Much Ado About Music
Modern dance master Mark Morris has said of his choreography, “Every dance ever is because of the music.” Indeed, who can imagine Morris’ vivaciousL’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato set to anything but George Frideric Handel’s exultant score? Music is vital for choreographers in any genre. Here, DS talks to five emerging modern dancemakers about the importance of music to their work and how they find a piece that’s right on pitch.
Jonathan Riedel, founder of Riedel Dance Theater, spent 10 years with the José Limón Dance Company, performing works by modern dance legends including Limón and Doris Humphrey. Riedel’s choreography brings both drama and humor to the stage.
What he’s looking for in music: “I lean toward classical music because it has a lot of room for me to bring my meaning to it. My piece The Divine Comedy was inspired by Dante’s Inferno, and I set it to Chopin’s Nocturnes. The choreography is twisted, tormented and emotional. I didn’t want music that had a strict pulse that would constrict the movement.”
Where he finds music: “I love Rhapsody [an online music catalog and downloading site similar to iTunes]. Sometimes I don’t know exactly what artist I’m going to use, but I know what time period or sound I want, so I go through the genres on Rhapsody, and I usually land on something I like.”
Jonathan’s Fave Music
- Emerson String Quartet
- Vampire Weekend
- The White Stripes
- Nine Inch Nails
Nelly van Bommel
Nelly van Bommel, a native of France, choreographs for ballet and modern dance companies, including Ballet Austin, CorbinDances and Springboard Danse Montréal. She formed her own company, NØA Dance, in 2004. Her work focuses on the human experience and ranges from intensely emotional to quirky and fun.
The relationship between music and movement: “I usually don’t choreograph to the note. The movement comes in and out of the music. I work in silence for a long time. Then I bring a few music selections to the studio and try out some movement to them. Once I’m set on the music, I rework the choreography toward the new tone, feel and texture that the music brings—or lacks.”
Where she finds music: “I have a large personal library of music that I listen to. I see a lot of concerts—classical, jazz, world, pop, everything—in small and big venues. I also share my life with a musician who keeps me informed about great new recordings.”
Nelly’s Fave Music
- Anything sung by German countertenor Andreas Scholl
- Traditional folk music, especially polyphonic music, like the French group Lo Còr de la Plana
- Arias from Italian opera, particularly those by Verdi, Puccini and Rossini
- 1980s tunes
Kristen Klein’s ballet background influences her contemporary modern choreography, which she creates for her company, Inclined Dance Project. Klein has a fluid and sensual style and her works play with rhythm and props.
What she’s looking for in music: “I look for something that has a steady beat. I like high-energy dancing, so I want music to match. I normally don’t start choreographing until I find music that speaks to me in some way—it’s hard for me to start working without music in mind. I think music and dance should go hand in hand. It makes it more enjoyable for the audience.”
Where she finds music: “I use Pandora. You choose an artist you like and then Pandora comes up with a bunch of artists who are similar but also have different qualities.”
Kristen’s Fave Bands
- Animal Collective
- Modest Mouse
- TV on the Radio
- The Beatles
Richard Move is best known as the co-producer ofMartha@Mother, a long-running dance cabaret series that featured Move impersonating modern dance pioneer Martha Graham. He has choreographed pieces for Mikhail Baryshnikov, the Martha Graham Dance Company and Paradigm. Move frequently collaborates with visual artist Charles Atlas and writer Hilton Als. And he often mixes his own scores, as he did for Lamentation Variation, his take on Martha Graham’s famous work.
The relationship between music and movement: “I like the way Martha Graham used music. Sometimes she would be right on it—the music goes up so the dancer goes up. But then there would be moments in her ballets where it was almost cinematic. She used music to set the mood; she wasn’t gesturing on a specific sound, she was just passing through it.”
Creating his own music: “For Lamentation Variation, I wanted to achieve the haunting sense of an old record playing, so I took a very short snippet of Mozart and stretched it out and slowed it down digitally to make a few measures into four minutes. It has a ghostly quality and a feeling of grief.”
Richard’s Fave Music
- Antony and the Johnsons
- Lady Gaga
- Samuel Barber
Samar Haddad King
Palestinian-Jordanian-American Samar Haddad King grew up in Alabama and has studied modern dance with Kazuko Kabayashi, a former Graham dancer, and Helen Pickett, a former lead dancer with William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt. In 2005, she formed her own company, Yaa Samar! Dance Theatre. She was one of three winners of Hubbard Street Dance Center’s 2010 National Choreographic Competition.
What she’s looking for in music: “I come from a musical background. I studied piano and was in choir when I was young and I can read music. So when I’m looking for music to choreograph to, if I can get my hands on scores, I do. In music that is layered—polyrhythmic, with many instruments or varying meter—there are dominant beats, notes or melodies. I find that I can fall into the trap of focusing on one layer and dismissing the rest. Sometimes seeing the score gets me out of that.”
Where she finds music: “If I’m looking for a specific sound, I’ll Google it, like ‘electronic strings classical.’ ”
Samar’s Fave Music
- Bob Dylan
- Zoë Keating
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
Summer intensive auditions can be nerve-racking. A panel of directors is watching your every move, and you're not even sure if you can be seen among the hundreds of other dancers in the room. We asked five summer intensive directors for their input on how dancers can make a positive impression—and even be remembered next year.
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.
We always love a good halftime performance. And we LIVE for halftime performances involving talented kids. (Fingers and toes crossed that Justin Timberlake follows Missy Elliott's lead and invites some fabulous littles to share his Super Bowl stage.)
So obviously, our hearts completely melted for 5-year-old Tavaris Jones. Tavaris may have just started kindergarten, but during Monday night's game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, the Detroit native danced with the panache of a veteran pro at halftime.