Friday, May 11, 2018

Dance (Unit Nine)

Dance (Unit Nine)
Dance is the art of stylized or improvised movement. It is performed either solo or as a group, with ritual or expressive meaning. It is one of the most ancient and intuitive of performance genres that we will study.

 "Dance is one of the most natural and universal of human activities. In virtually every culture, regardless of location or level of sophistication, we find some form of dance." ("Reality Through the Arts" p. 178)


Rock Painting of Dancers at Chaturbhujnath Nala, India, c. 10,000 BCE
(Image from the Bradshaw Foundation)

Dance has been a part of human experience from the earliest times, taking the form of ritual, celebration, entertainment, and expression.
Egypt - Dancers on Fresco at Tomb of Nebamun (14th c. BCE)
In ancient Egyptian art, dance is preserved in the fresco paintings at the tomb of Nebamun, from the 14th c. BCE. Images show ritual dancers accompanied by musicians. The goddess Bast, or Bastet as she was later known, was honored through festivals of dance and celebration that would be echoed in later Greek revelry.

The Natya Shastra, an Indian treatise on the dramatic arts that was written between 200 BCE - 200 CE, is the oldest known recording of dance techniques. It speaks of nine emotions to be conveyed by the dancer, including happiness, anger, disgust, fear, sorrow, courage, compassion, wonder and serenity.

Shiva Nataraja, India (11th c. CE)
(Dallas Museum of Art)

In the rituals of Dionysus in ancient Greece, participants danced ecstatically at the wine harvest, before submitting to ritual dismemberment and sacrifice, as characterized in Euripides tragedy The Bacchae. 

Euripides - The Bacchae (Macmillan Films)
There are innumerable forms of dance relating to cultures from around the world, so many that we are not able to address every one. Instead, we will look at related genres in groupings, and then focus on some that are most familiar to U.S. audiences. They include:
  • FOLK - Group dances with a social purpose performed to folk music from traditional cultures. 
  • RITUAL - Dances based in various world cultures with a spiritual or ceremonial purpose.
  • BALLET - Classical or formal tradition, highly theatrical and stylized.
  • MODERN - 20th c. American form, improvised, spontaneous, and uninhibited.
  • JAZZ - Origin in African forms and rhythms, evolved to modern American style.
  • HIP-HOP - Vernacular dance style that emerged with breakdancing in New York and funk styles in California in the late 1970s.

Folk dance is ethnically or culturally specific, and is usually performed to traditional music. It serves to reinforce the cultures and traditions of specific ethnic in-groups.

Pierre Chasselat - Fandango (1814)
Examples of folk dance include the Fandango (Spain), Square Dance (England), Polka (Czech Republic), Baile Folklorico (Latin America), Csárdás (Hungary), and many others.

Mesilla, New Mexico Dancers
Baile Folklorico - Latin America)
Folk dance differs from ritual dance in that it is primarily social in function, and is often used in the service of courtship, that of courting a potential partner.
The Csárdás - Hungarian Folk Dance

Ritual Dance describes dances specific to various world cultures that have a primary purpose of spirituality or ceremony. "Among the dances classified as 'world' there exist dances based in ritual - dances having ceremonial functions, formal characteristics, and particular prescribed procedures - that pass from generation to generation". ("Reality Through the Arts" p. 179)

 Traditional Indian Dance Pose
Ritual Dance has similarities to Folk Dance, yet there are important differences. Ritual Dance is often (not always) performed solo, and is ritual or ceremonial in style. Folk Dance, on the other hand, is usually performed as a couple or group, and is social in nature.
Sama Dance - Sufism (Istanbul, Turkey)

Examples of Ritual Dance include Balinese Dance (Indonesia), Danza de Los Voladores (Latin America), Ghost Dance (Native American), Sama (Sufi "Whirling Dervishes"), and many others.  

