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.