Books/DVDs: Shine a Light

Posted on February 9, 2010 by

Split Sides
By The Merce Cunningham
Dance Company
Cunningham Dance Foundation and ARTPIX
In a nutshell: The Merce Cunningham Dance Company performs Split Sides (2003).

This two-hour DVD set captures the 45th and 46th performances of the late Merce Cunningham’s Split Sides (2003). Known for implementing chance operations to create dance, the iconic modern choreographer rolls dice just before each featured work to determine the set design, costumes, lighting, music, choreography and order in which these elements appear. While there are 32 possible combinations of performances for this dance, this two-disc DVD presents four showings that allow viewers the option to alternate between the original Radiohead and Sigur Rós soundtracks, or watch it in silence. Also featured are set designs by Robert Heishman and Catherine Yass, costumes by James Hall and lighting by James F. Ingalls. Filmmaker Charles Atlas beautifully captures the two chance-determined pieces—each split into two 20-minute sections—in this DVD that will captivate modern dance enthusiasts. —JT

Martha Hill & the Making of American Dance
By Janet Mansfield Soares
Wesleyan University Press
In a nutshell: A lively portrait of Martha Hill’s formative role in modern dance in the United States.

Martha Hill’s story as a catalyst in the development of American contemporary dance is often overshadowed by the likes of Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey. But author Janet Mansfield Soares does justice to the often unsung heroine by shedding light on her struggles and dedication to turning the artform into a serious area of study. In nine chapters, the author chronicles pinnacle moments in this modern missionary’s life, from “Growing Up in Ohio 1900–1922” to “Dancing with Graham 1929–1931” to “Plans for Lincoln Square 1955–1956,” along with her influence on the Juilliard School and the American Dance Festival. Amid the historical backdrop, Soares, a longtime student of Hill’s, reveals Hill’s deep regret of abandoning a performance career, among other secrets she worked hard to conceal from the public. “I am a product of my experiences,” Hill told Soares on sharing private information for this biography. “My life within its social context is an interesting story.” —Erin K. Dean


New Dance: Writings on Modern Dance

By Doris Humphrey
Princeton Book Company, Publishers
In a nutshell: A glimpse inside the mind of Doris Humphrey.

In this short, 132-page book, Doris Humphrey reflects on her perception of modern dance through a collection of never-before-seen notes, essays and lectures. She explains her philosophies of the moving body, composition and teaching dance, and details the application of her theories to choreography, discussing methods used to teach space, rhythm and design. The modern dance pioneer also gives advice on choosing subject matter, accomplishing projection and rejecting isolation and egocentricity to carry on the work; she addresses such questions as: “Do you love to dance?” “Do you love to see someone else moving according to your dream?” and “How do you convey the meaning or the mood of what you are doing to the best possible advantage to the people who are in front of you?” The book’s first part, “Principles,” presents Humphrey’s personal worldview in relation to dance, and part two, “Notes on Dances,” chronicles her creative process for 42 works, including masterpieces like Water Study, New Dance and Passacaglia in C Minor. —Jenny Thompson

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