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Dance in France: A Look at Charles Weidman’s Influence on Contemporary Dance Today

This past spring, the Charles Weidman Dance Foundation had the pleasure of supplying video footage of Charles Weidman’s Lynchtown to the Centre National de Danse Contemporaine (CNDC) in Angers, France. The video footage was included in the Dance is a Weapon NDG 1932/1955 exhibit in the lobby of the Le Quai performance space from May 16 to June 17 and was free to the public. Julia Jurgilewicz, Charles Weidman Dance Foundation’s administrative assistant, and Weidman Dance alumna Claire Westby, happened to be performing at Le Quai on May 19th with Liz Gerring Dance Company and were able to stop by the exhibit. Julia recounts her tour experience, from exploring the Loire valley to taking Cunningham class at the CNDC with Robert Swinston, and visiting the Dance is a Weapon exhibit:

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“Dance is a Weapon” exhibit.

 

Getting to Angers, France was an adventure in itself. I was able to dust off my French to change some of the dancers’ train tickets to stay in Paris for a few hours. We locked up our bags at the station, then walked along the Seine river, saw the Eiffel Tower, and got a delicious Parisian breakfast. The train to Angers yielded picturesque views of French countryside chock-full of roaming cows, ancient stone houses, and rolling hills.

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The Eiffel Tower on our first, cloudy morning in Europe.

Angers itself is a quaint town complete with the glorious Cathédrale d’Angers, the sturdy 13th century Château Angers, and the steady Maine river which clips the town in two. We were fortunate enough to have the first few days off to explore the Loire valley. We took a long van ride through ancient villages to the town of Saumur where we saw the fantastical Château de Saumur and explored and ate lunch at the sprawling Château Villandry.

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Cathedral d’Angers

View from across the river Maine.

View from across the river Maine.

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The grounds at Chateau Villandry.

So far this trip sounds more like a fairy tale than the sometimes grueling, hard work of a dance company’s tour, but we were not without our sweaty rehearsals and long soaks in baths. Liz Gerring Dance Company is an extremely athletic company that allows its dancers to focus on strength and endurance. The company explores non-narrative movement derived from pedestrian gesture and athletic training. The hour-long work we were performing in Angers, Horizon, is a feat of of just that, or as Robert Johnson of New Jersey Arts put it, Horizon “is a dance for heroes.” 

The Liz Gerring Dance company in residency for Horizon. Photo by Miguel Anaya.

The Liz Gerring Dance Company in residency for Horizon. Photo by Miguel Anaya.

Before rehearsals, we had the pleasure of taking Cunningham class from Robert Swinston alongside his company’s dancers. Swinston was appointed the artistic director of the CNDC Angers in 2013, where he teaches Cunningham class, re-stages Cunningham’s dances, and creates his own works. Liz Gerring Dance Company and Swinston’s company were able to show-and-tell their dances in the studio and hang out after rehearsals to compare living and dancing in Paris and NYC. I had a great time practicing my French with these dancers and seeing the juxtaposition of Cunningham and Liz Gerring’s work.

The performance of Horizon took place at Le Quai, an amazing arts space along the Maine River. The center seeks to include dance, theater, opera, world music, and more. The facilities are a treat compared to the often cramped dressing rooms of NYC theaters and there is a great restaurant on the roof of the building. Le Quai is also a hip hang out space for the community; our first day there a skateboard and tattoo festival was going on out front. 

Liz Gerring outside Le Quai Angers.

Liz Gerring outside Le Quai Angers.

After the performance, I had some time to check out the Dance is a Weapon exhibit in the lobby of the building. It was a great exhibition with audio/video media, iconic photos, and colorful information banners. I was excited to see pictures of Charles Weidman and Martha Graham among other modern dance pioneers. Between the exhibit about early American modern dance in a home that features Cunningham’s legacy, and performing work by the next generation of contemporary choreographers, I had an array of dance influences melding to create an amazing experience.

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Photo of Charles Weidman in Race of Life included in the Dance is a Weapon exhibit.

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Julia post-performance at the Dance as a Weapon exhibit.

Julia post-performance at the Dance is a Weapon exhibit.

In Liz Gerring’s Horizon,  the dancers explore non-narrative, athletic movement to an original soundtrack by Michael Schumacher and set by Robert Wierzel. The collaborative nature of the work is reminiscent of Merce Cunningham’s creations that often incorporated multiple artists, from sound designers like John Cage to visual artists like Andy Warhol. The movement is both contemporary and inclusive of codified modern dance techniques. The NYTimes describes the work as “fluently combin[ing] modern technique with a postmodern and quasi-analytical scrutiny of pedestrians and athletes.” The dancers use similar theories from Weidman technique including fall and recovery, flattening and curving of the spine, and released and suspended movements. At the close of Horizon, I do a series of repeated falls across the stage reminiscent of the falls in Weidman’s Brahms Waltzes.

