CriticalDance Forum

Music for dance
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Author:  nigelmcbain [ Sat Nov 25, 2000 4:38 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Music for dance

Dear Room,<P>I think it is worthwhile to dance in response to improvised music, either jazz or classical, contemporary or rock, but the dilemma for me is that the performance, is, of its very nature, irrepeatable. With an improvised work, the "performance" is all; the artwork is only capable of transmission by artificial record-reproduction. Unless, of course, the record is transcribed and re-performed, though this contravenes the "improvised" nature of the work, which demands irrepeatability.<P>The point about art, though, is that one of it should be shareable. With music this is achieved by means of notation. There is the possibility of re-presentation (and the same with dance to some extent) because the music is written down: it can be notated. We would know little of the ancient world if there were no literature of the period, we call the period before writing pre-history. The idea is that something written makes the thing more transmittable. Of course the down-side is often slavish reproduction based on a singular interpretation of text out of the context of the work in its tradition, but thems the breaks. In the case of some songs, though, aural tradition recalls the music more than notation. <P>It is in the constant re-presentation of ballets that we can find the genius of the art. This reproduction is carried on by "notation of a sort surrounded by the tradition of the performances of the work. No performance, however, is ever definitive of the ballet, yet each performance is a performance of the ballet, a move in the tradition of performances, an actualisation of the work. Same with music: there is no one Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, yet there is "Beethoven's Fifth" and many performances of it, each of which fulfill the conditions of Beethoven's Fifth, and each of which move the tradition on and reinforce it at the same time.<P>With improvisation there can be no other performance. There can be no tradition other than the overall style of performance. The character of the music is the overall effect. If a tune is improvised on then we might remember it, but it is the stylistic presentation of that tune which is important.<P>The question in the collaboration between musicians and dancers is: what do the artists want out of their creativity, their artworks? If improvisation is the answer, great, but it is limited and circumscribed but intransmitability. Composer and choreographer have to accept this. I think that the possibility also exists, in improvisation, to explore, in the different styles afforded the participants, that stuff of which the composer and choreographer need to make ballets/dances of a more repeatable nature. In other words the improvisation could be used by choreographer and composer to get some closer idea of what the other is on about.<P>However, we need to come up with methods of making it easier to make the types of ballets which are "written" in such a way as to make them repeatable. This is tricky. However do we develop the language in which we will find the via media between composer and choreographer, unless each has some idea or preferably experience of the other's craft. Maybe improvisation for each would help. But I think that such a happy medium is still hit and miss. Then again, maybe we shouldn't worry too much, and trust more to providence. Getting choreographers and composers together is difficult enough!<P>Regards to you all,<P>Nigel.

Author:  Basheva [ Sat Nov 25, 2000 7:07 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Music for dance

No two performances of ANYTHING are exactly alike - and shouldn't be. Every performance whether it is a musician playing a trumpet concerto by Purcell or a ballet dancer dancing to that concerto will be unrepeatable. The pulse and breath of the musician changes from hour to hour as does the response of the dancer to the music. And so it should - and that is why we go again and again to see and hear the same things - because they are not quite the same.<P>Many times a choreographer will set a dance on a particular dancer because that dancer has an indefinable quality and though another dancer may perform it very well - that indefinable quality will not be captured. However, that second dancer may give us another view - just as valid. <P>And, I for one - think that is rather wonderful in its way.<BR>

Author:  salzberg [ Sat Nov 25, 2000 7:27 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Music for dance

I don't care for improv (except as a rehearsal device or training tool) because art,to me, is inseparable from design; it requires planning, execution, refinement, and self-editing, three of which must necessarily be absent from improvisation.

Author:  nigelmcbain [ Sat Nov 25, 2000 8:06 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Music for dance

