Dance Around the World

"Art is not what you see, but what you make others see" -Edgar Degas

Initial Thoughts:

Growing up in America and taking years of classical Ballet, Modern, Contemporary, Lyrical, Jazz, and Hip Hop I had an idea of what dance was like around the world. From an early age I was taught the foundations of Ballet and how originally Ballerina's were non-existent because women were not allowed in dance. I learned about the creation of Pointe shoes, the creation of dance companies in America, and how traditions had began over time. It was ingrained in me that Europe was the foundation of dance and therefore, it made sense to connect the foundation of dance with only the past. In my head dance in Europe meant sticking with the classical and avoiding the modern. What I have discovered over the past few months is that my preconceived notions of European dance were erroneous and that dance has fewer limitations here than it does in America.

"Behind every Ballerina is at least one crazy Russian teacher with a cane." Tesee G.

Part of the reason why I was so focused on Europe being the past in regards to dance was my own experiences. As the quote suggests, I too had a crazy Russian Ballerina as a teacher that had a cane and would walk around smacking our derrière's or the backs of our knees when they were sticking out too much. In my head, I had applied these experiences to the rest of Europe.

Russia has always been the standard for classical Ballet technique. As you could see in the video, the dancers are in unison despite being young and only in class. While France was the beginning of dance, Russia was the beginning of the intense technical training that became a standard around the world.

"I have many injuries. It is better not to talk about them." - Natalia Makarova

As the quote suggests, dance is not an easy art form or sport. Natalia Makarova was one of Russia's most famous Prima Ballerina's and the quotes summarizes what I assumed dance in Europe would be like. Focused on technique and pushing past any pain you may endure. In my mind I assumed that it would be entrenched in only tradition and lack the drive or creativity to move forward. These assumptions were incorrect.

Attending Performances

During my first few weeks in Reggio Emilia I had the opportunity to see a performance by the Hofesh Shechter Company and my preconceptions were turned on head. It was shocking to say the least. While I knew it was going to be a modern production, I did not look much into the company until after I saw the performance. Not only was the content surprising, but the experience of seeing a production in Europe was completely different than it is in America.

An evening at the theatre in America:

  • Dress nicely, dresses and suits are preferable.
  • Always arrive at least a half hour early. If purchasing tickets, an hour or an hour and a half early.
  • You are allowed to be seated at least a half hour before the performance.
  • Though some seats are not great, all have an unobstructed view of the stage.
  • Attendants will check with you multiple times before you find your seat.
  • There will be warnings of possible seizure, allergy, or ptsd triggers.

An evening at the theatre in Italy:

  • Italian casual dress is typical. I felt overdressed in a sweater and nice dress.
  • Programs are, in fact, in Italian. So reading program notes as I had planned was not successful.
  • Doors do not open until close to 15 minutes before the performance starts.
  • Rarely anyone arrives earlier than that.
  • The theatre's are extremely old, which means giant pillars might be in your line of sight.
  • Nudity is not censored in Europe.
  • There are zero warnings for flashing lights, gun shot sounds, or smoke.

Nudity

"To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself."-John Berger

The aspect that most shocked me about this production was the nudity. Aside from the overall experience of being in an old theatre and the different traditions and norms of seeing a dance production, this aspect was the most interesting to me. Knowing and having worked with many choreographers back home I wish we had the freedom that is available here.

At first, when the dancers appeared on stage, I did not realize they were nude because that just does not happen in America. Then, I realized they were not wearing nude coverings of any sort and I was completely shocked. After the shock wore off I realized how intense that moment was, having the dancers standing front and center with a spotlight on them, allowing the audience to see all of them. It was a moment that I had never been able to witness before. In America, this would not be done because of censorship laws and people would honestly freak out about it and social media would inevitably be involved.

Because nudity in Europe is a completely different situation, this moment was allowed. It was in this moment that I realized that the freedom I assumed America had because it isn't tied down to the past or the expectations of tradition is not actually true freedom. I assumed innovation would have been a larger piece of American modern and contemporary dance, but this has not been my experience since coming here. The production I saw included voice-overs, intricate lighting, changing costuming, complex story-lines, and many other aspects that are only beginning to grow in America.

A look at two powerhouses:

Twyla Tharp
"Dance is simply the refinement of human movement - walking, running, and jumping. We are all experts. There should be no art form more accessible than dance, yet no art is more mystifying in the public imagination." -Twyla Tharp

If you are going to talk about modern and contemporary dance around the world, America specifically, you have to mention Twyla Tharp. She is probably one of the most well-known choreographers in the industry. Time and time again she has proven how dedicated she is to ingenuity, dance, and forward thinking.

"Our ability to grow is directly proportional to an ability to entertain the uncomfortable."

She refuses to sit still and urges her dancers and companies around America to take on projects that are different and demonstrate new styles and ideas. She pioneered crossover dance, and has worked on more than a hundred pieces. In addition, she has won countless awards for her productions from dance companies like ABT to broadway and television (Including 19 honorary doctorates). She has managed a company twice, disbanding it both times when she began working at major dance companies. In the end, she is the most known powerhouse of modern and contemporary dance and is one of the only living and world famous choreographer that is female.

I wish I could compare the Reggio Emilia contemporary dance company to one back home, but there really is not a good comparison in America. Most modern/contemporary companies are quite small and are not nearly as successful as professional Ballet companies. In my home town, Seattle, only in the last five years has a company for modern/contemporary began. And still, it is a completely different format than Aterballetto. For example, they use works from choreographers around the world, have a very small company, do not have a designated theatre space, and is just starting to get on its feet. More common, in America, are choreographers like Twyla Tharp who travel and teach larger dance companies, such as PNB and ABT, their works and spread their craft in that way.

Reggio Emilia has a very successful contemporary company that has been around for decades. This is another aspect that I was surprised to learn about, I had assumed that modern would be growing in Europe as it is in America, but it has been prevalent here for decades.

"Rossini Cards" Aterballetto

As I stated before, this company is much larger than modern or contemporary companies back in America. They also have a much larger group of company dancers. What I found interesting was that the artistic director does most of the choreography. I was surprised to see little variety of choreographers in their repertory. In America, dance companies rarely only use their artistic directors works. Even in larger companies, they do not only perform story Ballets, they mix things up and highlight different styles. From my research, this does not look like the case for Aterballetto. However, they do showcase their works around the world, which is very similar to American companies.

What I learned.....

My initial thoughts were completely incorrect. Though Europe hold the foundations of dance, that is in no way hindering their ability to produce innovative and unique pieces. If anything, it is America that is tied to the traditions of story Ballets (the Nutcracker every Christmas for example). America also has so many rules and regulations that, I believe, are holding choreographers back. I know so many dancers that would love the opportunity to embrace their bodies like the Hofesh Shechter Company.

I initially went into this project, hoping to find that modern and contemporary dance was also growing in popularity in Europe, but I was surprised to find that these styles are very popular here, even more so than in America. If anything, America is working to catch up with Europe in modern and contemporary dance companies area, as many of our companies struggle. Overall, it was interesting to learn the differences and see my preconceptions break under learning more and experiencing dance in Italy

Credits:

Created with images by Cea. - "[ D ] Edgar Degas - Ballet Rehearsal on Stage (1874)" • Julián Santacruz - "I have an idea @ home" • Giorgio Galeotti - "Old Lady with Cane - Volterra, Pisa, Italy - March 25, 2016" • dunikowski - "Kris"

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