Tonight I took a master class with a dancer from the Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company at the Kennedy Center. The Kennedy Center has started offering these master classes just this year and it is really a wonderful opportunity to learn technique from some of the most influential dancers today.
The ticket said the class would take place in the rehearsal hall, where I had never been before. As I entered the Kennedy Center from the shuttle bus area, there was a small table set up with a woman taking tickets. We were instructed to wait there until we were escorted up to the rehearsal hall. We were taken through a back hallway and up several floors in a freight elevator. Then we wound our way through a warren of cramped, windowless cubicles (the idea of working at the KC doesn’t seem that cool anymore after seeing the working conditions), before coming upon a moderate sized dance studio. It was interesting to get a chance to see the bowels of the KC.
The class was taught by a woman named Leah from the company. We started out with a floor sequence before moving on to standing warmup combinations and finishing with some choreography from a new piece the company is working on. As with any new instructor or style, I had to constantly remind myself during the course of the class to keep and open mind and be patient with myself. It can be frustrating to move in a way that is not familiar or to memorize new combinations when it does not feel natural. In the end, things did click for me and I came away from the class with some new insights.
Leah talked about Jones’ approach as task based movement. It took me the whole class, plus a conversation with Leah after class to fully grasp what this means. Essentially, task based movement is about fully describing a movement, rather than just showing it or giving it a shorthand name. This allows the dancer to embody and put thought into each moment of the movement. The word precisionwas used quite a bit, but in the context of task based movement, this means more how you do something than exactly how it should look. One example of this was the directive to swing the right leg up and make contact at three points– each hand with the ankle. How high the leg was or the line of the leg was of less consequence than the sequence of movement, where you’re going, and what you have to do to get there. As we repeated the combination, we were constantly exhorted to thing about the process of completing each movement task. After many repetitions, the list of tasks became less of a burden and more of a guide. Another “script” we were given was to sing during one of the standing warmups (a tendu/degage sequence). We were to make up our own rhythmic tune to hum as we went through the sequence. This did help me get out of my head and feel more at one with the pattern.
I am able to see applications of task based movement for my own dancing as a tool for picking up choreography (something I am not very good at) more quickly. Creating a running narrative, rather than relying on muscle memory or my mediocre knowledge of ballet vocabulary, creates an additional script to guide the reproduction of a sequence.
The choreography itself was enjoyable to do. The quality of the movement felt natural, employing a lot of the momentum and catch/release we do in Helanius’ class.