Dear Basheva,<P>Sorry, I may not have said what I meant so clearly. The very difference in performances is due to the possiblity of the Work being differently interpreted because it is capable of re-perforformance, or representation. You see, the "Work", whatever it is, is always, represented. when it is performed. the number of performances extends the "presence" of the work itself, it isn't entirely captured in any one performance. The very words I am using belie this. Per-formance: the performance of the work is brought about by a conformity to the work's form. That is why some artists seem to play the work, or dance it better, I think, they are letting the work's form shine more clearly through them. sometimes you might remark, "he danced that with clarity!" or "she played that so lucidly!" words like simplicity, or clarity, lucidity, tell us that we are going into the realm of being itself. The form of the work has shone out, but it can never be captured, because it is fom, immaterial, transcending and therefore in the realm of the beautiful. You can't capture beauty. If you try to, it flees, it escapes through your senses. You can't even fully grasp it in your mind. We cannot cling to it. we can only appreciate it.<P>With an artwork we try to conform ourselves to the beautiful. the less we cling the more we can appreciate, let ourselves take it in.<P>The essence of Beethoven's Fifth can't be grasped, because it is beyond us to grasp it. Even if you are the composer or choreographer the artwork begins to take a being separate to you, the artist. The Symphony takes on a life of its own. The genius of the artist is to get out of the picture and let the work shine. That is why the best artist disappears in the performance. The difficulty with improvisation as with all creativity is that it is a little more difficult to get out of the way, although it is possible, of course. That is why the ballet as an art form has "rules" or guides or things that are repeatable. This is not derrogation but where the value of the form lies. The perfect line in a dancer, the most moving dying swan, are things which tell us that we have moved a little closer to the form, or rather the form has come closer to us. We have brushed with Beauty.<P>So if the work is, essentially, form materialised, yet still a universal form, then it must be that each performance can or should represent it. Each representation extends the presence of the work by instantiation of the form of the work: the realisation of the work in the performance!<P>That is why the composer notates the work, or the choreographer shapes the steps, or the poet writes down the words. Each work is not in the notation but in the performance, yet the notation is like the key which unlocks the form and so gives us the ability to repeat or to perform that which genius came upon when it found Beauty and tried to communicate it to others. That is what the repeat is really the communication of the form of the work, the transmission of something of Beauty.<P>Composer and Choreographer are trying to create something of beauty together, something in which they are trying to establish together the form of something which will be able to convey its meaning when it is represented as a ray of Beauty.<P>Have I said too much?<P>Regards,<P>Nigel<BR><P>------------------<BR>

Author:  Priscilla [ Tue Nov 28, 2000 12:46 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Music for dance

The utterly stupendous percussionist (1/2 our noise team - the other 1/2 played violin) has posted the music from "Isolate 3" performances we did in June. The tracks can quite easily be found at <A HREF="" TARGET=_blank></A> <P>The tracks total about 1/2 hour of music.<p>[This message has been edited by Priscilla (edited November 28, 2000).]

Author:  Basheva [ Tue Nov 28, 2000 8:05 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Music for dance

Is it possible to say too much about beauty? I think not. It is not describeable - but we know it when we see it. <P>Beginning ballet students often wonder "How can I possibly dance with all these rules?" But a very wise dancer once said "The discipline gives the freedom to dance". I believe that was Fonteyn who said that. Within the structure, freedom happens.<P>I once saw such a performance as you describe, Nigel, by Rudolph Nureyev. It was at the Hollywood Bowl in the late 1960's. It was at the conclusion of the first act, Swan Lake, Royal Ballet. The prince is all alone - all his friends have left. He is in a forest glade and he dances with the cross bow that his mother gave him as a birthday gift. <P>The solo is fairly rare - not the usual jump, jump, turn, turn, choreography given to the male dancer. This is an adage. Though I am sure that Nureyev reheased this many times, his genius was that he danced it as if it was the very first time. Just a young man, in love with life - searching for a future, in a forest glade all by himself. He was making it up as he danced it, as if it had never been done before, as if he were improvising it all by himself. It was eternally fresh and new.<P>The capacity audience at the Hollywood Bowl were held captive, silent, as Nureyev spun out his tale, his joy in life, his aloneness. At the end of the dance, he just stood there - and all were silent - silent for quite some time - and then suddenly we all awoke. Nureyev seemed as stunned as all of us were. The applause cascaded like a summer rainstorm - a flood - and all these years I still see that transcendent performance in my mind.<P>As you said, Nigel, the art shone through the dancer - he was merely the medium...twixt composer and choreographer, between the soul of a young man coming of age and the rest of humanity.<P>

Author:  Basheva [ Wed Nov 29, 2000 5:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Music for dance

Thank you so much Grace!! <P> I thought that solo was choreographed for Nureyev - but I could be wrong. That would be an interesting fact to know.<P>

Author:  nigelmcbain [ Thu Nov 30, 2000 5:49 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Music for dance

