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Although the Wolf Trap is only a few miles from my home, save chaperoning a bunch of screaming kids at the International Children’s Festival, I am ashamed to say that I have never attended an even there. After spotting their summer ’09 calendar and the fabulous goodies on it (not limited to dance), that will hopefully all change. This summer’s dance lineup at Wolf Trap includes the following highlights:

  • Rasta Thomas’ Bad Boys of Dance on June 16
  • Aspen Santa Fe Ballet on July 7
  • Merce Cunningham on July 14
  • 42nd Street runs July 17-19
  • Trey McIntire Project’s Face of America: Glacier National Park on August 19

This and much much more can be found on the Wolf Trap Site. The recession is not excuse– the lawn seats are the cheaper– and more relaxing– way to go. So grap a picnic basket, a blanket, and enjoy some arts under the stars this summer!

I don’t know if it’s too much yoga and not enough dance, but I can’t seem to find the inspiration to write much lately. Personal blogs are interesting that way; they do tend to come and go, ebb and flow with the whims of the writer. Similarly, my blogroll changes as blogs I follow change or fall into inactivity. Not that I’ve been reading many blogs lately either. But here are a few that I enjoy following lately.

Apartment Therapy – If you live in a small space like me, those lavish spreads in traditional design magazines and blogs are hard to relate to. Apartment Therapy is a blog/web magazine that gives inspiration to those of us who don’t want to sacrifice style in tight quarters. From inspiring color schemes to unique ways to jazz up an entryway (or the wall by your door if you don’t technically have an “entryway”), I have gotten many ideas from this blog that I’ve been able to apply to my own living space.

This is Why You’re Fat – Only in America… Bacon, deep frying, and food-on-a-stick feature prominently on this blog of all culinary creations obscene. Yes, it’s an offensive name, but let’s face it– if you ate stuff like this on a regular basis, I don’t see how you could be skinny (or healthy).  I dare you to look through such creations as The Bacone (A bacon cone filled with scrambled eggs and country gravy topped with a biscuit) or the Fat Sam (Cheesesteak sandwich with chicken fingers, french fries, mozzarella sticks, ketchup, lettuce, tomato, bacon, and topped with egg and hot sauce) without giggling just a little bit.

Jodi’s Blog – I always enjoy following my friend, the talented artist Jodi Hoover’s blog. But never have I enjoyed it more than in the last few days as she blogs The World Beard and Moustache Championships. Jodi’s husband Mickey proudly represented Maryland with his full face of hair. I can’t tell you how entertained I have been reading about the Parade of Beards, and the politics of the World Beard and Moustache Association, and The Beards, an Australian band that, as Jodi explains, “They sing songs about beards for people with beards.”

In honor of wordpress enabling the embedding of TED videos, here are some amazing moves from Kenichi Ebina, a guy who has no skeleton.

The NYT’s ArtsBeat Blog asked artists to comment on how the recession is affecting them. It is a fascinating read.

Common themes:

  • Artists are poor to begin with so they didn’t have much to lose.
  • Recessions are good for lesser known artists because the focus on high-priced works produced for rich patrons has decreased. People buy what they can afford and artists produce less for the sake of pandering.
  • For-profit creative industries (i.e., graphic designers, vs independent artists) are being hurt the most.
  • Those that have a day job are counting their blessings.
  • The NYT Arts Beat Blog is a great place for self promotion (just look at all the website links and full names people signed their comments with).
credit: J-Rad, flickr

credit: J-Rad, flickr

Now I want to know from you: How is the recession affecting dance? The economic impact on companies is evident, but how is the down turn affecting the creative process?

My dear regular readers, you may be asking, “Speaking of the recession, what’s up with your blog? does the lack of posts in the last bunch of weeks mean you’re being affected by the downturn as well?” First of all, we are a volunteer operation here so nope, no impact. If I were unemployed, you can bet I’d be posting a lot more! There are two factors at play:

  • I am grateful for my secure job and perhaps because of that– and an increased workload– have been spending more time and effort on it.
  • I am participating in a 40 day yoga program (today is day 24), so I’ve been dancing very little. I’m halfway done with a post about the experience, so stay tuned!

