tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…

… I promised an essay today. It will be coming either later today or tomorrow morning. Also, it won’t be on the promised topic. I know I’m beginning to sound like the Monty Python restaurant that–what was it?–has nothing on offer to eat, but about the topic, at least, I have this excuse:
Douglas McClennan, the lovely and incredibly hardworking founder and main force behind Arts Journal, advised me when we were planning this blog to stay flexible. Don’t stick with the scheduled topic simply because you planned on it, he said. Given that this is a public forum, if the conversation takes a particular turn go with it.
So the bit on new takes on old story ballets–when the variation works, when not, what’s the criterion for its success or failure–will hold till next week (or the week after that, if something else comes up) because with my very first sentence, I landed smack at the troublesome center of writing about “dance,” and thought I ought to try to extricate myself–and us?–before proceeding.
In the meantime, read this brilliant and hilarious post on rhythm, from friend and colleague Paul Parish, of Berkeley. He is responding to choreographer-director Annie-B Parson’ post below.
Here’s Paul:
…Well, what I meant was that rhythm is what separates us from OTHER animals. We are not the only animal that dances — though our nearest relations (the chimpanzees) don’t seem to, and dancing seems to be maybe THE thing that allows us to live in larger groups than other apes can sustain before they start killing each other off.
Other animals are usually wonderfully co-ordinated as individuals (though I know an old Labrador who walks with a sad arthritic gait), and they can certainly move in groups in fluid and fascinating ways, but even birds don’t move in really rhythmic ways (except when there’s wind-pressure to obey).
Obviously we disagree on the meaning of rhythm – I’m being rather strict. I think by your definition, gymnasts would have rhythm, but really they just obey the requirements of their separate tricks and create the best flow of movement they can from one movement to the next — as a horse would do in dressage or in a stampede.
Some football players have rhythm, but they really only become rhythmic when they break into the cakewalk in order to cross the goal-line.
We’re not talking about counts, a tango and a fox-trot have very similar counts but the push-pull of the rhythm is really different. Indeed, the habanera and the tango have identical counts but the push-pull is different.
As for unison, that’s a theoretical term, it appeals to the cortex. It’s certainly an interesting question, how does a dance company find a unison? My friends at Axis dis/Abled Dance Company have found a fascinating solution to it. But what I’m talking about is pre-verbal (human beings I’d bet were dancing before we were talking; it’s deeper in our animal natures). I’m talking about a beat or a groove, and that’s I think what it takes to get the casual observer to identify with dancers for the long haul.
Rhythm, I think, is what allows him to tune in and then once the actual frequency is established — as in radio frequency — the choreographer can modulate it. I think that’s how Mark Morris gets us to tune into his weird projects — he just GOES RIGHT THERE, and the next thing you know, you’re in there, and the rhythm makes an unlikely prospect — such as a staged oratorio — turn into something that makes the people who were there feel like “we lucky few; we’re the only ones who will ever know how fantastic that was…..”
Many things will engage the interest briefly; falling is very exciting, turning is too, esp if it looks like the dancer MAY FALL. But the only way to get someone deeply interested is through the rhythm.
I certainly do agree it’s true, how good the rhythm is IS a measure of how good the choreographer is.
addendum: Did you know “strangers in the night” is a tango, and “stand by me” a cha cha? Indeed, jingle bells is a polka…. nobody ever thinks that’s important, but I saw my grandmother dance with santa claus when she was 80 while we all sang Jingle Bells and she did a KICK on Hey (in a one-horse open sleigh, HEY, jingle bells) and it opened MY eyes…… Oh, she was a great lady. My God!

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