Liz Gerring Dance dancers using flat back in Horizon.

Liz Gerring Dance Company dancers using flat back in Horizon.

Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman were interested in how gravity and momentum affected movement, an idea that is explored in rehearsal for Liz Gerring Dance Company. All affectation is stripped away, and we are asked to fall, throw, lunge, run, and jump honestly. While ballet and modern techniques are inherent in our bodies, the movements are results of gravity working for or against us and how much momentum we are allotted. Sometimes we are asked to spring from one shape to the next without “winding up”, or conversely, we are asked to gather all of our energy and hurtle across the space. This cause and effect theory is intrinsic in Weidman’s “kinetic pantomime”, though he played with the order and explored reversing these properties under a narrative context.

Charles Weidman exploring kinetic pantomime.

Charles Weidman exploring kinetic pantomime.

When I was studying for my Bachelors of Fine Arts degree at NYU, I had the pleasure of performing Weidman’s Easter Oratorio and Brahms Waltzes. A great lesson I took from learning these works was the importance of timing and duration of movement. A lot of attention was placed on how long a développé or suspension took or how still we were while holding a position. Liz Gerring’s work Horizon is centered around the duration of movement and the sustaining of shapes. Often times the music is adjusted live to our performance of the work as each movement and section can vary slightly in timing. While Weidman used these methods to convey an idea or feeling, Horizon uses timing and duration to give the audience an experience similar to a natural time lapse film- abstract, evolving, and surprising.

* For more detailed information on the characteristics of Humphrey-Weidman technique, see “A Reaffirmation of the Humphrey-Weidman Quality” by Svea Becker and Joenine Roberts, 1983, Dance Notation Journal vol 1 no 1 (available on the internet at the Dance Notation Bureau Theory Bulletin Board).

The stage at Le Quai post "Horizon" performance.

The stage at Le Quai post Horizon performance.

Myself (on the right) as a student learning Weidman's "Brahms Waltzes". Photo courtesy of Oberon's Grove.

Myself (on the right) as a student learning Weidman’s “Brahms Waltzes”. Photo courtesy of Oberon’s Grove.

The end of our tour included a train ride back to Paris where the company parted ways, some for the States and some for more Parisian nights. I was able to do some traveling through Paris, Barcelona, and Madrid. Now all back in NYC, the Liz Gerring Dance Company is now gearing up for the premier of their new work (T)here to (T)here at Baryshnikov Arts Center November 10-12th, 2016.

"(T)here to (There)" choreographed by Liz Gerring Dance premiering November 10-12th.

(T)here to (T)here choreographed by Liz Gerring premiering November 10-12th.

Me on the top of Mont Serat in Barcelona, Spain.

Me on the top of Montserrat in Barcelona, Spain.

 

 

 

Dr. Jeff Friedman’s lecture on Weidman’s “Lynchtown”

“…in Lynchtown (from his Atavisms suite) grim horror was the keynote. In this work, the audience witnessed not only the injustice with which a minority group of our population has been treated but also the primitive blood lust, the sadism which supposedly civilized persons reveal when a scapegoat for their savagery is found. Lynch Town strikes home, it strikes the very being of the American, for the trembling evil of the lynchers themselves and the evil of the lookers-on who share vicariously in the horrible thrill seem to vibrate across the footlights and attack the complacency of those who sit in the safety of the theater. The dancers move with racing frenzy, halting to look at death with lust and, perhaps, with fear. A figure stretches forward to get a better view of murder, and horror stretches along the invisible waves of art communications to remind the beholder that the battle for ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’ is not yet won.” -From Walter Terry, The Dance in America, Harper & Row, 1956

Weidman's "Lynchtown"

Weidman’s “Lynchtown”

 

 

On May 7, in historic downtown Jersey City, Tachair Bookshoppe hosted a fascinating, multimedia lecture by Dr. Jeff Friedman. “Weidman’s Lynchtown: American Dialectics, Moral Questions and the Art of Persuasion” considered Weidman’s work from a dazzling array of perspectives including Laban Movement Analysis, Piaget’s ideas on the development of morality in children, and Cicero’s importance of gesture in Oratory.

