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Paris Performance Calendar

Wanted: A five-points-on-a-post-it-note guide to enjoying live dance performance [by Tracy Danison]

1_LAveuglement_MyleneBenoit_PhotoPatrickBerger
As this scene from "L'Aveuglement" ("Blindness") dance performance by Mylene Benoit reminds us, live dance performance is exciting and important. But spectators need access – initiation and apprenticeship – to fully enjoy and appreciate it over the long term. Participate in putting together a "(Mortimer J. Adler Memorial) Five-points-on-a-post-it-note guide to enjoying live dance performance". Photo © Patrick Berger


One of those “dramatic-moments” videos opened the National Dance Theater’s 22-23 season presentation. These days, everybody does one: it’s supposed to get your pulse racing.

This one made me reflect that while enjoying live performance-dance requires your initiation, apprenticeship and time, this video-stuff requires only your time.

Only your time because, whatever the intention behind it, video’s light-flicker technology appeals directly and insistently to a very hopped-up predator brain that has evolved to focus on movement – falling, leaping, undulating, surging: apples, wolves, butts, enemies.

Our physiological-psychology means that whatever the artistic intention behind a video, the medium is always the message: your brain initiates and apprentices whether you enjoy the intention or not.

Nowadays, every kid initiates and apprentices video at birth, for life.

On the other hand, the medium of live dance performance is not reflex but a process of cognition and perception that ranges around “expectation”, “puzzling”, “patterning”, “recognition”. A real-time action flow, a uniquely individualized, nonverbal and naturally ephemeral, repertory along with a spectator’s need to engage, means that, it takes a relatively long time to initiate then apprentice to it. Think of poker or chess or other card or board games. Nobody learns them in a day and it takes quite a while to recognize a good game, let alone become a good player.

Figuring out a method to initiate and apprentice a potential spectator-participant is not important because video otherwise “out-competes” live dance performance, but because the art forms are two different natures. I know this seems obvious: everybody knows that a painting of a thing is not the thing painted. And, mostly, that is interesting. But it doesn’t matter much.

When it comes to real experience of people, there is no substitute: the “metaverse” is just another experience, not experience.  And, when it comes to experience of live dance performance, indeed, experience of any movement art, the medium as a medium changes it, fundamentally. Kiss a video representation of your sweetheart. Some kiss, eh? So it is that when you watch a “dance performance video” you are not experiencing recorded dance performance but a recording.

So I am not making a plea for an obsolete art form: most dance performance lays ahead of us. My concern is movement.

Dance performance is the artistic expression of the natural phenomenon of movement. I believe that dance is something like an intentional concatenation of “happening, and sensibility that enables Imagination”. Imagination – the state beyond words where truths no longer hold – is what the spectator-participant should get from dance. Rûmî’s Poem of the Atomssays about dance what I’m trying to say:

 

Rise, Sun !

The atoms dance !

Souls undone in ecstasy dance !

I’ll whisper it, what the dance comes to.

The atoms in the air and the atoms in the desert,

You should know, the atoms are like crazy folk,

Each one, happy or poor, each

Crazy for the Sun, of whom nothing can be said.

 

Dance, friends! Without Imagination, forgetting we are atoms swirling, without getting in front of that sun, we are lost! Forever.

It is only through Imagination we’re going to get out of the existential mess we are in. And, that, in a nutshell, is why it is important in my view to figure out ways to initiate and apprentice people to dance performance (see my essays: Movement, Life, Dance-nature and the value in Dance-practice & On the value of being there with: Dance, the “art” of movement & The return of the mountebanks to Paris: the imperative pleasure of live performance.)

In a long, very enlightening, conversation, choreographer Mylène Benoît argued that dance performance should be part of school curriculum, like reading and writing (see : Water and bread, not wine and cake: choreographer Mylène Benoît speaks up for dance). She’s right, of course.

But in the same way that having your letters won’t make you functionally literate, knowing how to execute a pas de bourrée and a pirouette won’t make you a dancer or a dance performance spectator.

For reading, as for dance performance, initiation and apprenticeship are key to skill acquisition and, in the end, key to enjoying the full fruits of appreciation. Just for starters, each experience acquires a moment, a link with the wide world: Rûmî’s poems in a love letter, Trollope’s novels at a back table of the Café Med in Berkeley or advertising on the internet, Fabrice Ramalingon’s choreographies of pure feeling in the playground intimacy of Atelier de Paris or Nathalie Béasse’sperformance theatricals in the crowd and warmth of Théâtre de la Bastille or the Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris dancing choreographer Mats Ek’s Carmen under a ceiling painted by Marc Chagall …

To initiate and apprentice readers, reading teachers use many different learning methods around a few simple keys – interestingly, most of the keys don’t actually fit the door – and apply them to a wide variety of material. Dance performance lovers need to do the same?