Dear Basheva,<P>what can I say, that is a breath-taking descrition of an obviously breath-taking performance. The form of the work obviously was so lucidly brought out in his dancing that the audience could clearly participate in it. The aim of the dancer is that: to communicate the dance to allow the audience to participate in it, even though they aren't dancing, it is like a communion with the dance, a participation in that reality of form. Image<P>Incredible Basheva that it can and does happen!<P>Speechless,<P>Nigel<P>------------------<BR>

Author:  Basheva [ Thu Nov 30, 2000 6:53 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Music for dance

Perhaps that is what art is about - to make us speechless........with delight....with wonder....<P>------------------<BR>Approach life as a dancer approaches the barre, with grace and purpose.

Author:  nigelmcbain [ Sun Dec 03, 2000 5:22 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Music for dance

Amen to that Basheva. Image<P>Nigel.<P>------------------<BR>

Author:  MonicaD [ Thu Dec 21, 2000 8:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Music for dance

I'm obviously late to this thread, and missed alot about my favorite topic! So here's my belated two cents.<P>I have a dual career as a musician and a dancer/choreographer, and teach both. In my student years, I was pressured to choose between music and dance, but I never could and never did. Instead I took further training in Dalcroze Eurhythmics and became a licensed teacher of it, to consolidate the union in my own work and try to bridge the gap between musicians and dancers.<P>In my view, there's a problem in dance being a younger "concert" art form than music -- not that it's a newer art form, they're both ancient of course, but dance is later in coming to the stage on the same level as music has. (I think it's from a fear and resistance of accepting the body as anything other than prurient, but that's another subject.) So there was "modern" music before there was modern dance, which is why, for example, Nijinsky was so baffled by Stravinsky's score for "le Sacre."<P>In older, traditional, "folk" or "ethnic" dance/music idioms from various cultures, improvisation is a part of both music and dance (flamenco was mentioned), but it's important to note that music and dance are integrated in those experiences and cultures. Dancers may work with instruments, and an African drummer may rise and join the dance. In our Western, "concert" worlds, however, we're much more segregated in our approaches to both music and dance, especially the more trained we become. The technical skills required demand an amount of time and energy that can create a tunnel-vision and preclude a more integrated approach to the music/dance art form that is really, in many ways, one entity.<P>It seems to me there's more to be done in the training of dancers to include music. It's essential for working musically as dance performers, choreographers, and teachers. In my dance teaching, I know I can't approach every intricate detail of music theory, but what I can do is break up the standard multiples of 4, and introduce unequal beats, changing meters, meters of 5 and 7, and unexpected phrase structures. Bartok, Copland, Arabic music, and even Renaissance dance music all provide examples, and I compose my own music to pave the way pedagogically, to throw a new twist into things, or to get at an interesting concept for choreography. <P>Music has shadings and colors, nuances of energy and dynamics, intricate rhythmic structures, complex formal designs, as well as ethereal aesthetic or "emotional" qualities that can all be embodied in dance. I believe that teaching dancers to listen and hear music deeply elicits a range of movement that no quantity of explanatory words, or outside-in demonstrate/imitate efforts, ever can.<P>I may be going out on a brittle limb here, but I think the whole notion of "music for dance," and especially "music for dance class," can train the musicianship out of dancers. The music that's the daily foundation of most ballet classes is not like any other music known -- it is limited to three metric formulas, the first beat is over-emphasized as if the dancers are assumed to be so unattuned they wouldn't hear it otherwise, and while often based on 19th-C. style, there is none of the rubato, a give-and-take in timing, that occurs in a musician's performance of Chopin, Brahms, Schumann, etc. (I say this with all due respect to dance accompanists, as I was one for awhile as a student. It made me crazy.)<P>Modern Dance certainly made inroads in the early years. Isadora danced to "classical" music as it was meant to be performed; Humphrey believed in choreographing to "strong" music rather than shying away from it or watering it down, and considered "music visualizations" a collaboration, not a tyranny where dance becomes the unfortunate "slave of music"; Graham embraced the dissonance and rhythmic/metric developments in modern music (evident not only in the music she choreographed, but also in exercises such as her "9's"). <P>It may sound like a bias, but I believe Dance History supports my saying the Dalcroze influence had alot to do with the early modern dancers' musical integrity. Eurhythmics was taught at the Denishawn schools; Doris Humphrey studied it even before Denishawn, as did Mary Wigman and Hanya Holm. The next generation, including Graham and Limon, certainly absorbed its influence -- but they were not trained to teach it as a parallel study and keep it going. <P>I think it was e.e. cummings who said, "As up I grew, down I forgot." To me, that applies on several levels. It relates to what happens to us as individuals when we refine our skills in one area -- the more advanced we become, the more danger that we lose what we were given innately. Watching children helps us remember -- they listen to music by dancing; they hum while they skip, they swing as they sing. But as a pianist spends 6 hours a day practicing and learning theory, the swinging stops; and as dancer spends 6 hours a day in class and rehearsal, the humming stops. In both cases, we stop listening -- to our own intuition. Musicians get up into their heads and ears but away from their bodies; dancers get up into their heads and extensions and away from their ears. As up we grow, down we forget.<P>So I teach the usual things about piano technique and music theory; and the usual things about dance technique, vocabulary and alignment. But there's another dimension in teaching musicians to rediscover and expand what they're doing through movement, and teaching dancers to rediscover and expand what they're dong through music. <P>Taking this back to topic, I only find collaborative music/dance improvisations interesting as performances when there's a clear give-and-take going on based on mutual experience and sensitivity, which is more likely in traditional, "ethnic" idioms where it's already integral, and less likely when it's musicians and dancers who are trained in a separatist way and not yet skilled in attuning to each other. But I apply that to choreographic work, as well. It's equally sad to me when choreographers cut and paste the "Eroica" symphony (yes, I've seen its magnificent form clipped and cut apart) as when they skirt the entire issue and choreograph to nebulous "sounds," giving license to neglect and dismiss the haphazard music they make with their bodies.<P>The key, I believe, is to reunite music and dance in the educational process. Then we won't need a separate "music for dance" at all. There's an enormous wealth of music out there -- we just need to learn how to partake of the riches.<P>------------------<BR> <A HREF="" TARGET=_blank></A>

