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 Post subject: Re: What is "great" dance?
PostPosted: Mon Mar 08, 2004 6:33 pm 
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Location: London, England; Tallinn, Estonia
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But the technical vocabulary and intellectual capacity of social, ethnic and recreational dance is limiting.
That is a breath-taking generalisation on the inferiority of non-Western art dance. BTW, I am convinced by the academic papers suggesting that ballet is another ethnic dance form.

To repeat a counter-example - with its diversity of techniques, its wide expressive capabilities, its complex rhythmic patterns, the virtuosity of its practitioners, the improvised dialogue with the accompanying musicians and the sheer beauty of the movement, Kathak impresses me as much as any dance form.

<small>[ 08 March 2004, 08:45 PM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: What is "great" dance?
PostPosted: Wed Mar 10, 2004 1:29 pm 
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My posts have been general because I am attempting to skirt the question Sweeney asks of me: is western dance superior? I don't like to use words like inferior/superior because in this day and age of political correctness and multicultural celebration of all people and traditions as equally valid, it is a "no no" to make any asumptions about the qualities of one cultural form over another. To praise anything from the West is particularly "uncool". So,I will try to avoid saying directly that the western classical style of dance (ballet and modern) is superior.
Dance is essentially stylized body movement, performed to rhythm(s) (or not) and it is beautiful, all over the world. It is however only in the West where dance goes beyond serving a purely functional role -- i.e., a religious, ceremonial, storytellng, or entertainment role --- into a true art form. Although ballet and modern dance developed in the West, these dance forms can be viewed as all encompassing culturally. They have the versatility in technique and composition to represent all of humankind. There are many countries all over the world that have found this freedom of self-expression in ballet and modern dance: for example, Ballet Nacional de Cuba, National Ballet of China, Royal New Zealand Ballet, The South Africa Ballet Theatre, The Company of Performing Artists Thailand, to name a few. They have been able to utilize this style of dance simply because of its creative flexibility and because of no fixed presupposiitons as what costumes to wear, what music to use, what story, if any, to tell, who dances a role, male or female, etc.
A few people have brought up Kathak dance which is the traditional dance form of Northern India. Initially, this dance form developed to tell religious stories, but it has now become more of an abstract exploration of rhythm and movement. Costumes and rhythms are still traditional, and reflect only those of the Indian culture. These culturally exclusive characteristics, and the fact that it is danced only by women, greatly diminishes the creative ability and versatility of this dance form.
Similarly, Balinese dance is very beautiful and striking because of the elaborate and colourful costumes and asymetical movement and posturing of the body. Traditonal, classical Balinese dance grew primarily from Hindu religion and Indian influences, it represents in its style and form the flklore and ethnicity of the Balinese culture. Their dances are the expression of Good and Evil, religion, mythological stories of the past. Artistic self-expression is not a known concept to the performer, the objective is to perform a pre-established idea.
I have heard of Akram Khan and the fact that he is incorporating or melding Indian and western dance and creating an interesting style of his own. (Roger Sinha, from Montreal has also been doing this for several years now). Unfortunately, I have never seen Kahn's work and cannot comment. Perhaps Kahn found it necessary to turn to the western style of dance because he found his ability to choreograph with only traditional Indian dance limiting.
The point I have been trying to make all along resurfaces here: only ballet and modern dance give the choreographer the flexibility to create "great dance", freely. There is flexibility in technique which can be used, transformed and readapted to suit the artistic vision of the choreographer. Eventhough this dance form was created in the West there are no cultural preconditions; it was precisely the melding of cultures in the West which gave rise to a higher dance form, unfettered by national, local cultural restrictions.


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 Post subject: Re: What is "great" dance?
PostPosted: Wed Mar 10, 2004 4:15 pm 
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Location: London, England; Tallinn, Estonia
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A few people have brought up Kathak dance ....the fact that it is danced only by women, greatly diminishes the creative ability and versatility of this dance form.
I've just returned from a Kathak dance presentation...by a man. In fact I have seen more performances of Kathak by men than women.

georgie I am struggling to differentiate between:

great/not great

and

superior/inferior

<small>[ 10 March 2004, 05:20 PM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: What is "great" dance?
PostPosted: Wed Mar 10, 2004 4:20 pm 
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Location: San Francisco
Kathak is not danced only by women.

(I didn't see Stuart's response to Georgie's erroneous statement before I posted mine.)

Chitresh Das, who has been living in the San Francisco Bay Area for a long time, studied with a Kathak master (a man) in India.

