Pacific Northwest Ballet's Leta Biasucci dancing in a rainforest. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet
To create a multimedia piece that premiered at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in 2014, choreographer Andrew Bartee filmed Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers performing in vastly different surroundings, all within Olympic National Park. While dancing in a rainforest, on a snow-covered mountaintop and along a pebbly beach—all during the making of one project—may seem extreme, dancers don't have to travel far to encounter the challenges of unfamiliar settings.
Whether on pavement, under blinding sunlight, on a chilly outdoor stage or at high elevation, students need your help to meet environmental challenges with confidence. Dancers and choreographers who have performed in atypical settings shared their best tips with Dance Teacher.
Koma (left) and Eiko in 1993. Photo by Philip Trager, courtesy of the photographer
Eiko Otake and Takashi Koma Otake are interdisciplinary performance artists from Japan who have been creating work together since 1972. Although they don't consider their work butoh—a Japanese performance art recognizable for its intensity, control and heavy white makeup—their creative aesthetic is strongly influenced by it. The work is distinctive for its extremely slow, minimalistic movement and their collaborative, hands-on approach to every aspect, from movement to costumes to sets.
A moment of repose—as an audience member looks on—in Thorson's five-hour Still Life. Photo by Val Oliveiro, courtesy of Thorson
Dancing in choreographer Morgan Thorson's latest project is more than a little like running a marathon. In the summer of 2015, Thorson created Still Life, a five-hour, live installation dance at the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis. Nineteen dancers took turns performing in a public gallery space four days a week for three months. “I unconsciously seek extreme physical states," says Thorson. “That's fueled my choreography—to create situations that create those extreme states." It all makes sense when you consider her background: the discipline of serious ballet study mixed with the competition and rigor of sports (she played lacrosse and did swimming and diving), and a healthy dose of New York downtown dance thrown in for good measure. This month, she'll resurrect Still Life—with a couple of new twists—at the American Dance Institute's 160-seat theater in Rockville, Maryland.
The Boulder, Colorado–based company Lemon Sponge Cake Contemporary Ballet premieres a new site-specific work on September 17. Choreographed by artistic director Robert Sher-Machherndl, White Fields is a 55-minute work that aims to generate dialogue about gun violence. It will be performed at Holiday Park in Boulder at 8 pm. The performance is free and open to the public. Lemonspongecake.org
Lemon Sponge Cake dancers in Bach 260
Photo by David Andrews, courtesy of Lemon Sponge Cake Contemporary Ballet
One of today’s popular dance film techniques is to show the same choreography in multiple settings, as the viewer switches seamlessly among them. It’s a simple camera trick, but each site lends its own tone to the performance and draws out different nuances of the choreography. And if it’s done well, the location changes create an original story that doesn’t exist in the movement alone.
In Shift, a new film directed by Patrick Ryder and London-based choreographer Del Mak, the dancer (Renako McDonald) is aware of the location changes and even seems to be intentionally teleporting away from the drudgery of his desk job to dance in a park, on a plaza and in the shadows of city landmarks.
In Cylindrical Shadows, featuring dancers from Pacific Northwest Ballet, the location changes are more abstract, used to create a mood that fluctuates between the melancholy of dusty railroad tracks and the tranquility of shady gardens.