Remember Mortimer J. Adler, the guy who boiled up a “Western Philosophy” with six component authors? He may have had a too-broad target and a tendentious point of view, but Mortimer J. had the right idea. He saw that democratizing higher education required tools of initiation and apprenticeship, so, in addition to his philosophy stuff, he wrote How to Read a Book, a  guide to effective reading.

I believe the movement arts could use a little Mortimer J. Adler Thought: A (very, very) abbreviated, five-points-on-a-post-it-note, How to initiate and apprentice yourself to live dance-performance – an incompletely essential guide to eventually appreciating it.  So, over the next year or so, for every live dance-performance I go to, I’m going to do a limited survey. After each performance I will ask a. the person next to me or b. the piece’s creator or c. one of its performers or d. technical partners (lights, costumes, electricians, musicians) to tell me the three or five things a spectator needs to see or hear to have enjoyed or not what we just saw. I’ve made up an interview protocol for it, described just below.

Join me in the search for a five-points-on-a-post-it-note guide to enjoying live dance performance

See a live dance performance – it doesn’t really matter what. Use the interview protocol to prepare yourself and record your results. You can even interview yourself.

Post your three to five “keys” or “dance performance access points” in the commentary to this article or send them by mail to MJA.danceperformance.guide@gmail.com . Add the name of the performance and the date you saw it, along with a link to the summary and details of the performance.

Just a caution. Most people, most of the time, will respond with value judgments that justify liking or disliking what they have seen. They’ll cite “good dancing” or “wonderful music” or even tell you their critical theory or even meet your simple request with incredulity. As in life generally, it’s hard to get useable answers.

Make sure the things or events named by the interviewee appear, are seeable or hearable by a third party, at least once during the performance. Also, make sure the interviewee concretely locates the things or events named in the performance rollout. Finally, it’s a good idea to interview yourself before you interview somebody else. Not only will it help to better spot what you’re looking for but also help you take some distance from the interviewee’s propos.

Interview protocol

“Five-points-of access-on-a-post-it-note, how to initiate and apprentice to live dance-performance”

Argument:

“I would like to have the ‘keys’ or ‘points of access’ to this performance. In the order they happened or appeared, could you help me by naming the three or five important things or events that made it enjoyable or not enjoyable for you? This will take us from half to a full hour.”

For each thing or event named, four “clauses” in one response entry:

“In the order they happened in the dance performance, could you A. name the three or five things or events that you think of as keys or access points to this performance? Can you B. place each one during the performance? Can you say why each one was C. important to the success of the performance (Or: C. what role did it have in the performance rollout) ? Can you D. rate each one’s importance on a scale from one to nine?”

  1. A. (Put a name on the thing or event.) What was the (first, second, third, fourth or fifth) thing or event that you saw or that happened?
  2. B.(Locate the thing or event.) Where did the thing or event named happen in the performance or what was happening on stage when the important thing or event happened?
  3. C. (What role did the thing or event have in the performance/choreography?) What did the thing or event do for the performance? How did the thing or event affect the performance?
  4. D. (What importance for you?) On a scale of one to nine (1-9), how would you rate the importance of this thing or event for accessing or enjoying the performance?

Example: response entry 

A.) A silent & dark stage, B.) just at the beginning and lasts about a minute until the room seems restless C.) and we feel like we’re part of the space but D.) if it didn’t happen I would have still enjoyed it, but it added, rate it a four.

Example: full interview note

"Atom Dance", performance by Mortimer B. Adler, 8 pm, 26 september 2022, https://atomicrumonics.mba.org

  1.  A silent & dark stage, just at the beginning, about a minute into the darkness when the room seems restless – establishes experiential space – Importance 4;
  2. Noise – some weird music comes in when the guy in the violet tights on the left jumps on to the platform. Noise links the rhythm of the experiential space to performers and to choreographer – Importance 5;
  3. Controlled physical contacts, when the sound changes about 10 minutes into the performance and all the performers suddenly join hands in a rosette then separate and join in smaller groups… – physical contact establishes relationships and relationship languages – Importance 8;
  4. A main person, at the end of the personal contacts about 10 minutes into the show, the short girl with the Afro stepped into center stage – a main person makes a point of view, a story to watch – Importance 8;
  5. A people story, the girl with the Afro danced with all the other performers for about three minutes stage left near the flowers – a story establishes sense, I can’t see something unless it seems to go someplace. A story goes someplace – Importance 9.

Follow-up questions and comments: Avoid commenting on anything said in the interview. A response may intrigue you. Ask a follow-up only once you’ve finished the interview and stay focused on the interview: “In point five, you say “a people story” is important. In this performance, what was the people story for you?” 

Post your three to five “keys” or “dance performance access points” in the commentary to this article or send them by mail to MJA.danceperformance.guide@gmail.com . Add the name of the performance and the date you saw it, along with a link to the summary and details of the performance.


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