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 Post subject: Where are my roots/routes?
PostPosted: Fri Oct 12, 2001 12:11 am 
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Joined: Thu Oct 11, 2001 11:01 pm
Posts: 25
Location: Edmonds, WA 98026
May I share an experience I had today, one that has drastically altered my artistic focus and questioned it's purpose and presence in my wee little life? Ok....a little backround info..I am a choreographer and dance teacher in Seattle...am fully educated in the area of Dance Studies from ASU and The Laban Centre with a few letters after my name. I have directed small modern dance companies in both London and Seattle and have been teaching modern dance and choreography to conservatory level students for years. <P>Today, with some of my students, I attended a lec/dem by the Urban Bush Women at Univ. of Washington. It was a wonderful mini performance; full of energy, humor and artistic cleverness and clarity.<P>Here's my problem. As I sat watching these beautiful black women demonstrating various aspects of their beautiful black culture through the avenues of modern dance, I sharply began to realize (and fear) that I have nothing intrinsically historical or interesting to dance about. As they demonstrated contemporary variations of Zulu tribal dances or moved to poems about jazz music, I witnessed a connection to these themes that went much deeper than merely a topic of interest or inspiration by the choreographer. There was a soul,a history and a sweet saddness deeply planted in each of the dancers movements. Now, I've seen Ailey, (even had the great opportunity to have a class with him) and love his work, but somehow today's viewing has resonated in a much different way with me. I felt artistically envious, jealous and left out.<P>My point is this. When I attend dance performances, I watch and ask myself (choreographically speaking), "Could I do that? Do I understand that? How is that done?" But today I realized that being an average white American woman (raised in the suburbs of Phoenix,AZ in the 70's)that there was nothing culturally intersting or challenging about me. I have no real history, no ethnic struggle or historical weight from which to pull. Yes, my style and movement language is purley my own, but you must understand, watching a UBW dancer perform to James Brown, with just a certain look in her eye, told a thousand stories of being a black child/woman in America (and in the world) that I could never duplicate. <P>Within my work (over the past 18 years) I have addressed a variety of issues: feminism, sex, chocolate, New York City, English tea parties and even the issue of discovering at the age of 14 that I was Jewish. I've choreogaphed about spritualism, family dynamcis, alienation, earthly elements and getting married. I've been inspired by music, literature, poetry, people I know, people I don't like and choreographers I admire. All have been feasts from which I have artistically grazed upon. But I am not sure I will ever have what the Urban Bush Women dancers have...a joy, a passion, a pain and most of all a cultural reference that they demonstrated today, both individually and through the voice of their physically and emotionally fluent choreographer. <P>Thank you for the show today, ladies. You truely put my !idea! lightbulb to the test.<P>


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 Post subject: Re: Where are my roots/routes?
PostPosted: Fri Oct 12, 2001 7:34 am 
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Joined: Sun Jun 11, 2000 11:01 pm
Posts: 4753
Location: Montreal, QC, Canada
This is an interesting topic, thank you for bringing it up TouchStone. The art that resonates with me, is personal in nature, whether that is through abstract or direct story-telling. I'm not a white American woman who grew up in the 70's in the Phoenix sububurbs but I'd like to hear about it, or see it, in your art. And I don't live in Japan, but I like to read Banana Yoshimoto's novels describing life there through her short stories. Have you ever seen any of Liza Lou's bead installations? Liza Lou's "Kitchen" is life size and totally covered in beads, complete with Kellogs cereal boxes on the counter. It fascinates me. I wouldn't discredit any art because it doesn't speak of a historical past, particularly (and that's a whole other semiotic arguement about history anyway). Art that is gratuitous bores me silly, art that says something is interesting, no matter what the frame of reference. I think that's why I was so frustrated at the last Cunningham show I saw, I could not figure out what the heck he wanted to 'say' with the piece, whereas Christine DeSmedt's mathematical experiment with 60 people was very clear. Oh dear, that's semiotics again, signs and signifiers, what we read, how we read it...sorry... You may not feel you tell a story as profound as Zulu dancers but that's really up to individual interpretation. I may be moved by the Zulus but I may find what you have to say speaks more directly to me. It's apples and oranges.<P> Image <BR><font size=1>Liza Lou, Kitchen, 1996</font><p>[This message has been edited by Marie (edited October 12, 2001).]


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 Post subject: Re: Where are my roots/routes?
PostPosted: Fri Oct 12, 2001 8:08 am 
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Joined: Sat Apr 29, 2000 11:01 pm
Posts: 1689
Location: USA
Very nicely said, Marie! And I love Liza Lou's Kitchen!