As the news media have widely reported, Barack, Michelle, Sasha and Malia Obama all attended last night’s sold-out performance of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

While the time-out from stimulus package dealings got a little flack, the President’s dancer in chief (and chief of staff) Rahm Emanuel seemed to have things under control. But here’s why I’m giddy with excitement– the President and his family have announced their commitment to being an active part of the DC community and in showcasing the best our culture has to offer. Now they are making good on that promise. Am I getting ahead of myself dreaming that the ‘Obama effect’ will extend to increased patronization of the arts?

The ‘Obama effect’ I refer to is that the President’s cache` is so great that many people want to be a part of what he is a part of. I can just imagine more shows selling out around town in the hopes the President (or other luminaries such as mother in law Marian Robinson or Second Lady Dr.  Jill Biden, who attended Ailey a few evening earlier) will be there too. And in the process maybe some folks will get an appreciation for experiencing the arts.

There’s no word yet on how this sudden elevation of the arts in Washington might translate to policy. The idea of a Secretary of Arts has been thrown around (see related discussion, including my thoughts on the matter at Dancing Perfectly Free). Increased funding for arts in education, museums, and artists is always something being pushed for. Personally, I’d love to see a WPA-type creation of jobs for artists in the economic stimulus.

Policies aside, let’s celebrate the fine example the White House is setting as a patron of the arts. The Obamas also demonstrate that exposing your kids to the arts at a young age is appropriate and beneficial.

As lime mine aria points out, this time lapse video of a baby playing is like a dance. It is also a mighty adorable baby.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Tango“, posted with vodpod
I like the careful juxtaposition of the dancing with the rhythm of the [non-tango] music. Too often dance montages do not pay enough attention to being synchronized with the soundtrack.

This whimsical ad from LG (being shown in Korea, I believe), depicts figures from Matisse paintings coming alive, interacting, and dancing.

The first session I attended was on Saturday afternoon. Entitled Presenting Ballet Across America, it was a panel of artistic directors of ballet companies and critics. Sitting on the panel were the Washington Ballet‘s artistic director, Septime Webre, and associate director, Jeff Edwards. From the Boston Ballet, artistic director Miko Nissinen. From the Joffrey Ballet, artistic director Ashely Wheater. Critics Jean Battey Lewis of the Washington Times and Theodore Bale from Boston rounded out the panel. The moderator was the NY Post’s Robert Johnson.

Though I am but a baby in the world of balletomanes, even I was able recognize the star power of this panel. Topics discussed were accessibility, outreach and education, programming choices, touring, music, and relationships with critics. On this last topic, I thought it was a nice touch to have critics from the same cities as two of the artistic directors, given their long-standing, if at times adversarial, relationships. I was going to neatly summarize everything, but there were so many nice nuggets of insight and quotes that the below is essentially a cleaned-up version of my notes.

 On accessibility:

 To gain an entry point to dance, audiences need to find something that they can connect with. Some connect with abstract ideas and emotions, while others need more explicit or literal imagery. Dancegoers seem to have shorter attention spans than operagoers. Why is it operagoers will happily sit through a 4 hour opera, but dancegoers squirm in their seats if it’s over an hour? These considerations may be factored in for whether a work will contain an intermission or not.

On the use of popular music to appeal to broader audiences: 

Very few of those pieces have any staying power, because they relied on the strength of the music or the star power of the musician rather than on the strength of the choreography. Tharp’s Sinatra Songs is an exception because it was such a significant contribution to the American jazz canon (it’s been done by 17 companies, and counting). Live music is so important to the art. It’s not financially feasible to have Sting go on tour with you. If we do want to use contemporary music, we need to start seeking out one of the many talented, but lesser known musicians working today.

On TV, video and movies:

This is an exciting time where dancing being #1 on TV for the first time in decades is very exciting. It’s a moment of opportunity. We’re just waiting to see a reality show about ballet! There needs to be better integration of video and dance– the video behind the dancer showing abstractions or cues has been done. An example of innovation was given from the Paris Ballet where video showed activities going on live offstage that vastly contrasted with what the audience saw on stage.