Author:  Priscilla [ Fri Dec 22, 2000 12:52 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Music for dance

I'm glad you posted a link to your site, because after reading your post I wanted to know where you are teaching!<P>Great post - thanks. Image<P>

Author:  Basheva [ Fri Dec 22, 2000 6:45 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Music for dance

Wow Monica - great post!! I feel very much the way you do about "music for ballet class". It has always bored me to tears.<P>When I was teaching I used to use many different kinds of music for class: symphonic music, baroque, chants, opera, stage show music, popular music, jazz, even children's melodies. I did this for all levels of ballet class.<P>It started because I was so bored with the unchanging um pah pah of ballet music for class. The constant, predictable tinkling of the piano. But, the result was that my students really had to listen - LISTEN - because the music was not predictable. It also captivated them. <P>When I would go away on vacation, their biggest (and only) complaint about my substitute was that the music she used was so boring.<P>It takes quite a bit of effort to find the music, then record it in the order in which it is needed for ballet class. But it was more than worth it, for them and for me.<P>Some examples: parts of Orpheus and Eurydice (Gluck) for an adage, Officer Krupke (West Side Story) for frappe', Vangelis for Grand allegro, Carmen (Bizet)for rond de jambe, Pearl Fishers (Bizet) for turns en diagonal. Well, you get the idea. <P>It make class so much more inspiring - and to me dance is all about the music.

Author:  Priscilla [ Mon Jan 08, 2001 1:56 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Music for dance

I just posted a press release for concerts by Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley and in it is talk of the cooperation by the choreographer (Flemming Flindt) and the composer. The music is even being redone - the release says "Both composer and the Company are excited about the new dimension this ballet will realize with the world premiere of the new orchestration in San Jose."<P>Here's the link:<BR> <A HREF="" TARGET=_blank></A>

Author:  Azlan [ Sat Feb 10, 2001 10:26 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Music for dance

Someone who's really into the music:<P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><B>Conductor `Taps' into wonders of dance</B><P>Vicki Sanders, Boston Herald<P>Robert Kapilow, the conductor and creative director of the FleetBoston Celebrity Series' Family Musik program, can't help himself. When a musical composition or a dance number is put in front of him, he responds like a kid with a new erector set.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P><A HREF="" TARGET=_blank><B>More</B></A>

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