hypericin has been demonstrated to increase theta waves in the brain. Theta waves generally occur during sleep and have been associated with deep meditation, serene pleasure and heightened creative activity.

St. John's wort has been used traditionally as an herbal treatment for anxiety and depression. It is an effective astringent that promotes wound healing and has antiviral properties that can counter herpes simplex, flu viruses and is being investigated as a treatment for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Mother nature is wonderful and has provided all that we need in order to keep ourselves in balance. There are many other herbal remedies for stress and anxiety, these are just a few I am
familiar with.

Here is a link to an interesting article on Valerian as an excellent herbal anti-anxiety pill.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Leine and Roebana, Netherlands Dancing and Choreography Pair

Andrea Leine was born in 1966, studied ballet and modern dance at the Scapino Dansacademie and the Rotterdam Dansacademie. She worked with Studio Onafhankelijk Toneel and danced among others with Donald Flemming and also dances in most of Leine & Roebana's performances. Harijono Roebana, born in 1955, studied philosophy and performance studies at the University of Amsterdam and modern dance at the Theaterschhool in Amsterdam, and has a background in music as well. Early in his career, Roebana dance in performances by choreographers Svea Staltman, Arthur Rosenfeld, Jose Besprovany and for Studio Onafhankelijk Toneel and dances among others with Donald Flemming and also dances in most Leine & Roebana works.

Leine & Roebana have developed a unique dance idiom based on a novel approach to symmetry, rhythm and composition. Their quest to express the complexity of reality and the interference of its constituent parts has led to the creation of a highly original language of movement. Previous works by Leine & Roebana have been considerably more theatrical; more recently, however, they have reduced the dramatic elements in their performances in order to explore the possibilities of pure movement. In the late 1990s, they were scrutinizing the development of movement in individual parts of the body, the juxtaposition of rapid dynamics, and stillness and irony. Over the years, their work has been highly praised and rewarded, they've received awards from all over Europe.

Leine & Roebana isolate movement in a way that causes capriciousness. The body falls apart, and the result is what they call "physical schizophrenia", which happens in The Circle Effect. To the electronic compositions of their work Sound Pallerre individuals and groups portray a world of high energy to "spineless" and clumsy are quite difficult for the dancers. The search for beauty is ever-present in these distorted body movements.

It is fascinating what Leine & Roebana have achieved in such a short time; they are unique in the Dutch dance world. For their efforts, Andrea Leine and Harijono Roebana recieved a subsidy for a few years, but unfortunately, it wasn't enough to pay a group of dancers for longer that a few months. Yet the future is more than bright for Leine & Roebana, as they are clearly still on the rise.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Contemporary History of Modern Dance In Iceland

The ideas of the pioneers of modern dance concerning movement flourished off and on in Iceland, though they did not take a firm hold. Iceland was, until the beginning of the 20th century, a peaceful peasant and fishing society with the population evenly dispersed on the coasts of the island. Only in the late 19th century did a major population center appear in the capital Reykjavik, due to industrial development in both the fishing industry and farm management. Service and commerce increased quickly. In 1900 the population of the Reykjavik was 6,000 inhabitants (three percent of the whole population) but only 10 years later it had reached 12,000 or 14 percent of the whole population.

Since 1900 the capital has been the major cultural center of the country and today over 150,000 people live in Reykjavik. People who were educated abroad came back to Iceland more aware of the cultural changes in the surrounding world. This caused them to strain toward a higher level of education and arts in Reykjavik and be comparable to neighbouring countries. Theatres, galleries, and educational institutions grew quickly and so did the education of dance. Although the tradition of classical ballet theatre did not reach Iceland until the 1920s, the tradition of modern dance did rather quickly after it emerged.