The Company did more harm than good to the Joffrey. It trivialized the company and was a caricature of the artistic director and his process. It would add value to have dance critics write about dance movies and dance on TV, rather than a TV or movie critic that knows nothing about the art. Two exceptions cited were Lewis’ review of Fred Astaire movie reissues, and Bale’s review of The Company

Someone asked why so few video dances apply the classical dance vocabularly (mostly modern and ballroom). Maybe it’s because ballet thinks so rigidly in terms of the rectangular proscenium stage, whereas video benefits from more dynamic facings and shapes. HD technology is a good thing– it allows more of the movement to come through the screen, even on proscenium-filmed video dances.

Would companies ever consider a shift of resources from live to video dance? To do it right, you have to invest millions of dollars in the right equipment, which will become obsolete in just a few years. It’s not financially feasible because it would take too much away from the audiences. What about alternative sources of funding? Forsythe did a DVD the documents his whole process, and it was funded by museums.

On education:

We need to think about how we can better develop talent in the USA. 40% of companies are foreign and 70% of principles are foreign. This says something about the quality of our own training. Other countries have rigid training and curricula in place. We need to look at what sort of standards of quality we should require for teachers and students. Discipline and rigor are lacking, yet we are trying to do too much too early (i.e., 8 yr olds going en pointe). Schools affiliated with companies are money makers so there’s an incentive to keep standards lower, such as holding on to students that are not progressing, to keep getting their tuition.

On diversity:  

 It is difficult to attract African American dancers. They mostly seem to gravitate to historically AA companies such as Ailey. What could companies do to become more representative of the communities they belong to?

There is a trend now to more varied body types. How we talk about shape and weight has changed, and our eyes have changed in terms of how we see bodies.

 On dance criticism:  

Dance critics can do more to inform their audiences and provide context. There is too much “inside baseball,” assuming readers know much more than they do about dance. In terms of how companies see their critics, articles should be constructive and emphasize the singular point of view so that readers understand that it’s coming from just one perspective.

I attended parts of the Dance Critics Association conference this weekend, and am very glad that I did. While I would have liked to attend the whole thing, I had some rehearsal conflicts that I could not get out of. In the end, I attended one workshop on Saturday, and two workshops and a lecture on Sunday.

I’ll get into the individual sessions in subsequent posts (I was originally was going to do one post but it got too long), but the overall benefit of my attendance was meeting other dance writers, both new and established, catching up with friends and acquaintainces, and getting an overall sense of the state of the dance writing profession and the interrelationships between those who dance and manage dance companies, and those who write about them.

I got the sense that dance criticism is at a crossroads. This year has seen many arts critics job losses from traditional newspapers due to budget cuts. The average age is on the older side, and most of these critics quite rightly focused on the art of writing about dance, are not as tech savvy as they need to be to evolve with the changing times. As one critic asked, how can we adapt to new technology, blogging rather than working for a newspaper and still get paid for it? At the end of the conference, that question remained unanswered, but a dialogue had started.

The Dance Critics Association Conference starts this evening and goes through Sunday. Due to my grueling rehearsal schedule I will not be able to attend it in full as I had hoped, but am planning to catch one or two sessions each on Saturday and Sunday. Regrettably one of the ones I will miss is the panel on Dance and New Media, featuring among others Doug Fox of Great Dance.  I also highly regret missing Alastair Macauley’s keynote address.

Coinciding with DCA is the Ballet Across America festival at the Kennedy Center. If you are in DC, you should definitely go to this. It’s a rare opportunity to see some of America’s best ballet companies all in one place. We have tickets to the Saturday night performance featuring the Pacific Northwest Ballet (Jardi Dandicat by Nacho Duato), the Kansas City Ballet (The Still Point by Todd Bolender), and our home team, the Washington Ballet (Tharp’s Sinatra Songs).

