The discourse surrounding contemporary concert dance in Africa is complex. Writings on the practice suggest that it could be considered both a neocolonial imposition and a contributor to processes of decolonization.
The growth of contemporary dance in Africa was stimulated by the establishment of an inter-Africa dance competition in 1995 by a French-sponsored dance biennale, which at the time was called the Choreographic Encounters of Africa and the Indian Ocean, and has since been renamed Danse l’Afrique danse!
A major controversy about contemporary dance was caused by the departure from the organization soon after its first event of one of its key instigators, the Ivorian choreographer Alphonse Tierou, in protest against the imposition of French artistic criteria by competition judges.
Tierou’s philosophical tenets for contemporary dance in Africa, which had guided the artistic activities leading up to the launch of the competition, were sidelined by the organizers, who set rules that insisted that entrants present new forms of dance that should not be associated with ideas of African tradition, but which still retain motifs or signifiers which a Western audience would perceive as being African. Both African choreographers and scholars feared the competition was a form of cultural neocolonialism.
While these justifiable concerns persist, there is an emerging academic discourse that promotes the ownership of contemporary dance by African choreographers and dance artists. Observing developments in contemporary dance in Nigeria, Chukwuma Okoye suggested that contemporary dance is undergoing a process of indigenization, arguing that when a foreign dance form is absorbed into a society on the terms of the people in that society the resulting practices cannot be considered a mere copy of the form that was appropriated.
This according to “James Mweu & Kunja Dance Theatre: Contemporary dance as African cultural production” by ‘Funmi Adewole (African theatre XVII  3–22; RILM Abstracts 2018-60720).
Grotesque masks replace powdered noses, blushed cheekbones, and false eyelashes. Padded suits expand thin body lines. The doll costumes in Maguy Marin’s Cendrillion (Cinderella) push the boundaries of late 20th-century Western ballet aesthetics. Simultaneously, they raise questions about the ballet dancer’s role as subject and object onstage.
Combined with Prokof’ev’s Zoluška score, Marin’s characters, movement, and costumes expose and challenge multiple layers of dancer objectification. Situating the choreographer’s tactics within a feminist framework illuminates how Marin’s radical strategy centers on posthuman philosophy, paradoxically suggesting that a ballerina, through her thingness and cyborgian relations, can function outside of object-subject constraints.
This according to “Maguy Marin’s posthuman Cinderella: Thingness, grotesquerie, and cyborgs” by Mara Mandradjieff (Dance chronicle XL/3  374–92; RILM Abstracts 2017-56181).
Today is Marin’s 70th birthday! Above and below, excerpts from productions of Cendrillion.
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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.
The foxtrot follows seven transformational rules; three are optional rules that account for certain variations that may occur while dancing at a club or in the studio while choreographing a dance, and four rules are obligatory. One rule involves gender agreement in proper foot choice, and three rules establish the relationship to the foot-placement structure and the slow-rhythm structure.
These few rules generate all the foxtrot steps one can produce: 1. Rhythm Transformation (optional); 2. Chasse Support (optional); 3. Walk Support (optional); 4. Slow-Rhythm Foot Position Junction (obligatory); 5. Gender Agreement (obligatory); 6. Direction/Turning Junction (obligatory); and 7. Foot/Direction Junction (obligatory).
Capoeira, a Brazilian battle dance and national sport, was brought to Brazil by African slaves and first documented in the late 18th century. The genre has undergone many transformations as it has diffused throughout Brazilian society and beyond, taking on a multiplicity of meanings for those who participate in it and for the societies in which it is practiced.
Three major cultures inspired capoeira—the Congolese (the historic area known today as Congo-Angola), the Yoruban, and the Catholic Portuguese cultures. The evolution of capoeira through successive historical eras can be viewed with a dual perspective, depicting capoeira as it was experienced, observed, and understood by both Europeans and Africans, as well as by their descendants.
This dual perspective uncovers many covert aspects of capoeira that have been repressed by the dominant Brazilian culture. The African origins and meanings of capoeira can be reclaimed while also acknowledging the many ways in which Catholic-Christian culture has contributed to it.
This according to The hidden history of capoeira: A collision of cultures in the Brazilian battle dance by Maya Talmon-Chvaicer (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008; RILM Abstracts 2008-708).
Above, capoeira performers in São Paulo (photo by Fabio Cequinel licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0); below, capoeira performers in Salvador, Bahia.
