Friday, September 6, 2019

Rhythms

Willy, my collaborator, is not only an incredible dancer, but he is also a musician. I am fascinated by rhythm, and I have studied it through the lens of flamenco dancing for an extended period of time. However, I have always felt like an amateur in relationship to music.  Willy's dance training is in African and contemporary dance and my training is in flamenco, contemporary, some African dance and salsa. We share the interest in rhythm, and we both have experienced the challenges of navigating a dance world that is still mostly white and Euro-centric. My work belongs to both the center and the periphery, and it claims my double identity (triple, quadruple). My work fights for visibility for those dance styles and any hybrid form that exists outside of the "first world" culturally, politically, and economically.  

The Euro-centric dance traditions have a way to relate to rhythm that often differ from the perspective of "ethnic dances'" in this area. Once a flamenco teachers told me that you can not perform a flamenco sequence of steps unless you are able to sing it.  When I started dancing flamenco, sequences were a succession of movements that happen to produce a sound. But in flamenco dancing each step has a sound, so the sequence of steps eventually become like a songs in your brain. After years of flamenco practice I have noticed that if the musical information is clear in my brain, the specific technique required to perform the movements in a sequence is not longer that important, and the body would be able to figure if out the little details if the musical information is there to rely on. On the contrary, if I can not recall the specific sound of a step I would not be able to performed. I could move similarly, based on the organization of the body, but I would not be able to perform the step (or sequence of steps) as it is in the meter, while for that I would need to be able to sing "its song" and recall it "before" performing the step.

I have noticed a similar approach in this regards between flamenco and Ghanian dance while in both traditions steps are associated with rhythms that can be sang. In the case of flamenco the song comes from the sound that the steps produce, and in the case of Ghanian dances the songs come from the drumming.

On the other hand,  contemporary dance functions differently in relationship to movement and rhythm, while the timing of movements is relatively loose if one compares it with the specificity and intricacy of other styles. Within the contemporary dance context the rhythmical experience comes from breathing, from the time that it takes for the body to perform a specific task, or from an external source, such as the choreographer request, the musical track, but not from a song in my brain. So in this style one does not need to "recall a song" as a prerequisite to organize and deliver movement.

For the piece I am creating during my residency, I am looking for a multicultural approach about how rhythm and movement relate to each other. The perspective offered by the work includes different ways to organize the sound/movement interaction and its causality.

We have experimented a lot about who leads who?  We have tried one person producing their own sound and dancing at the same time. For this exercise each individual has sang songs that correspond to the sequences of steps that he/she is doing, and he/she has performed those movement sequences while singing.

We have also tried to deliver movements that do not belong to the song that we are singing, and to deliver movements that belong to the contemporary dance style while still singing rhythms that are related to steps from other dance traditions. It is challenging to detach the sound of a given step from the step it self. It feels like speaking two different languages at the same time: flamenco with your voice and contemporary dance with your body.

We have also explored the option of having one mover and one speaker/singer. In one version of the exercises the task for the mover is to react to the sound heard by replicating a movement that is "the same" as the sound heard and to deliver the movement at the same time that the sound is happening, so the mover would have to anticipate the rhythm.

We also have tried the option of the mover developing other types of connections with the sound heard.  The mover could replicate or not what the singer is bringing into the conversation and would not longer be a follower of the sound, who monotonously accentuating the strong beats of the music.  The mover would have more independence, and their task would be to build layers into the movement-sound dialogue that stimulate complex interactions that involve tension, contrast and a notion of balance and harmony that is not flat and predictable.

In another exercise a mover and a singer are interacting having the dancer as the leader.  The singer task is to follow the mover by delivering a song that replicates what the dancer is doing, so the singer would have to anticipate the dancer's choices. Using this same structure, we have have explored using the whole body as a percussive instrument that follows the movements, instead of producing sound only with the voice.






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