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Monday, May 29, 2023


Contemporary dance a cerebral art

In our multimedia-saturated world where we are spoiled with electronics and gizmos galore, we think of entertainment as a form of relaxation that requires little thought. No imagination is required within our culture when engaging in amusement. One can witness the excess garbage of reality television as a passive hobby without any stimulation whatsoever.

This can also be applied to viewing contemporary performances. Within the eclectic boiling pot of modern dance, we have come to realize a wide range of among within contemporary choreographers and movement vocabulary.

Unfortunately, modern dance has recently been slandered from a public perspective as the art form that leaves audiences yawning and scratching their heads upon leaving the theatre. However, UH dance director Karen Stokes recently organized an interactive performance utilizing her company, Travesty Dance Group, in an effort to aid the modern-age dance viewer in analyzing contemporary performances.

Throughout the performance she displayed various movement examples of modern dance plot structures. Stokes also discussed several perceptions of viewing the aesthetics within modern dance, along with principles that can be applied to any medium.

The performance started with the most practical and familiar type of structure to the audience: narrative structured movement. To illustrate this form, Travesty Dance Group performed two short clips, "Cinder Snaps" and "Shall We?", illustrating the basic storyline theme utilized by numerous classical choreographers. This is an idea where events are linked together in progressing order, including the introduction of characters, rising events, a climax and a resolution (or lack thereof).

This story-like plot displays an "easy beauty" aesthetic, one in which the theme of the story is literal and easily accessible by the audience.

Following the narrative in ascending order of abstraction was the creation of the plot. For this concept, Travesty Dance Group called upon their "Bayou" piece, which consisted of a more vague and less literal plot.

Rather than direct events in sequential order, the dancers recited text and engaged in random activities surrounding the central theme without directly exposing it, thus increasing the degree of audience interaction to utilize their intellect, and analyze the gesture and movement displayed.

The show finished with "Green," displaying "hard beauty," where the plot of the story was indistinct, leaving the audience members to interpret the movement and compile their own meaning of the aesthetic. The piece opened with a rhythmic statement of hand beats and ant-like formations, complete with striped neon costuming. My initial perception was that behind the movement was nature’s day-to-day process, complete with ants and insects. I feel that the audience responded better to the "Green" piece when they were more informed with the information displayed in the first half of the performance.

When evaluating different works and compositions within or outside of dance, often times many viewers catch themselves trying to find the "correct" intent behind the piece. That is, in essence, the handicap of our current society, especially within the arts. Audience members too often compare their perceptions to others in order to come to some resolve, a resolution to the "riddle" of modern dance. As long as the components within a piece are consistently relating or ignoring the theme, the essence, then the piece is successful.

When assessing different works, giving thought to the association and relationships that are presented on stage may be beneficial to audience members as a whole. Many audience members come to dance performances wanting amazing stunts and elegant lines, whatever is considered classically pretty and strong.

They in turn, however, receive movement that requires one to see through the physical aesthetic and serves as hidden clues that hint to the central theme. As opposed to other entertainment devices, contemporary art invites one to think and consider many possibilities and interpretations.

Baerga, a communication junior, can be reached via [email protected].

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