Choe Seung-hui’s career moved in the reverse of the developmental narrative often associated with non-Western choreographers who study Western dance.
The earliest dance photographs of Choe show her in form-fitting leotards and short tunics, showing off her muscular and flexible body through extended lines, pointed feet, and angular planes, her face expressing seriousness or ecstasy—the epitome what one might envision today as modern dance.
But for her, this style ultimately came to represent imitation and convention rather than innovation and creativity. Whereas those early dances followed in the styles of others and worked in their voices, it was in formulating dances involving traditional Korean models that Choe invented her own style and established something new that would influence others.
For Choe, what looked like modern dance from a Western perspective was less modern than the Korean-style modern choreographies with which she made her mark as a modernist choreographer, dancer, theorist, and pedagogue.
This according to “Locating performance: Choe Seung-Hui, East Asian modernism and the case for area knowledge in dance studies” by Emily E. Wilcox, and essay included in Futures of dance studies (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2020, 505–22; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 202o-14576).
Today is Choe Seung-hui’s 110th birthday! Above, a photo from the 1950s; below, a partial reconstruction of Choe’s choreography.
Jack Cole is often called “the father of theatrical jazz dance”, and “Cole technique” has strongly influenced both film dance and American theatrical dance generally. In his heyday he was one of the most powerful choreographers working in Hollywood, with contractual control over the movement design, camerawork, costuming, lighting, and editing of his dance numbers.
Cole’s status as an “invisible” gay man is crucial to more than an understanding of the satiric, parodic, or camp elements of his film work; it is also a necessary precondition for his particular mode of deployment of so-called Oriental dance practices.
Cole engaged the double bind that both women and men are prisoners of gender roles. His use of the body’s physical beauty to stand for more than spiritual power combined the theatricality and spirituality of Denishawn, the voluptuousness and intensity of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and Oriental and other ethnic dance styles. His approach to dance and gender had profound effects on mid-20th-century hegemonic dance culture.
Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater draws upon elements of both dance and theater, juxtaposing, for example, choreographed gesture, the spoken word, and popular song. It echoes her heritage of Ausdruckstanz, but extends that tradition in a radical approach to form, content, and subject matter.
In impulse, Bausch has much in common with the postmodernists: in her rejection of illusion, her reconceptualization of what constitutes dance, and the imperative to make dance aware of itself. Her retention of realism, wrapped in a theatrical though fragile framework, results in a very different mode of dance making and performing.
The seeming authenticity of the performers’ experiences onstage and the unapologetic presentation of everyday bodily experience demand a reciprocal sensory response from the audience. The stark presentation of gender conflict, both within individuals and between women and men, and the raw and gutsy energy of performance that demands a visceral response, seem to hold a special attraction for a young audience, particularly in Europe.
This according to “Pina Bausch: Dance and emancipation” by Norbert Servos and Patricia Stadié (RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1998-31027), an essay included in The Routledge dance studies reader (London: Routledge, 1998, 36–45; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1998-31023).
For Anna Halprin, the RSVP cycles are a touchstone for realizing her mission to have everyone dance, regardless of dance training, age, or ability.
The inclusion of as many people as possible in the world of dance had always been an essential aspect for Halprin, who saw engagement with difference as a way of enriching her own personal landscape as well, through across-the-board work without cultural, historical, or geographical boundaries.
To make this dynamic inclusive, she sought a methodology for creating collective works based on a common language that would make it possible to transcend the ideas and preconceptions of gender, social, and cultural categories including age, artistic technique, race, and educational background. The RSVP cycles are the instrument and the outcome of this quest.
This according to “Anna e Lawrence Halprin: Il ciclo RSVP” by Laura Colomban (Danza e ricerca IX [dicembre 2017] 173–87).
Today is Anna Halprin’s 100th birthday! Above and below, the choreographer in 2010.
The freedom that Merce Cunningham advocated involved the performer becoming independent mentally, facing himself or herself, and reaching the state of mind of nō, true freedom achieved by overcoming ego.