<small>[ 10 March 2004, 05:22 PM: Message edited by: djb ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: What is "great" dance?
PostPosted: Wed Mar 10, 2004 4:37 pm 
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Georgie, earlier you said that ballet and modern dance have been "inspired by" other dance forms. Do you mean that they have incorporated elements of other dance forms?


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 Post subject: Re: What is "great" dance?
PostPosted: Wed Mar 10, 2004 9:45 pm 
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Location: New York City
well, Georgie, I keep trying to wrap my mind around what you're saying...I guess I can in some ways see your point when it comes to modern dance, in that that form is so much about the choreographer's vision in many ways. It makes the individual creative mind into a monolith, but I understand that in itself can open the form up to including many source materials, influences, and unique points of view. SO it gives modern dance a certain breadth as well as depth.

But ballet? I dunno, that form seems so much more about the technical excellence and expression of the dancer, and meeting a very circumscribed set of expectations. Not that choreography isn't important in that form, but true innovators seem few and far between, especially as compared to modern dance. In terms of breadth and freedom of expression, ballet seems pretty confined within a very exact and specific technique. IN terms of representing all mankind, I've never seen a ballet really use African dance movement as a source material, for instance (I mean truly - not just a 'savage ballet' with costumes), so implying that it can embrace many points of view doesn't seem quite correct.

I think of this amazing film I saw of Australian aboriginal dance. The technique was very specific, highly developed under a whole other set of parameters than any 'we' have, related to a tradition, sure, but obviously allowing the participants incredible individual expressiveness. And then I thought of these aboriginal dancers confronting someone in a tutu, and pointe shoes, and I can't imagine how they could possibly feel that ballet addresses any of their concerns - for instance, when their whole thing is about being grounded and connected to the earth. How would they feel included by watching Giselle? The very conventions of our storytelling have a different sense of time and unfolding of narrative.

I dunno - someone out there tell me I'm wrong, and that aboriginal dancers love ballet and feel it reveals their deepest selves. But I feel very unconvinced by that possibility.

<small>[ 10 March 2004, 10:57 PM: Message edited by: FionaM ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: What is "great" dance?
PostPosted: Wed Mar 10, 2004 10:24 pm 
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I can think of two examples of modern dance and ballet, respectively Fiona, which use aboriginal or African dance. Modern dance would be "Stamping Ground" by Jiri Kyian, and ballet would be "Lambarena" which used African dance with ballet, as performed by Pacific Northwest Ballet. I think the choreographer was Nacho Duato. In the case of Lambarena, I'm quite sure the company brought in dancers/musicians from Senagal to train the dancers. I've got to check on that.

<small>[ 10 March 2004, 11:25 PM: Message edited by: trina ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: What is "great" dance?
PostPosted: Wed Mar 10, 2004 10:28 pm 
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Oooops. Sorry. "Lambarena" was by Val Caniparoli. Music by Bach and "African rhythms", according to the PNB website.


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 Post subject: Re: What is "great" dance?
PostPosted: Wed Mar 10, 2004 11:30 pm 
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Yup, "Lambarena" uses African-based movement vocabulary quite heavily and, yes, it was choreographed by Northwest native and San Francisco Ballet principal character dancer Val Caniparoli.

But speaking of aboriginal dance, Stanton Welch's "Corroborree" for Australian Ballet uses very grounded aboriginal movement -- the dancers in face and body paint literally stomp on the stage floor. And there was also Welch's taiko-infused ballet for San Francisco Ballet called --what else? -- "Taiko."

I agree with Fiona M though that innovation in ballet is somewhat stilted, not so much however because of the set vocabulary and rules but because choreographers are meeting audiences' expectations, or rather directors' and presenters' expectations of audiences' expectations, which can be said of many successful modern dance companies. It's the McDonald's formula: give people what they want and don't surprise them.

However, mass appeal does not have to mean familiarity. Ohad Naharin and Jiri Kylian are examples of Modern Dance choreographers who think outside the box but yet able to entertain and provoke. In the world of ballet, Americans John Neumeier and William Forsythe have been challenging ballet audiences in Germany with psychologically intense works that are emotionally and intellectually stimulating.


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 Post subject: Re: What is "great" dance?
PostPosted: Thu Mar 11, 2004 6:42 am 
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o.k., o.k., Kathak is danced by men too. I guess before mid 1800's it was primarily a dance performed by women. My statement that this type of dance is limited creatively still holds.