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Nimbus Dancer Yuko Monden

Nimbus Dance Works dancer, Yuko Monden, demonstrated movement from Lynchtown as Dr. Friedman related them to Laban’s concepts of free flow, bound flow, weight, spoking and arcing. The entrance walk of the lynch mob is an example of “bound flow”, while Monden’s final exit as she leaps off the stage is “free flow.”  Using archival footage, Friedman also showed how the lynch mob’s entrance creates a “wall of movement” that physically and emotionally separates the audience from the victim.

Dr. Friedman went on to discuss Weidman’s early interest in comedy and satire.  Archival photos of The Happy Hypocrite (1931) and The School for Husbands (1933) (choreographed with Doris Humphrey) were used as examples. Dr. Friedman’s comments on the social significance of satire were especially interesting.

Charles Weidman in The Happy Hypocrite (1930's)

Charles Weidman in The Happy Hypocrite (1930’s)

The lecture was followed by a lively discussion on a wide range of topics including the psychological challenges faced by performers in portraying such evil, the choice of the smallest dancer to portray “the Incitor” character of the mob, how the dances in Atavisms (Stock Exchange, Bargain Counter, and Lynchtown) relate to current events, mob behavior, and how best  to teach about fascism.

Bargain Counter

Bargain Counter

If you missed Dr. Friedman’s lecture, you still have one more opportunity to attend on May 23 at 7pm at the Highland Park Public Library, 31 North Highland Park, Highland Park, NJ.  For live performances of  Lynchtown, don’t miss Nimbus Dance Works’ Jersey City spring season, “UNPLUGGED” May 30,31, and June 1 at the Barrow Mansion, 83 Wayne Street, Jersey City.

Highland Park Public Library

Highland Park Public Library

 

Words by Nadira Hall

Pauline Koner Centennial Celebration

On May 17th, 2013, dance lovers and connoisseurs will have a rare opportunity to see the choreography of Pauline Koner. Preeminent Koner expert, Evelyn Shepard, has lovingly and painstakingly reconstructed three important Koner works that will be presented at the 92nd Street Y’s Fridays at Noon series.

Pauline Koner

Dancefusion Company will perform Concertino (1955). The  dance takes place in the time of the Renaissance where “a lady and her ladies-in-waiting  are first at court” where they present themselves as “elegant, formal, conversational.” Next  a solo reveals “the woman behind the elegant façade” and is followed by a lively dance where “the wear and tear of court formality are forgotten.”

Ryoko Kudo and Pablo Francisco Ruvalcaba of the Jose Limon Dance Company will perform Poeme (1962), a ”tender yet provocative” love duet,”influenced by Chagall*, whose women, when transported emotionally, fly in the air or soar upside down.”

"Dance" by Marc Chagall

“Dance” by Marc Chagall

360 Dance Company will perform The Shining Dark (1956), a trio inspired by the life of Helen Keller. In Pauline’s words: “ I had long been thinking about Helen Keller whose only medium of communication was movement—the manual alphabet…so I dug in and learned the manual alphabet”. The dance is comprised of four sections: “World of Nothingness,” “World of Awakening,” “Panic of Loss,” and “Remembered Image.”

Danelle Morgan in Pauline Koner's The Shining Dark; photography © Jashiro Dean

Danelle Morgan in Pauline Koner’s The Shining Dark; photography © Jashiro Dean

While dance maverick Pauline Koner is impossible to categorize, we consider her part of the Humphrey Weidman family. Pauline Koner’s initial dance training was with Michel Fokine. Early on she pursued her own solo career, while also performing extensively with Michio Ito and then Yeichi Nimura. In the mid 1940s, seeking guidance in the choreographic process, she began a long association with Doris Humphrey.  Especially memorable for her role as Emilia in Limon’s Moor’s Pavane,  Koner was also a guest artist with the Jose Limon Dance Company from 1946-1960.

Jose Limon rehearsing with Pauline Koner

Jose Limon rehearsing with Pauline Koner

Less known is Koner’s association with Charles Weidman. Inspired by Abner Dean’s** drawings, Pauline became intrigued with creating a satire on “the insanities, complexities and hilarities of living.” As the characters “crystallized”, she naturally thought of Weidman. “I approached Charles with trepidation. After all he was a senior member in the hierarchy of modern dance. Charles accepted and I was thrilled.” Thus, Amorous Adventure was born. Pauline played “A Kind of Wife” and Charles  ”A Sort of Husband”, while Lucas Hoving portrayed “Variations from the Norm.” After it’s premiere in 1951, Winthrop Palmer wrote: “Pauline Koner’s Amorous Adventure …was a delightful spoofing of comic eugenics and the battle of the sexes with never a moment of social significance, for which it deserves a gold medal…”

Drawing by Abner Dean

Drawing by Abner Dean

Also a noted teacher, Koner developed her famous course “Elements of Performing.” Her elegantly articulated concepts of breath, suspension, rebound, and weight could easily be part of a primer on Humphrey Weidman technique.