Indian Classical Dance
Ballet Dancer On Point
 Ballet is a highly choreographed dance form that originated in the Renaissance courts of 15th century Italy, and was consequently developed as a performance genre in France and Russia.
 The Five Basic Ballet positions (lt. to rt.):
First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth

 "The basic principle in ballet is 'the reduction of human gesture to bare essentials, heightened and developed into meaningful patterns'." ("Reality Through the Arts" p. 179)

Tchaikovsky - Nutcracker Ballet (Dance of the Mirlitons)
Contemporary ballet blends traditional choreography with other dance genres, such as modern, hip-hop, and folk. 
Contemporary Ballet Choreography

Modern Dance describes a broad category of contemporary improvised movement techniques. It "is a label given to a broad variety of highly individualized dance works beginning in the twentieth century (that) began as a revolt against the stylized and tradition-bound elements of ballet". ("Reality Through the Arts" p. 179) Dance classes that began to be offered as a form of physical fitness in the late 19th century also helped to inspire the movement.
Isadora Duncan - Modern Dance Pioneer
Isadora Duncan, inspired by classical Greek antiquity and modern athleticism, focused on natural movement in her development of aesthetic dance, the forerunner to modern dance.

Isadora Duncan Dancers
Beginning in the 1920s, American dancer and choreographer Martha Graham developed modern dance in earnest as a counterpoint to the prevailing style of ballet.
Martha Graham - Appalachian Spring, 1944
Merce Cunningham, who was a student of Martha Graham, further developed modern dance through the use of chance elements and collaborative projects with experimental musicians and artists.

Merce Cunningham - Beach Birds 1

Jazz dance, like jazz music, is a hybrid form that blends elements of traditional African dance with improvisation and movements based in American tradition. It arose spontaneously alongside jazz music spreading out from New Orleans, Harlem, both centers of African-American culture.
Katherine Dunham (1956)
It was pioneered to mainstream culture by dancer and anthropologist Katherine Dunham (1909-2006) who adapted Afro-Caribbean movements to American jazz music in film.

Katherine Dunham - Star Spangled Rhythm, 1942 

At its root, jazz dance was vernacular, which means it was centered in everyday life, through styles such as the Lindy Hop and the Shag. Early depictions in film, though sometimes steretypical in racial characterizations, also exposed jazz dance to a larger audience.

Lindy Hop sequence from "Helzapoppin" (1941)
By the 1960s, jazz dance moved from a vernacular style to a theatre based performance style, with dancers trained according to specific techniques. With the emergence of MTV and music videos in the 1980s, techniques from jazz dance such as corps de ballet, or group choreography following a lead dancer, evolved.

Michael Jackson - Beat It, 1982

Break Dancing - El Paso
Hip-Hop is a cultural movement that originated in the African-American and Puerto Rican communities of the Bronx, New York. It included various types of performance, such as breakdancing, fashion, graffiti / street art, rap music, and film. Breakdancing is one aspect of Hip-Hop culture, that fused with the funk styles of music and dance that emerged in California.

In its earliest form, it can be traced back to the James Brown song Get On The Good Foot, which served as an inspiration, and on to DJ Kool Herc, who invented the turntable break beat, and interlude of extended instrumental beats on vinyl, to showcase dancers at his parties.
 Hip Hop Moves (clockwise from top left):
Toprock, Freeze, Power Move, Downrock

Early hip-hop culture featured breakdancing, with moves such as toprock (standing foot movement), downrock (foot movement while on the floor), freezes (still poses), and power moves (acrobatic floor routines). See if you can spot these moves in this early hip-hop dance video.

  All dance forms make use of formalized movement, from the heavily choreographed Ballet, to the highly improvised modern. The choreographer is the person responsible for planning the repetitive movements and  interactions of dancers, whether solo or in groups.

Corps de ballet refers to the entire group of dancers who are not soloists.

 British dance company Jazz Exchange
Dance is a highly individual and ancient form of expressive movement that has developed in numerous genres throughout world history. It reflects identity on many levels: ethnic, cultural, national, and religious.

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