Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Experiencing Modern Art

September 7th, 2010 · 1 Comment

As most of the group made their plans to attend Notting Hill Carnival, I was feeling a little tired of crowds. I like cities, but in moderation, and after about a week in London I did not feel up to spending an afternoon shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers. So I decided to go over to the Tate Modern, which I had been curious about since our arrival.

The Tate was a mixed experience. I enjoy certain modern art, but usually only when it portrays something relatively concrete, and when I can still see the artist’s method.  I love looking at post-impressionist art from the beginning of the twentieth century, but I feel less inspired when it comes to newer “modern” art. So I had trouble connecting with the majority of what the Tate had on display, which fell into a more abstract category.  Still, the museum managed to hold my attention throughout, partially, I think, because of the layout: I never knew what I would find in the next room.

When I was nearly ready to leave the museum, I walked out into the hallway between the exhibits, in which big glass windows overlook a central lobby area.  Visitors were gathered around the windows, looking down at something.  I found an opening between the masses of onlookers, and down through the window myself.  I saw that the floor of an enormous space in the lobby that had been empty earlier in the afternoon was now covered in black and white shapes, arranged like an abstract painting.

I went downstairs and made my way through the crowd to get a better view.  I discovered that the installation was actually an enormous stage for a modern dance performance, and I was lucky enough to find a seat near the perimeter.   Upwards of fifty dancers moved across the stage dressed in black and white, to expertly blended electronic and rock music.  I noticed however that while the dancers who were featured were clearly professionally trained, and mesmerizing to watch (one stood on her head with only one hand on a ballet barre for support while moving her feet through the air perfectly in time to the music), others who moved in large groups performed only simple dance steps.

I later looked up the performance on the Tate Modern’s website to learn more.  I found out that Michael Clark, the choreographer included seventy-five non-dancers in the performance (while also including his dance company- responsible for the acrobatics).  This explained the disparity in skill level within the performance, but I still marvel at how small an impression that disparity made on me at the time.  The parts of the dance that included the non-dancers were beautiful because of the sheer number of individuals moving in unison, so I was able to gloss over (I guess as Clark intended) any roughness in the individual dancers’ movement.

I still question however, why Clark would make the effort to train non-dancers, when more dancers (who I assume he could find) could have performed the same piece with greater grace and fewer rehearsals.  I guess the aims of modern art and explains how the dance performance fits with the Tate Modern’s collection.  Modern art consistently challenges whatever conventions come before.  When we look at works of art in the Tate Modern, we ask ourselves (among other questions like, what’s a black square on a canvas doing in a museum?)  whether the ideas behind them are original.  So following a long tradition of ‘challenging,’ Clark challenged the convention that only highly trained dancers should perform in a large scale, professional level performance.  There’s nothing more modern than that.

Dance Performance (personal photo)

Tags: 2010 Emily · Uncategorized

A Conversation with your Feet

August 30th, 2009 · No Comments

After sitting in Regent Park for a couple of hours of classroom discussion I was ready to get out and move.  All weekend at the National Theater “Watch this Space” was hosting a dance event, and so I threw on my leggings and I was off. Upon arriving there was a jive performance going on.  There were people young and old, of all races intermingling and uniting all in one song, in one movement.  Because I went by myself I didn’t get to dance, but I was immediately pulled into the vibe and the motion.  There were people who were prepared for the dance, with their dancing shoes on. As the music ended they began to set up for a modern dance performance.  I grabbed a mat right up front and waited for the show to start.

Over the past two years I have had the opportunity to view many types of dance ranging from modern, to contemporary, to hip-hop, to classical ballet, so I felt I was pretty well prepared to view the piece.  Although StopGap describe themselves as, “modern, vintage “Britishness”, humor, and eccentric humor.” There are very slight distinctions between contemporary/modern/post-modern, and I personally think that the differences are more of an individual opinion.  ChocksAway incorporated audience interaction, improvisation, talking, and some synchronized movements.  It was similar to other modern pieces I have seen in the past, but it’s always a wonderful opportunity to see free, new choreography. After the StopGap performance I wandered around the National Theater and enjoyed some photography.  There was an exhibit focusing on the 2008 Summer Olympics as a preparation for the 2012 games.

StopGap performing ChocksAway

Later that evening I returned to the National Theater, but this time with dancing partners.  I had too much trouble standing still while everyone around me was moving and so we were ready for our tango lesson.  I had taken a tango class a few years back, but I didn’t remember anything so we were all starting fresh.  (And for the first time I didn’t have to lead!) I was thrilled that everyone seemed to enjoy him or herself, because for most of our group this was their first experience in a real dance environment.

For me dance isn’t just about the steps, but it’s about the conversation with ones dance partner.  It’s about a connection with your body, and for many in a dance like the tango, or salsa, or jive it’s is a connection with your partner’s body too.  I love the joy and the satisfaction that comes with the beat and the rhythm, and just the movement of the body.  I am filled with excitement every time I interact with dance, or see dance.  I am looking forward to seeing what other dance opportunities this city has to offer.

Tags: Amanda