Don’t miss this chance to see Pauline Koner’s artistic creations. Films will be shown in the lobby starting at 11:00 AM, followed by live performance and panel discussion at noon.

Friday May 17, 2013

92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center

1395 Lexington Avenue, NY, NY

To learn more about the event, visit the 92nd St Y website here.

All quotes from Solitary Song by Pauline Koner, Duke University Press, 1989

Also recommended: Elements of Performance by Pauline Koner, Harwood Academic Publishers, 1993

*Marc Chagall (1887-1985) was a Russian born artist known for his use of many artistic mediums including painting, stage sets, book illustrations, and ceramics to name a few

**Abner Dean (1910  – 1982) was an American cartoonist who often depicted extremes of human behavior

Happy Humphrey Weidman Day!

Today is a very special day! It marks the 85th anniversary of the first presentation of Charles Weidman’s work!

On  March 24, 1928, Charles Weidman and Doris Humphrey presented their first concert at the Brooklyn Little Theater (now called the Brooklyn Music School Playhouse). Weidman’s Submerged Cathedral  (Cathedrale Engloutie) and Humphrey’s Color Harmony and  Air for the G String were among the important works that premiered on the program.

Outside the Brooklyn Little Theater

Outside the Brooklyn Little Theater

Color Harmony, considered to be America’s first abstract ballet, was based on the color theory of light. Groups of dancers represented as different primary colors interact and mingle around the stage. Quoted from Doris Humphrey’s notebook, she describes the flow of the dance poetically; “Through the wild colors shoots a silver arrow–it separates the couples–it draws them one by one into form—all the flaming colors are laid down in rhythmic patterns—in a pyramidal form—up high steps to a climax, where a silver streak molds itself into a stream of light that goes up into infinity.”1 Also innovative for its time, Clifford Vaughan composed the music for the work after Humphrey composed the movement.

Craig Gabrian performing Weidman’s Submerged Cathedral

Weidman’s Submerged Cathedral is based on a Breton legend about a cathedral that periodically “rises out of the water. The ringing of the bells and the chanting of the monks are heard—silence when the cathedral sinks back into the sea.”2 In his performance, Weidman “indicated with a truly moving quality the surge of the sea depths, the rising and sinking of the submerged structure, and the tolling of the underwater bells.”3Opening and closing with swirling circular movements contrasted by sharp upward thrusting movements in the middle, the choreography foreshadows Humphrey’s 1931 Two Ecstatic Themes: Circular Descent and Pointed Ascent.

Commemorative Plaque

Weidman continued to perform Submerged Cathedral until his death in 1975. In 1993-1994, Peter Hamilton recreated the choreography which has since been performed by Craig Gabrian (pictured above) at the Sylvia & Danny Kaye Playhouse, the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and  the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It has also returned to its first home, the Brooklyn Little Theater, where, in 1996, the Charles Weidman Dance Foundation presented the Brooklyn Music School with a plaque commemorating the first concert. Again in 2003, for the 75th anniversary, the program included Easter Oratorio, Fables for Our Time, Submerged Cathedral and Two Ecstatic Themes.

Carol Mezzacappa, Lee Sherman, Howard Golden, Miriam Cooper

Carol Mezzacappa, Lee Sherman, Howard Golden, Miriam Cooper at the Brooklyn Music School

The CWDF was thrilled when Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz proclaimed March 24th Humphrey Weidman Day. Celebrate Humphrey Weidman Day today and remember the great modern dance pioneers and all they established for the future modern dancers of the world. Thank you Charles and Doris!

Young Dancers in Repertory with Howard Golden and Carol Mezzacappa at the Brooklyn Music School

CWDF Mar 24 28 program

The original program from the first Humphrey Weidman Concert

1from Doris Humphrey’s notebook, quoted in Days on Earth, the Dance of Doris Humphrey by Marcia B.Siegel

2from Weidman’s program note, quoted in Reclaiming Charles Weidman by Jonette Lancos

3Soaring by Jane Sherman

Photos at Little Theater by Larry Hall

Words by Nadira Hall

Post by Julia Jurgilewicz