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 Post subject: Re: Where are my roots/routes?
PostPosted: Fri Oct 12, 2001 4:40 pm 
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Joined: Tue Nov 02, 1999 12:01 am
Posts: 2708
Location: Seattle, WA USA
TouchStone.welcome! And thanks for starting this thought-provoking topic.<BR>You raise an intersting "issue". Artistic content is something I have thought about a lot myself these days. It's not only how we're "saying" something, but what are we talking (in our case, dancing) about? Is it an important, substanative (spelling help!)issue? <BR>In relation to your conundrum, vis a vis identity, life experience, cultural background. Think about this. Emily Dickinson, one of my favorite poets, and indeed the inspiration for Martha Grahams' masterpiece "Letter to the World", was a recluse for most of her life, never married, and I believed, never travelled more than a 50 mile radius from her home in Amherst, Massachusetts. Yet her searing, passionate, eloquent,highly emotional poetry (little or none of which was published during her own lifetime) is one of the artistic treasures of this country. While her outer life was very staid, narrow and limited, her inner world, somehow, was incredibly rich and full. How did this happen? I vividly remember Julie Harris in the one woman play "The Belle of Amherst". An incredible tour de force; an incredible writer. I don't know if this helps you...I guess anyone's life can be food for great art. How deep can you dig, what tools can you use?<p>[This message has been edited by trina (edited October 12, 2001).]


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 Post subject: Re: Where are my roots/routes?
PostPosted: Fri Oct 12, 2001 8:28 pm 
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Joined: Thu Sep 21, 2000 11:01 pm
Posts: 717
Location: California
Touchstone said >> Within my work (over the past 18 years) I have addressed a variety of issues: feminism, sex, chocolate, New York City, English tea parties and even the issue of discovering at the age of 14 that I was Jewish. I've choreogaphed about spritualism, family dynamcis, alienation, earthly elements and getting married. I've been inspired by music, literature, poetry, people I know, people I don't like and choreographers I admire. All have been feasts from which I have artistically grazed upon. <<<P>In my eyes your cup runneth over. Yes, you aren't going to feel, live, create, experience what the UBW have and/or will, none of us will. We're all individuals who will tell our stories in our own voice - and isn't that fantastic? Use that wonderful experience to inspire, dig deeper, think harder, make riskier choices, whatever. But don't stop doing it because you aren't them. We're in a dark time in our country and we need to heal. I hope a lot of beautiful, meaningful work will come out of what we're all feeling on a daily basis. We all have roots and routes to follow as well. Keep going.......... <P>With love,<BR>D<p>[This message has been edited by DavidH (edited October 13, 2001).]


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 Post subject: Re: Where are my roots/routes?
PostPosted: Sat Oct 13, 2001 3:41 am 
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Joined: Sat Apr 29, 2000 11:01 pm
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Location: USA
David! What an incredibly inspiring view!


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 Post subject: Re: Where are my roots/routes?
PostPosted: Sat Oct 13, 2001 9:02 am 
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Joined: Thu Oct 11, 2001 11:01 pm
Posts: 25
Location: Edmonds, WA 98026
Thank you for feedback. Of course I never meant to imply that I would discontinue working, searching and challenging within my art form. I've been discussing this issue with collegues and friends and most all get my point. When I view dance (or any other art form, really) I can walk away with "yes, this resonates with me, I understand, I can relate, that's amazing." Or.."That was completely new to me, it challenged me, changed my point of view, that was amazing/that sucked." But with UBW, I saw something that resonated with me (so joyous, even in saddnes) but was totally (artistically)UNATTAINABLE to me. I cannot choreograph to James Brown and have the connection that I witnessed. Okay, maybe I'm a bit slow on the uptake here, but I can not duplicate, replicate or demonstrate movement with the same cultural weight.<P>So, I'm foreced to ask, what have I got? I've got 3:30 in the afternoon, a bowl of Quisp cereal, Bugs Bunny on the tele, keys around my neck and chores to do. Yeah, there's other emotional garbage in there, too, blah, blah, blah. As a member of my audience this may or may not challenge your world, but as an artist I find it shallow and void of PASSION. I've used my life experinces to fuel my art and have been, in my opinion, successful. But do you get my point? I fear I have no real past (ethnic or cultural) of which I am intrinsically connected to that then pours through my movement language onto my dancers and out to the world. In all, a disappointing (and personal) awakening.


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 Post subject: Re: Where are my roots/routes?
PostPosted: Sat Oct 20, 2001 9:14 pm 
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Joined: Fri Oct 22, 1999 11:01 pm
Posts: 17498
Location: SF Bay Area
See also Adapting Rituals and Street Dances to the Theater.

<font size = -2><center>(Edited by salzberg to fix link)</center></font>

<small>[ 08-10-2002, 17:33: Message edited by: salzberg ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Where are my roots/routes?
PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2001 9:43 am 
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Joined: Tue Oct 23, 2001 11:01 pm
Posts: 1
Location: Belmar, NJ, US
I think you may be responding to their knowledge of and connection totheir cultural history, not their personal history. Everybody has their own specific life experience including the UBW. The Urban Bush Women are dancing with their ancestors. You have ancestors, too. They say that if you go all the way back, we all come from the same motherland. Think about your own cultural background. Becaus of immigration, Americans have been cut off from their oldest cultural memories, but we can seek them out.


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