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 Post subject: Re: What is "great" dance?
PostPosted: Thu Mar 11, 2004 8:45 am 
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Fiona gives two good examples of classical ballets that have incorpoarted African influences into the choreographic process. Ballet and particularly modern dance have the ability to incorporate techniques and method from other dance cultures. This is especially true in modern dance where technique is less rigid and individual self-expression is limitless. We get works ranging from the mathematically induced compositions of Cunningham to the fast, free-form style of Edouard Lock (although he's been incorporating a lot more classical ballet elements in his latest works, like women dancing on pointe) For example, The National Ballet of China just finised doing a new work called "The Red Company of China" in Lyon, France. It was called their "...China's "Giselle", ...a combination of the cream of classical European ballet and traditional Chinese dance". Other dance forms are so rigidly and inherently based in one culture, it allows less room for experiment and innovation.


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 Post subject: Re: What is "great" dance?
PostPosted: Thu Mar 11, 2004 10:28 am 
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well, cool about the African-ballet thing actually existing. Still thinking hard though...Flamenco: more limited vocabulary than ballet, very often doesn't work well when people try to be innovative within it, very culturally specific...I'm not Spanish, but it totally speaks to me in its revealing of the personal center of the performer (allowing a much greater individual expressivity, I think, than that afforded to ballet dancers), in its core themes of dealing with pain and mortality, in its ultra-sophisticated use of rhythm, and in the extraordinarily engaged and integrated relationship of the dancer to the music - a quality that is almost a no-no in much of the modern dance I love.

Conclusion: Well, I live for Merce Cunningham's work, and all its modernist conceptual innovations. But I am equally moved by Flamenco, and never cease to find it a transcendant experience that helps me cope with the joy and grief of life...surely that is great dance? At least to me...Dfferent forms are profoundly meaningful and satisfying, but for very different reasons. Maybe the criteria for greatness vary between cultures. And even within one culture, one treasures diverse forms of expression precisely because they offer rewards in different ways....


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 Post subject: Re: What is "great" dance?
PostPosted: Thu Mar 11, 2004 11:37 am 
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Location: London, England; Tallinn, Estonia
You've expressed the eclectic approach to dance very well FionaM.

Flamenco is an interesting example. There is the traditional form transposed to the stage, such as Manuela Carrasco's Company, which inspire with their technique and depth of expression. In addition, there are the full-length works of Antonio Gades, which are some of the most powerful dance dramas I have seen. Even if Joachim Cortez is doing little to advance flamenco art, there are some new performers who do inspire, such as Eva La Yerbabuena and the 20-year old Rocío Molina.

I am grateful to georgie for starting this topic, as it has forced us to consider why an eclectic approach to dance is justified. I am content that we have established some specific examples of dance styles that deserve equal consideration with ballet and modern dance. No doubt there are others.

The proposal that these two Western styles are great and the others are not is equivalent to saying they are superior and I have read nothing to convince me that there is an inherent superiority in ballet and modern dance.

<small>[ 11 March 2004, 12:38 PM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: What is "great" dance?
PostPosted: Thu Mar 11, 2004 12:39 pm 
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This is certainly an interesting discussion. I'm glad Stuart brought up the point about the possibility of seeing ballet as an 'ethnic' dance form. Most times I have been to see one of the classics at Covent Garden I feel like I am participating in an esoteric (and moribund) tribal ritual. Ballet in particular seems to be so obviously a rigidly bound cultural form where experimentation is viewed with enormous suspicion. (By the way, what is the pointe all about anyway? ;) ) So I cannot agree ballet and contemporary dance are ‘higher’ dance forms ‘unfettered by national, local cultural restrictions’.
It seems to me though that the original premise of this thread is based on a discredited 19th century notion of culture as evolving towards western (inherently superior) forms.
I recently read an excellent review of anthropological studies of dance which gives examples of non ballet/contemporary dance forms which do what Georgie suggests they cannot – experiment and innovate. Whether this results in ‘great art’ is of course another matter. The review also points out that in some cases ‘traditional’ dance forms have been preserved by political authorities to serve social-political goals such as creating a sense of national identity. So the ability to innovate and create may not be reducible to the art form itself but is also dependent on the social circumstances in which that art form is produced.


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 Post subject: Re: What is "great" dance?
PostPosted: Thu Mar 11, 2004 1:39 pm 
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Interesting idea that when ballet and modern dance incorporate other dance forms, they are flexible, and when, e.g., kathak does the same, it is because it is a limited form of creativity.


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