The feature film Kalpana (Imagination) is the only kinetic record of Uday Shankar’s choreographic work. Directed by and starring Shankar himself, it is semi-autobiographical and also stars his wife, Amala Shankar.
The film involved a fair amount of social commentary, and Shankar’s opening statement in it still feels strikingly appropriate:
“I request you all to be very alert while you watch this unusual picture—a Fantasy. Some of the events depicted here will reel off at great speed and if you miss any piece you will really be missing a vital aspect of our country’s life in its Religion, Politics, Education, Society, Art and Culture, Agriculture and Industry.”
“I do not deliberately aim my criticism at any particular group of people or institutions, but if it appears so, it just happens to be so, that is all. It is my duty as an Artist to be fully alive to all conditions of life and thought relating to our country and present it truthfully with all the faults and merits, through the medium of my Art.”
“And I hope that you will be with me in our final purpose to rectify our own shortcomings and become worthy of our cultural heritage and make our motherland once again the greatest in the world.”
This according to “Uday Shankar’s Kalpana” by Sunil Kothari (Sruti 195 [December 2000] 53–57).
Today is Uday Shankar’s 120th birthday! Above and below, excerpts from the film.
The Acehnese dance form ratoh jaroe has empowered young women, especially high school students who are shaping their own youth culture, by taking center stage in Jakarta, one of the largest metropolitan cities in the world.
Young Jakartan women take advantage of the positive reputation of ratoh jaroe there, leveraging perceptions of the genre to channel self-expression and confidence, maintain their physical and mental health, and enrich their social lives, religious identity, education, and future. The genre is a medium for what young female Jakartan students consider success. Furthermore, Jakarta’s cosmopolitan engagement with consumerism and industry, along with the goal-oriented mindset of Jakartan youth, has created a fertile social space for ratoh jaroe’s popularization.
A network of practitioners and the culture of competition drives the circulation and economics of a ratoh jaroe industry, and Jakartan understandings of the dance’s historical roots in Islam promotes its acceptance, allowing young, mainly female, Muslim dancers to maintain their religious identities while performing on a public stage.
This according to “Ratoeh jaroe: Islam, youth, and popular dance in Jakarta, Indonesia” by Maho A. Ishiguro (Yearbook for traditional music LI  73–101; RILM Abstracts 2019-20798).
Below, a Jakartan group performs in 2012.
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While his contemporaries were moving away from conventional music and toward experimental styles, Paul Taylor embraced folk music and Baroque composers.
Both genres typically have simple meters and lend themselves to choreographically friendly units of eight counts, and Taylor created movement that works through the expected meter, and, consequently, the phrasing of the music. But musical and choreographic phrases are often at odds in Taylor’s works, a discrepancy that creates intricate and engaging work that has expanded the scope and significance of American dance.
This according to “Paul Taylor’s meticulous musicality: A choreomusical investigation” by Todd Coulter (Dance chronicle XXXVII/1  63–84; RILM Abstracts 2014-2397).
Today would have been Taylor’s 90th birthday! Above, Taylor in 1960 (photo by Carl Van Vechten); below, Esplanade, one of the works discussed in the article (The introduction—mostly quoting from Taylor— lasts about 1¾ minutes).
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 1998-31027), an essay included in The Routledge dance studies reader (London: Routledge, 1998, 36–45; RILM Abstracts 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.
For it [the Walkman] permits the possibility…of imposing your soundscape on the surrounding aural environment and thereby domesticating the external world: for a moment, it can all be brought under the STOP/START, FAST FOWARD, PAUSE and REWIND buttons. –Iain Chambers, “The … Continue reading →
In 1947 Ella Fitzgerald, already an acclaimed singer of jazz standards, toured with Dizzy Gillespie, immersing herself in the new style known as bebop. Like Dizzy, Ella responded to bebop’s complex harmonies with an infallible ear, and easily translated its … Continue reading →
Gertrude “Ma” Rainey’s Prove it on me blues affirms her independence from orthodox norms by boldly celebrating her lesbianism. Rainey’s sexual involvement with women was no secret with both colleagues and audiences. The advertisement for the song (above, click to … Continue reading →
The American traditional song Go tell Aunt Rhody originated as a gavotte composed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau for his opera Le devin du village (1752). An English version of the opera was produced in London in 1766; subsequently the melody attracted … Continue reading →