Books/DVDs: Shine a Light

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


Technique
Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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