In 1974 modern dance was incorporated in the gymnastic classes at the Icelandic College of Physical Education and Sport. The initiative came from Sigriour Valgeirsdottir, a young Iceland woman who had recently returned to Iceland after a long period of dance studies with some of the founders of modern dance, in Berkeley, California. Enthusiastic to spread her knowledge, Valgeirsdottir tried to establish a school and company in Reykjavik. Since the Icelanders had only recently become familiar with classical ballet training, for the first class most of the girls showed up thinking they were to dance in tutus and point shoes. After an honest attempt to spread modern dance around the country, Valgeirsdottir began to train a group of dancer-gymnastics at the Icelandic College of Physical Education and Sport. It was a modern gymnastic troupe that traveled in Iceland and its neighboring countries, using Valgeirsdottir 's choreography and music by various Icelandic composers. Although the troupe's style was based in modern dance, they attended festivals with other gymnastic groups in Scandinavia, modern dance wasn't known there either at that time.

In 1952 the National Theatre of Iceland opened a ballet school, the first and possibly only school with public support. Although the school has always been strictly classical it has from time to time included modern training, depending on the range of guest teachers. Other dance schools, such as, Jassballettskoli Baru, Dansstudio Soleyjar, and Kramhusio have also taught modern technique on occasion since the 1960s. The techniques of Graham, Cunningham, Limon and Horton have all been taught for a few years at a time, coming and going with different teachers. A few times modern jazz companies have been established, but none have so far persisted for more than two or three years at a time.

In 1973 the Icelandic Ballet was established, it was the country's first dance company to receive government support. In the late 1990s the company lead was taken by Katrin Hall who decided to change the company to a modern one, quite an attestation to the modern tradition, finally receiving attention and governmental support. Modern dance has been taught for many; years in various places but had never gotten a firm hold in Icelandic culture. Now, with the Icelandic Ballet recognising the tradition, one imagines modern dance has found a permanent home in Iceland, where it has been coming and going for more than 70 years.

Monday, March 31, 2008

TENT, The Multimedia Modern Dance By Alwin Nikolais

Tent was choreographed by Alwin Nikolais, he was also the composer, set, and lighting designer. The first production was at the University of South Florida, Tampa, in 1968. The original dancers were Murray Louis, Phyllis Lamhut, Carolyn Carlson, Michael Ballard, Emery Hermans, Gale Oriston, Wamda Pruska, Sara Shelton, Robert Solomon, Batya Zamir.

When Alwin Nikolais died in 1993, a number of critics had interesting things to say about his uses of technology and props in general and his implementation of these in specific ways for Tent. For some dances, props are merely that; with Tent, however, the prop is the central figure. A group of dancers march onto the stage carrying a folded white cloth with a hole in the center and let it settle onto the floor. Ultimately, the cloth will swallow up the men and women who so confidently brought it onto the stage a few minutes before.

First, a series of wires with clips are lowered from the ceiling and the dancers attach the wires to the cloth, which soon becomes their covering. For a few moments the dancers move gracefully beneath the tent, yet soon the tent descends on them and stops their motion. A man rises through the circular opening, and others follow, but their movements are more disturbed now, it is clear that the tent has had some sort of disruptive effect on their assemblage. The tent rises again, but its dominance is now established and the wires make it seem to move of its own volition. Eventually, it covers the dancers again, until their legs and arms come up, bearing facial masks resembling many-headed hydra. Once more the tent comes up and seems to toy with the dancers, moving rapidly up and down while they move uncertainly beneath it. And then, finally, it falls and does not rise again.

In a review of a 1993 production honoring the recently deceased Nikolais, Tobi Tobias compared the tent to a fiery cloud or a mushroom cloud. Tent appears to be about technology which eventually comes to dominate its erstwhile master. Joseph Mazo wrote in his review of Tent that if we use material as a weapon it backfires and if we make it into a god we will be eaten alive. Alwin Nikolais was a choreographer, costume designer, lighting designer and composer of sound scores. He was a revolutionary, and in the end the effects of his revolution in modern dance were so pervasive that people often fail to realize the origins of those innovations.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Thought on Interdisciplinary Art