Cunningham attempted to discipline the dancer’s body and mind in order to attain this ideal state of mind of nō at all the phases of his practical activity, by stipulating an environment where the performer must concentrate on his or her own movement—in particular on two elements, the shape of the movement and the energy that serves as its basis.
Cunningham’s concept of freedom did not stay only within the scope of negative concepts, in which freedom and liberty indicate “free from…”, but also connotes a creative and positive meaning, indicated by the Zen word jiyū (free to…).
This according to “Merce Cunningham’s concept of freedom and its philosophical background” by Sako Haruko, an essay included in Proceedings: Society of Dance History Scholars (Stoughton: Society of Dance History Scholars, 2002, pp. 125–28).
Today would have been Cunningham’s 100th birthday! Above, a portrait licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0; below, a collaboration with the video artist Nam June Paik.
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Having established herself as a leading performer of bharata nāṭyam, by 1960 Chandralekha Prabhudas Patel—professionally known as Chandralekha—felt a need to move beyond the genre’s boundaries and began to pursue ideas about fusing Indian dance traditions with modern idioms.
Chandralekha was a firm believer in the need for resuscitating older forms with contemporary energy, drawing also on martial art and therapeutic traditions. Always a controversial figure, she criticized plastic smiles, fake religiosity, and mindless repetition of mythological themes. A voracious reader, a gifted writer, and a poet, she lived a full life and influenced a whole generation of young dancers.
This according to “Rebel with a cause” by Sunil Kothari (Sruti 269 [February 2007] pp. 16–19).
Today would have been Chandralekha’s 90th birthday! Below, a brief documentary about her life and work.
Early in Mary Wigman’s career, her performance works could have been classified as either dance or Expressionist theater. By positioning herself as a dance artist she was able to consolidate power over her creative output in ways that would not have been possible in a less feminized art form.
Wigman’s choices regarding all aspects of her career and creative output were predicated on the practicalities of realizing her primary concern: maintaining creative and financial independence as a female artist. These practical considerations included style, genre, and her relationships to bourgeois culture, the physical culture movement, and the image of the Neue Frau. Her navigation of circumstance in the Weimar era enabled her to successfully negotiate the available opportunities, and therefore to become enshrined as the primary progenitor of Ausdruckstanz.
This according to “Mary Wigman: Expressionist, feminist, theatre artist” by Janet Werther (Studies in musical theatre VIII/3  pp. 261–70). This issue of Studies in musical theatre, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.
In 1953 he was hired to coach the Cadillacs on their stage presentation, and he was so successful that he was given a steady job at Motown Records in the early 1960s; he went on to coach and choreograph for their top groups, including The Supremes, The Temptations, and Gladys Knight and the Pips, almost single-handedly keeping much of American vernacular dance alive for a new generation.
This according to “‘Let the punishment fit the crime’: The vocal choreography of Cholly Atkins” by Jacqui Malone (Dance research journal XX/1 [summer 1988] pp. 11–18).
Today is Atkins’s 100th birthday! Below, rehearsing with The Temptations in 1986.
Even as she evoked a utopian vision of classicism, Isadora Duncan was creating a new image of the stage dancer as a noble-spirited woman, bold yet pliant, freely using her imagination and her body as she wished.
Duncan emphasized nature and the connectedness of body and soul, countering the effects of the Industrial Revolution and Victorian prudery; she championed simplicity and organic design in the face of the public’s taste for elaboration in both design and decorum; and she made herself into an emblem of freedom from conventions, particularly those of dance and femininity.
This according to “Images of Isadora: The search for motion” by Deborah Jowitt (Dance research journal XVII–XVIII [fall–spring 1985–86] pp. 21–29. Below, a reconstruction of one of Duncan’s dances.
Calls for submission to subsequent annual Dance Your PhD contests followed suit, attracting hundreds of entries.
For these contests, practitioners transform their bodies into animating media and conduct body experiments to test their hypotheses. This body-work offers a medium through which they can communicate the nuanced details of their findings among students and colleagues. The Dance Your PhD contests expand and extend what it is possible for scientific researchers to see, say, imagine, and feel.
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