Music for Class: Clear and Concise

Electronic music for advanced students new to contemporary improvisation

Bell leading an improvisation at the Movement Invention Project

Watching Sidra Bell’s work is like entering a mysterious couture circus. Her strikingly costumed dancers isolate body parts like puppets within her highly designed movement. But what appears complex actually stems from clarity. “Simple movement really shows who a dancer is and allows it to speak to many different kinds of people,” says Bell, who sets work on college and high school dancers across the U.S. as artistic director of Sidra Bell Dance New York.

Most of her work is created using aspects of improvisation—a heavy focus in her classes in New York at Peridance Capezio Center, the Joffrey Ballet School and the Movement Invention Project. “Improvisation is really just an exploration further connecting you to dance,” says Bell, who trained at the Dance Theatre of Harlem School, The Ailey School and Purchase College. “I want my students to find something new about their dancing that they can take away and apply to other work.”

Though they’re technically advanced, many of her students in these pre-professional programs have little experience with improv, so for Bell, the simpler, the better. “Dancers tend to want to make ‘the best thing ever,’ so I give them a task. If it’s about keeping a point connected to another person, then it’s literally just about that,” she says, suggesting that newcomers break down the body into separate explorations. “Improvisation isn’t about making a masterpiece. It’s about understanding yourself and becoming content with who you are.” DT

 

Artist: Senking

Album: List

“This is simultaneously ambient and rhythmic. I use music as a stimulant and never turn it off, so that it becomes an environment to support the dance instead of us dancing to it. Sometimes we’re responding to the audio and sometimes we’re not.”

Artist: The Knife

“My class usually parallels what’s happening in rehearsals with my company. This is provocative and a bit avant-garde. It’s really fun and very dance-driven. I’m always looking for new ways to respond to music. New music inspires new movement invention.”

Artist: Boards of Canada

“This is probably the quirkiest of these music suggestions. I was really into it when I first delved into electronic music. It has lyrics, but it’s not as pop-driven and it brings out a theatrical quality. I like things that feel very cinematic and theatrical.”

Artist: Slugabed

“This has a dirty, grimy, almost hip-hop–inspired feeling, and it really evokes different movement qualities from the dancers. I use this toward the end of class to drive the work a bit more. It has more direction than the music we use earlier, making the dancers hit the movement a little harder and become more grounded.”

 

Photo: Bell leading an improvisation at the Movement Invention Project, by Jubal Battisti, courtesy of the Movement Invention Project

Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

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