Interdisciplinary art is very valuable, it encourages the artist to exercise the other creative muscles that lie dormant beneath their skin. It is invaluable to move out of the usual way of doing something and have the agonizing experience of being a beginner again. Like an athlete learning a new sport who feels vulnerable, embarrassed and can spent time questioning their very athleticism. Of course when we push forward we open many avenues for our creativity and it has all been, more or less, growing pains.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Saburo Teshigawara, Japanese Dancer, Choreographer and Company Director

When modern dance germinated in Japan in the 1910s, to many it appeared another Occidental dance form. Over the years, modern dance practitioners have been influenced by the dance pioneers like Wigman, Dalcroz and Graham. Teshigawara, however didn't follow any one's modern dance style, and his works didn't fit easily into any of those associated with conventional modern dance. His choreography is not a restatement of modern dances heritage, but a unique, redefining of dance.

Born and raised in Tokyo, Teshigawara studied plastic arts in the 1970s and began to study classical ballet in 1976. He began choreographing in 1981 and began his company KARAS, in 1985. After winning several awards over seas invitations poured in from theatres and festivals in Europe, the United States, and Japan.

Set design constitutes a significant feature of his works, he assigns the same importance to scenography as to dance. Teshigawara uses specific materials to deliver the dominant theme of each work, for example, sheet glass is used in Blue Meteorite and The Moon Is Quicksilver. The floor is covered with sheet glass and he stands, stomps and kneels down, smashing and cracking the glass, which in turn creates dazzling effects with the stage lighting.

Teshigawara's movement vocabulary resembles Graham, Cunningham and Butoh all thrown together. As a direct result of his unconventional creative style, Teshigawara is one of the most sought after choreographers in Japan and abroad. He says his dance is derived from the present, instead of following the retrospective modern dance model, and he proceeds as a choreographer in his own light.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Dance and Technology

Dance has a contingent relationship with technology and has throughout modern history. Dance relied on film as its method of documentation, then video, and of course on audio technology to create and produce sound and music. Technology has served as a way to archive and record dance for the sake of history, and now that good quality video and digital storage is possible, artists continue to find new and experimental applications.

The interaction of dance and technology often creates hybrid forms, an example of dance mediated by contemporary technologies is the 1965 Variations V by composer John Cage in collaboration with choreographer Merce Cunningham, David Tudor, Gordon Mumma and Barbara Lloyd. The stage was fitted with photoelectric sensors so the dancers movements triggered sound and lighting effects. This model of interactivity is still in use today and has become a genre in itself supported by research at Arizona State University's Institute for Studies in the Arts and at the University of Wisconsin at Madison's Dance Interarts and Technology program, among others.

Diane Gromala and Yacov Sharir, frequent collaborators in dance and technology projects, seek "to explore questions related to how virtual reality, cyberspace, telepresence and emergent electronic technologies may influence the artistic processes and experiences of the body in the visual arts and dance". It has become increasingly possible to create dance in the digital realm which require no "dancers" in the traditional sense. Using virtual space as the stage for these digital dances, choreographers such as Sharir and Cunningham, among others are questioning the very nature of dance in this postmodern/electronic era.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ping Chong

Ping Chong, Asian-American theatre director, choreographer, video and installation artist, was born in Toronto Canada in 1946 and grew up in New York's Chinatown. He attended Pratt Institute, School of the Visual Arts and after film school Chong's focus changed. Instead of concentrating on the specialized world of film making, he decided to merge several art forms. He began to study dance with Meredith Monk and collaborated with her often. Like Monk, Chong's work is not easily classifiable, he often has themes of loneliness and alienation driven by awkward erratic movements or sustained stillness.

Chong's first independent theatre work, Lazarus, opened with slides of a street and stairwell of a tenement building. There was a set consisting of a set table and a flower. Lazarus enters with his head wrapped up in medical bandaging and a letter from a woman is read while he eats. His work is often considered to be voyeuristic, somehow eerie and unnerving to watch.