Other companies being featured this weekend are Ballet West, Pennsylvania Ballet, Houston Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, and Oregon Ballet Theatre. Suzanne Farrell’s Notes from the Ballet give more insight on some of the works being presented.

You can get tickets here, and if you use promotion code 30503, you’ll get a nice $15 discount on most seats.

 

Only three more days to submit a nomination for the Metro DC Dance Awards. The deadline is May 31.

Details are here.

No category for best DC dance blog (yet!), but I shall bide my time…

The title of this post is an age-old philosophical question, but I think it’s good to ask ourselves this question from time to time. Particularly as dance becomes a more common element in mass media, it’s important to think about what we value in dance and in art. Some might argue with even the practice of putting labels on things, but this is a blog about dance, I am passionate about dance, and given that, there are obviously some boundaries in my mind as to what constitutes dance and what does not.

I also ask, is all dance art? And if all dance is art, then how do we classify movement that is not art? What is art?

The source of all this soul-searching was this video that Loren sent me:

Without question, this is an incredible video. According to YouTube, these are the 100 dancers and acrobats of the Great Chinese State Circus; I believe the title for the work would be “Swan Lake on LSD.”

The ballet in this is not bad at all. Very technically proficient, and beautiful lines. I can’t fathom the amount of center and control it takes to dance en pointe on that guys’s head and shoulders while he is walking around. The frogs were very frog-like and very entertaining. But I ask, if all the acrobatics and head pointe dancing were taken out, would this video have had over 3.3 million hits on youtube? More importantly, would it be seen as anything special by dance and art lovers, other than another nice execution of swan lake?

Are acrobatics dance? Are acrobatics art? The following video of the Pilobolus “Dance Company” (I’ve added the quotation marks, more on that later) made me ask those two questions when I first saw it on Ariel’s blog:

For me, this is definitely art– a fantastically creative and sculptural treatment of the human body. But I’m not so sure that it’s dance. To me it falls more into the categories of acrobatics and contortionism.  Yes Pilobolus calls itself a dance company. Is that because it holds that movement + art = dance? Yet take some of the mindless pap you see on shows like Dancing With the Stars…it’s definitely dance, but it sure ain’t art. At least not in my book. Even on the shows I enjoy, such as So You Think You Can Dance, acrobatics are often thrown in the mix in order to pander to attention-deficient viewers who need explosive movements and crazy physical feats to hold their attention. The line between dance and acrobatics is often blurred, as is the line between what I consider art and what I would not consider art, but nonetheless find fun and entertaining.

We’re headed into full-out wedding season, and the NYT has an article about couples going above and beyond the traditional ballroom dance at their wedding. In the case of dancer couples, this can come in the form of a dance choreographed as a gift to the spouse-to-be. There are also services which will choreograph interpretive wedding dances, incorporating the personalities and abilities of the betrothed.

The common theme seems to be that these are tongue-in-cheek elements of the wedding, with the idea that the occasion gives one license to be a little sillier and more uninhibited than in other venues.

Perhaps the execution is more charming than the idea, but it just seems to fit the whole syndrome that one’s wedding is one’s special day upon which one must be the focus of attention and one can do whatever one wishes and the assembled guests are obliged to express their delight at it. I like the idea of presenting a gift of ones own choreography to one’s fiance, because it is eminently personal. However, shelling out [a minimum of] $1500 to a company called MatriMony Mony to explore one’s own performance fantasies seems highly self-indulgent and more than your average wedding guest might be able to bear. Or would it be a welcome break from the monotony of tradition?

“`

Kind of reminds me of this video that I posted a couple months ago:

iGoogle, the personalized homepage version of Google, has rolled out a dizzying array of artist themes with which to customize your web searching experience. There is everything from Jeff Koons, to Diane von Furstenberg, to the Wiggles. Imagine my delight when I found Mark Morris — the only dance company for the time being– among the options. Now every time I go to Google, I am greeted with a different image of my favorite dance company.

Here’s a screenshot of how it looks. Click for a larger version. There’s no mention on the Mark Morris dance company’s website about how this came to be, but what great exposure! I wonder if google plans to include more dancers in its artist lineup.

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