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Posts Tagged ‘dance’

Drunk in Love

March 26, 2015 | by

Sixty-four years later, The Tales of Hoffmann continues to delight and perplex.

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A still from The Tales of Hoffmann.

Lovers of the recherché have flocked to see Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1951 Tales of Hoffmann at Film Forum, where it’s still showing for one more day. In a newly restored print, the film’s fantastical mise-en-scène and extravagant polychrome glory assault viewers head on for a hundred and thirty-three minutes. At each screening, Martin Scorsese introduces Hoffmann in a videotaped homily, during which he confesses to an “obsession” with the film, having first fallen for it, strangely enough, when it aired in black-and-white on Million Dollar Movie. Most critics rave or rant, or both, about this odd work. The amiable William Germano, the author of a smart, slim volume about the film for the British Film Institute, spoke at the screening I attended, and his was one of the more measured, sanguine appreciations: “Whatever Hoffmann was, there had never been a cinematic creation quite like this one.” Read More »

How to Write a Dance

February 4, 2015 | by

Remy Charlip and the problems of dance notation.

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“Flowering Trees,” a page from Remy Charlip’s Air Mail Dances.

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
—W. B. Yeats

How do you tell a person in another place or time what a dance looks like, and how it should be performed? You could use words, describing, second by second, the movements made by every dancer on stage—but inaccuracies would creep in. Take an instruction as simple as “lower your arm”: How would the precise angle, attitude, and displacement of the arm be explained? As an algebraic vector? And what about the hand, the fingers, the knuckles, the rest of the dancer’s body—what are they doing? Such a method would come to resemble programming code, in which reams of language and symbols come to stand for something that’s supposed to look simple and elegant. The problem is that a dance is read by a human, not a machine.

What about images, then? You could reduce the dance to two dimensions, represented frame by frame, using diagrams and drawings. Yet even for a short sequence, you’d need so many! It would come to resemble a flip-book or an animated GIF, preempting the most efficient and simple method we’ve ever had to record dance: moving images, or film.

Before we had image-capturing technology, the need to preserve dance, as a record, gave way to attempts to write dance down. Dance notation, the symbolic representation of human movement, has developed into systems for making graphics recognizable as living movement. Traditional dance notation marks a path through space and a relationship to music. As Edward Tufte writes in Envisioning Information (1990), “Systems of dance notation translate human movements into signs transcribed onto flatland, permanently preserving the visual instant.” It’s a question of “how to reduce the magnificent four-dimensional reality of time and three-space into little marks on paper flatlands.” Dance never looks the same twice, unless it’s on film. Read More »

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The Physics of Movement: An Interview with Santo Richard Loquasto

February 24, 2014 | by

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A still from BAM’s On Set with Santo Loquasto: The Master Builder, 2013.

Santo Richard Loquasto has a big, easy smile, and an infectious enthusiasm for his work. Since his first production—Sticks and Bones, in 1972—he’s worked on some sixty-one Broadway productions, either as a scenic or costume designer, and often as both. His cunning sets and fanciful costumes have garnered him fifteen Tony Award nominations (he’s won three times), and he’s also won numerous Drama Desk Set Awards for Outstanding Set Design and Outstanding Costume Design. Loquasto is also known for his work in film—most notably with Woody Allen, with whom he’s worked for decades, most recently on Blue Jasmine. One afternoon last summer we met at the Margot Patisserie on the Upper West Side, where Loquasto talked about how he got his start, the demands of designing for dancers, and the downsides of his job.

What got you into costume design?

Well, it just always interested me as a kid. I grew up in Pennsylvania. Mine is the classic story of a teenager in the Poconos, painting summer-stock scenery because that’s what you do there. What I was really interested in was scenery and visuals. I was always creating the mise-en-scène in my backyard. The costumes were always part of it. I was interested in the scenery because in many ways it’s … well, I can’t say it’s more manageable, but it is, of course, because you don’t have to deal with people quite in the same way. People think of me as a costume designer, but in New York, the first things I did were scenery. I did a Sam Shepard one-act play off Broadway in 1970, and then worked for Joe Papp for many years. By that time, I was in grad school at Yale, concentrating on both scenery and costumes. I was designing costumes at Williamstown. When you don’t sew, you’re somewhat intimidated by that aspect of it. You’re lucky if you get to work with amazing people who make the costumes for you and with you.

I just raced from this little shop, Euroco Costumes, where I have the costumes designed for most of my dance projects. It’s two people, Janet Bloor and Werner Kulovitz. She’s brilliant at the stretch issues, and he is an amazing costume-maker of the grand school. Beautiful period cutting. I’ve only known him for about thirty years. You rely on the shorthand that develops between you and also what they bring to it, which is not only their expertise but also their passion. It’s very interesting—normally people who make costumes, who deal with the horrible deadlines and the issues of comfort and the egos of the performers, get sick of it. But I see them get excited by new projects and it’s exhilarating for all of us.

Can you talk to me about designing for Alexei Ratmansky’s The Tempest?

The Tempest you can approach in any number of ways, like most Shakespeare. I did a lot of Shakespeare in the Park in the seventies, both scenery and costumes, and for ten years, I worked in Stratford, Ontario, at the Shakespeare festival. I didn’t do The Tempest there, but I’ve dealt with the play. It was interesting to work with Ratmansky. For him, working on The Tempest is not like, say, Romeo and Juliet, which is so much more of a ballet vocabulary, both because of the great score, which so guides you, and because of his ballet background. Also, everyone knows the story so well. Whereas with our production of The Tempest, there is this much looser Sibelius score.

