The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘dance’

The Journey of the Dancing Triangle Man, and Other News

November 2, 2015 | by

Minya Diez-Dührkoop, Dance costume for “Technik” (detail), 1924, black-and-white positive on silver gelatin paper.

  • Suspense, mystery, confusion, a certain contemplative je ne sais quoi … you can use ellipses for just about anything these days. Try ending your e-mails with them for a much-needed injection of professional ambiguity. And remember their roots: “Penny dreadful scribblers and yellow journalists adopted the mark wholeheartedly, entwining its brand with high melodrama, cheap commercialism, and camp … Adorno, noting the dots’ prevalence in comic books and trashy romance, argued that a ‘hack … must depend on typography to simulate … an infinitude of thoughts and associations, something [he] does not have’ … Some ellipses feel hammy and overwrought. But others allude to charged material with superlative restraint (as in Fitzgerald or Joyce). They can be gently mysterious … They convey the endless rovings of consciousness.”
  • Today in rediscovered Expressionist dance costumes: there are these, which look to have come from a very forward-thinking children’s sci-fi featurette. Two dancers from Hamburg, Lavinia Schulz and Walter Holdt, designed the costumes in the 1920s. “The dancers created twenty full-body costumes for performances between 1919 and 1924, all accompanied by avant-garde music, often composed by Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt.” In 1924, Schulz shot Holdt and then herself, thus ensuring that their avant-garde costumes were tainted with bad memories and left in storage for many decades.
  • As the notion of the “bookless library” wends its way from cheap joke to reality, James Gleick asks: Whither the library? “The library has no future as yet another Internet node, but neither will it relax into retirement as an antiquarian warehouse. Until our digital souls depart our bodies for good and float away into the cloud, we retain part citizenship in the physical world, where we still need books, microfilm, diaries and letters, maps and manuscripts, and the experts who know how to find, organize, and share them … A transition to the digital can’t mean shrugging off the worldly embodiments of knowledge, delicate manuscripts and fading photographs and old-fashioned books of paper and glue. To treat those as quaint objects of nostalgia is the technocrats’ folly.”
  • The landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church lived in a mansion called Olana, which doubled as “a 3-D landscape artwork with more than five miles of carriage roads.” But what of its craftsmanship? A tour of Olana leaves one with more questions than answers: “We would learn that what was strange about this window, which appeared to be stained glass, was that its diamond-patterned grille was sagging at the edges; it was made of paper. ‘Church cared more about appearances than authenticity,’ we were informed. From the hall we filed into a narrow private study, where the walls were bordered with a script I thought was Arabic, but when I asked its meaning, I was told that it was nonsense Church invented, because he liked the way it looked … There was an empty easel with a palette; shelves of art supplies; a painting by the artist’s mentor, dim; a case of carved-stone artifacts collected on a trip to South America. ‘Some of those objects are authentic, others made for tourists,’ said the guide. ‘Church didn’t care.’ ”
  • Most people went to Studio 54 and the Paradise Garage to dance. Bill Bernstein went to take pictures. His work stands as a vibrant document of the disco era, which he remembers for its inclusiveness: “On a typical night of shooting, Bernstein would arrive at a club at around eleven p.m. or midnight, never drinking, just wandering the dance floor and lounge areas looking for interesting subjects. ‘I would just sort of try to keep my eyes open, and stay there until I felt like I couldn’t do any more, or I was exhausted,’ he says. ‘The speakers were gigantic and the room would vibrate. Between the room vibrating with the noise and the lighting, which was constantly flickering and moving, after about four hours, I was drained.’ ”

A Whale in Her Own Ocean

May 12, 2015 | by

Suzanne Farrell at the New York Public Library.

Farrell and Balanchine in Don Quixote, 1964.

Suzanne Farrell—the ballerina who was George Balanchine’s last and arguably greatest muse—appears tonight at the New York Public Library’s Live! series, cosponsored by NYU’s Center for Ballet and the Arts. If you’d like to go, don’t—the event was a harder ticket than Hamilton, which the Wall Street Journal called “the buzziest show of the spring.”

If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, well, everything you need to know about Farrell, now sixty-nine, you can learn from the essays of Arlene Croce, whose own great muse was Balanchine and his New York City Ballet, and whose unassailable writings on dance appeared in the pages of The New Yorker for twenty-five years. Croce says about Farrell in Diamonds, the third act of Balanchine’s Jewels: Read More »

The Death of The Dying Swan

May 1, 2015 | by

Ballet at the movies.

Dying Swan 2

A still from The Dying Swan, 1917.

In the 1980s, Hellman’s launched an extensive campaign to rebrand its mayonnaise products as health conscious. Between shots of garishly pink salmon and luxuriant folds of Romaine lettuce were ballet dancers: “Without a choreographer,” the voice-over says, “there is no ballet … Without Hellman’s, there’s no salad.” (Maybe the copywriters were drawing from Yeats—“How can we know the dancer from the dance?”) Dancers are superimposed onto vegetables—one in orange twirls into a carrot—and a note in small type at the bottom says that Hellman’s “can help slimming or weight control.”

The ad only makes sense in light of the “tradition of morbidity,” as the former New Yorker critic Arlene Croce once called it: a certain subtext associated with the ballerina in popular culture. Movies, in particular, have over the course of a century misrepresented, if not outright disfigured, her. She’s a delicate, overwrought creature who shuns all material desires (including dessert, sex, and probably mayonnaise, too) for her craft. If you’re trying to sell a fat-laden emulsion of oil and eggs typically eaten on a red-checkered tablecloth with the WASP-ish anemia of the upper class, you’ll find no better spokesperson than the ballerina. Read More »

Coup de Théâtre

April 20, 2015 | by

An American in Paris leaps from screen to stage.

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Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope. Photo: Angela Sterling. Courtesy of An American in Paris

About halfway through Vincente Minnelli’s 1951 film An American in Paris, we glimpse a sign: À LOUER—APPARTEMENTS STUDIOS DE GRAND LUXE—RENSEIGNEMENTS AU FOND DE LA COUR. We see it in a courtyard through which Milo Roberts, the beautifully appointed parvenue, leads Jerry Mulligan, the scrappy, penurious painter; they ascend a staircase into an artist’s atelier that anyone would dream of. In addition to the essentials—a double-height wall completely of glass, new brushes and paints in every imaginable color, a sturdy easel—the room boasts a marble mantelpiece, fresh flowers, and an enormous sofa upholstered in red toile de jouy. That’s part of the allure of Minnelli’s film: it wrings every drop of naive charm out of the Paris of myth and cliché. Despite its legendary status, though, the movie’s charms are often enforced with a lead pipe—or perhaps a pipette of the kind geese are fattened with to produce foie gras. I couldn’t help but read too much, then, into that sign advertising rooms for rent. The movie itself can feel like a rented room; there’s plenty of space for someone else to move in, to make it deeper, better, more accomplished. That’s what the new musical on Broadway attempts, and—though not without its longueurs and contrivances—on many levels it has the film beat by a mile. Read More »

Drunk in Love

March 26, 2015 | by

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

a Michael Powell Emeric Pressburger The Tales of Hoffmann Criterion DVD PDVD_005

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 »