He formed Ping Chong and Company in 1972, Chong is thought to be able to locate the darkness in Western culture with theatrical clarity without criticizing the West itself. His introduction to Nuit Blanches read, "As a young I felt like I was sitting on a fence staring at two cultures. You go out into the bigger world and start looking at it with the kind of objectivity and anthropologist has." Chong is successful in his art because he has the gift of storytelling, a precious and rare gift.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Joe Goode

Joe Goode, american dancer,choeographer, actor, director, writer, and company director was born in Presque Island, Maine in 1950, dancing with a local civic ballet company in Virginia by high school. Early on he wanted to express his love of language and moved toward the theatre, earning a degree in drama in 1973. He then went to New York city, working on/ off Broadway regularly. Goode moved to San Francisico in the late seventies joining the Margaret Jenkins' dance company and in the early eighties began to makes dances for himself.

Many of his dances concern social and political issues and explore cultural fears and taboos. His work deals with events that are puzzling, accidental, unexpected, and often out of control. He is specifically open about his sexuality in pieces like 29 Effeminate Gestures, structurally a classical theme and variation, which concerns tolerance. He says his work I'm Sorry was a litergical lament "for being a homo sexual man in a culture that wants macho heroes, for being an artist in a society that wants steady wage-earners, and for being a dancer who, instead of offering complacent viewing, puts these issues before audiences."

The Joe Goode Performimg Dance Company was formed in 1986 and his dancers were expected to be strong actors as well as trained movers. They had the ability to speak text while executing difficult movement sequences. Goode's danceworks are now in the repertoires of modern and ballet companies in the United States. He continues to remain focused on the mystery of the human condition.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Nacho Duato

Nacho Duato, Spanish dancer, choreographer, and company director was born in Valencia in 1957. Duato was very young when he left Spain to be trained in several schools as diverse as Rambert School in London, Mudra School in Brussels, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Center in New York. He joined the Cullberg Ballet in Stockholm in 1980 and the next year was brought to Nederlands Dans Theatre by Jiri Kylian with whom he worked closely as well as the painter and designer Walter Nobbe. Duato became resident choreographer and then director, and in 1988 he was appointed director of Compania Nacional de Danza by the Ministry of Culture of Spain. He has been a free lance choreographer since 1996 and has continued to earn medals and awards for his work.

Nacho Duato is considered to have played a significant role in building up choreographic modernity in Spain. He has frequently broken the limits of musical Eurocentrism with large spectacles using non-European music as in Cor Pedut, Rassemblement or Mediterrania and is thought to be a universal choreographer. He is quoted to have said "I like the audience to recieve energy through the body of the dancer. I try to abstain from using any kind of superficial adorments in the costumes and the sets. I feel the need to express sensations with movements, without the help of ostentatious set designs. When the company comes out on stage, I like the audience to recieve a considerable charge of energy and sensitivity through the dancer's body. Dance must incorporate a bit of joint celebration and participation; it's not something that leaves the audience out, but permits it to take part in what is happening."

Duato frequently incorporates political statements into his dances, and as a member of culture where values require a solid presentation and defense, his commitment to entertainment has been a key to his success. The plunge of Spain into modernity through its transition into democracy after the death of the Dictator Franco, was mirrored in milestones in almost every social field. In dance it was Nacho Duato that played a large role by cooperating firmly and decisively move dance forward.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Major Dance Related Sites on the Web

Here are some excellent links and information for dancers, teacher, choreographers, and companies about what is out there in terms of dance and how this valuable information can be accessed via the web.

Major Dance Sites

Artslynx International Dance Resources

Ballet and Dance Web Ring (for ballet, modern and all forms of performance dance)


Dance Links

Dancer Universe

Library of Congress Internet Resources for Music, Theater, and Dance

Sapphire Swan Dance Directory

Voice of Dance

If you know of any other great dance related resources on the web, please leave a comment and I will add it to the list.