DANCING ON THE EDGE: Thoughts about dance

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By Thursday, Jun 23 Arts & Entertainment  4 Comments
Hayim Heron
Juan Siddi Flamenco Santa Fe in ‘Sabor Havana,’ on stage at Jacob's Pillow in Becket, Massachusetts, this week.

West Stockbridge — When I started dancing in 1963, I was interested in developing strong technique through the study of ballet, modern and jazz.

However, at the same time I found myself more interested in the challenge to accept new ideas about movement and new ways of constructing dance than dances made in traditional forms.

Juan Siddi Flamenco company in 'Fiesta Flamenca,' Photo: Christopher Duggan

Juan Siddi Flamenco company in ‘Fiesta Flamenca,’ Photo: Christopher Duggan

When I began producing and presenting dance, I had to balance my sense of adventure. When I came to Jacob’s Pillow in 1989, hip-hop, ballroom, tap and a myriad of ethically-based styles were not considered “concert dance.” When presenting I had to consider the audience. Was I going to provoke them or give them what they loved…and in what proportion? I was paid to have an opinion and that opinion had to pay off at the box office. Well, my responsibilities have changed, as has dance. More dance is being made and broader definitions accepted.

But many of you still struggle, as you watch, thinking you do not, or cannot, understand what you see. The fall back often is: “I just don’t like it!” But perhaps, just perhaps, that can change.

I would like you to join me in a new adventure, watching with an open mind and heart. Yes, you know enough about dance to do this. Listen to Twyla Tharp: “People often say to me ‘I don’t know anything about dance.’ I say ‘Stop.’ You got up this morning, and you’re walking. You are an expert.” To that I would like to add any movement of any limb is a dance.

I hope thinking about dance in new ways, will allow us to dispense with definitions and predispositions and enjoy the experience of dance in our lives and onstage.

Some suggestions for today:

If coming to an unfamiliar form for the first time…treat it like a first date… be brave…come with an open mind.

Dance is a felt experience. Your body can respond without interference of your intellect.

Select one or two movements you can do at home. Something simple like the shape and flow of an arm being raised, notice the shape of the hands… or take a very familiar move of your own and do it extremely, extremely slowly.

Speaking of hand gestures, I just saw Juan Siddi Flamenco Santa Fe at Jacob’s Pillow.

Radha Garcia of Juan Siddi Flamenco Santa Fe in ‘Fiesta Flamenca.’ Photo Christopher Duggan

Radha Garcia of Juan Siddi Flamenco Santa Fe in ‘Fiesta Flamenca.’ Photo Christopher Duggan

Rich with arm movements and hand gestures... try a few. The company puts a spin on this genre taking a very contemporary approach to group work.

The performance retains the essence of Flamenco: astonishing footwork, gorgeous costumes, complex rhythmic patterns in song, dance and instrumentals. The performers are well trained and committed to the work although, for my taste, lacking a bit of the passion and spirited soulfulness I associate with this dance form. But to be clear, the audience loved it!

Enough from me. I would like to hear from you. But please share your experiences by adding your comments below.


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4 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Leif Steinert says:

    “If it’s not Russian, it’s wrong.”

  2. Liz says:

    What a wonderful piece and I heartily agree – I even dance and mimic moves if I see a dance piece of any style on TV – it is just movement for the beauty and thrill it brings to our bodies which are meant move! Tks Liz, from our former SLC student!

  3. Jeff Bliss says:

    Thank you Liz for your invitation to consider and relate to a wide variety of dance forms. I was in those audiences that you brought an expanding definition of concert dance to at the Pillow, and was thrilled. Thank you for that growth and change.
    I want to reinforce what you have said about going to see dance we may not understand from an intellectual aspect. If we can each embrace the possibility “to not know” and “to not understand” right away, we can open up, in each of us, something to really think about and contend with. There really is a vast “intellect” in the communication through the movements of bodies (generally without words) that we are just beginning to understand and appreciate. And truly all of us are just beginners in this arena. From years of working with Liz Lerman I learned that we each carry in our bodies a vast and rich repertoire of movements that we express just walking down the street. As a wonderful successor (Ella Baff) of yours at the Pillow said at every performance to the audience, “Let’s Dance”, an invitation to each of us at every moment of our precious lives.

  4. Leif Steinert says:

    “Now this is not competition. There is no competition. You’re in competition with one person only. And that is the individual you know you can become. And that is the thing that makes the dancer’s life, the life of a realist.” Martha Graham 1959.

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