I follow the play, and I think you have to start there. As an interpreter, you have to follow the progression as Shakespeare laid it out, with your own understanding of where the words aren’t applicable to movement. You understand when Ferdinand and Miranda fall in love. You know what to do. There’s anger and rage and comedy. There was a debate at one point about losing the clowns, Trinculo and Stephano. I quietly fought to keep them. I said, their relationship to Caliban makes for a wonderful scene, and those things are in the structure to give us a breather, so it’s not just this man railing against everything.Read More »

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First Position

December 10, 2013 | by

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Once upon a time, I was part of a small army. The army was not made of soldiers, no, it was more like a children’s crusade, a throng of aspiring young ballet dancers that marched up and down New York City’s long avenues—Broadway, Seventh, Eighth—that were dotted, in those years, with so many studios. The School of American Ballet, feeder for the New York City Ballet, was the most famous, but there were others too and it was at John Barker’s studio on West 56th Street that I took classes six days a week for most of my high school life.

Weekdays, class was from 4:30 to 6:00; Saturdays, it was at 11:00 A.M. The studio itself was unremarkable: ruined wooden floor, bleached and pocked by the amber nuggets of rosin ground into its surface, long barres that lined three of the walls and full-length mirrors that lined the fourth. We spent about forty-five minutes at one of those barres, perfecting a series of exercises that had been born in the court of France and refined in the glistening winters of Imperial Russia. Pliés, tendus, and rond du jambs, all executed to the strains of Chopin. The barre was followed by work in the center: an adagio, and petit allegro. Then there were the big jumps, like grand jetés, and some point work, which allowed us the giddy sensation of rising up on our toes, defying nature and even, for a moment, mortality itself. Finally, there was the obligatory reverence, in which we curtseyed to our supremely difficult and demanding teacher.

After that we were free—until the next day, when the ritual began all over again. For it was a ritual, and, as such, had its sacred preparations. The brushing and winding of our hair into the tight bun, the sewing of ribbons on our ballet shoes, the donning of the requisite pink tights and black leotards were acts performed with both sanctity and love. The studying of ballet creates its own kind of religious order, and the girls who do it are akin to eager novitiates, fired by their all-consuming faith and their utter willingness to undergo daily mortification of the flesh. And as with any religion, the ballet hierarchy decreed that there was an established scheme of things and that a young dancer could have a secure and known place within it. When class was over, I once more joined the swarm of girls with turned-out walks and bony shoulder blades, girls who paraded down the street wearing the marks of their collective discipline: the buns, still wound painfully tight, the big, punishing bags weighed down with their heavy loads. We knew we were of a different tribe—recognizable and unique—and it filled us with pride. We were purified by our discipline, etherealized by our shining goal. Read More »

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112 Greene Street

July 25, 2012 | by

Exterior of 112 Greene Street. Photo by Cosmos Andrew Sarchiapone.

I met with Jessamyn Fiore in the air-conditioned back offices of David Zwirner’s Chelsea gallery in late June to discuss her new book, 112 Greene Street, a series of interviews with artists who helped found or were associated with the eponymous location, one of the first alternative art spaces in New York City. Opened in 1970 by artists Jeffrey Lew, Alan Saret, and Gordon Matta-Clark, 112 Greene Street served not as a commercial gallery but as a space in which artists could create and exhibit works collaboratively. Their participation in the burgeoning SoHo art scene also included cofounding FOOD, a pay-what-you-wish restaurant known for its delicious soups. Back then, the neighborhood more closely resembled a small village, rather than the glamorous, high-end shopping district it is now, and all of the artists associated with 112 Greene Street who were interviewed by Fiore remember that communal period fondly.

Fiore has a direct lineage to the groundbreaking gallery: her mother, Jane Crawford, was married to Gordon Matta-Clark, who died from pancreatic cancer in 1978 at age thirty-five. Known for his daring “building cuts”—literal dissections of buildings slated for demolition—Matta-Clark was, by all accounts, charismatic and widely admired and loved. Fiore herself ran a nonprofit art gallery in Dublin for several years before relocating to New York, where she curated an exhibition at Zwirner about 112 Greene Street last winter. She is warm, easygoing, and candid; it’s easy to see why the artists, whom she considers her friends, would trust her to preserve their memories in print.

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Dance to the Music of Time: Tacita Dean at the New Museum

June 25, 2012 | by

Merce Cunningham in "Five Americans."

Several times a week, I sneak downstairs to watch dancers rehearse with Merce Cunningham. I work at a nonprofit located in the New Museum and its current Tacita Dean exhibition includes Craneway Event, a 108-minute film of the choreographer at work in an enormous former assembly plant outside San Francisco. A postcard vista of the bay glistens in the background. As the sun creeps in, it warms the reflective surface of the floor to a bluish-gray so that in some shots water seems to ripple beneath the dancers’ feet.

Architect Albert Kahn originally designed the plant for maximum natural light. Stripped of furnishing and ornament, it looks porous rather than cavernous. There feels something almost prescriptively calming about looking at a space that size while living in a city as densely populated as New York; as if just by looking at it, I reclaim my proper wingspan after weeks in shoebox-sized studio apartments and subway cars sitting elbow-to-elbow with other passengers. My sense of time is similarly unreined. Nothing rushed, no antics, and absent of narrative; the film offers rather than requests my patience.

The term “time-based art” seems especially apt when discussing Tacita Dean’s work. In interviews, she talks of her delight in the period between shooting footage and processing it, as it allows her to revisit a film in progress with a new perspective. Her subjects might be defined broadly as the history slipping through our fingers: fleeting moments, obsolescing technology, the wisdom of an old master (Cunningham died a year after Craneway Event was made,) things just about to disappear.

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