Monday, July 16, 2012

Hierarchy of Advancement Workshop Thirteen

Section I - Rumba Guaguancó

Exercise: Guaguancó basic walk, accenting with a 'drop'
Revision of this practice from Workshop Ten and Eleven. Additional refinements: the reaction force of the 'drop' on the floor is used to reinforce the up-stroke of the engine; the stroke size of the engine is varied according to prevailing conditions e.g. partnership strength and musical characteristics.

Exercise: Guaguancó static basic, vocalising the basic drum rhythm
Solo. This exercise articulates the relationship between the dance rhythm and guaguancó's a capella music. It also establishes a two-component time-code. The Havana variant is used and vocalised as 'gung-ging-ging-gung'.

Exercise: Guaguancó basic walk, vocalising the basic drum rhythm
Solo. Basic walk with 'drop' accent. The walks are initially side to side, then forward and backward, then with changes in orientation.

Exercise: Guaguancó basic walk, vocalising the basic drum rhythm
Partnered. Basic walk in pursuit-and-capture mode.Without and then with music.

Exercise: Rumba torso engine development
Solo. Static practice, feet shoulder-width apart. Shifting weight every torso cycle: centre-right-centre-left-(repeat). Ensure that shoulders remain level, and that weight is fully transferred to each leg when cycling to the right and the left. Add vocalisation of drum rhythm.

Section II - Contratiempo

Concept: Synthesising a time-code to musical forms
Rhythmic timelines exist in all forms of popular music. In Cuban-derived music, a dancer:
  1. recognises at least one existing auditory timeline;
  2. creates a dance rhythm timeline
  3. synchronises the dance rhythm timeline to the auditory timeline; and 
  4. synthesises a time-code of two (or more) timelines.
He or she might optionally add physical interpretations of other timelines e.g. torso synchronised to the pulse. Time-code stability is enhanced with successful incorporation of each rhythmic timeline. 
Briefing: Importance of the tumbao moderno's slap stroke
The slap stroke is a dry sharp sound which though distinct, can be masked by other sharp sounds like the wood-block or bell. In the basic tumbao moderno, it is located on the second African downbeat or first European backbeat (European beat 2). Locating the position of the slap stroke is important because one step of the dance rhythm is synchronised to it.

Practice: Drumming the African downbeats/European backbeats
Solo. Playing the double-open tones and slap strokes. Without music, and then to music.

Exercise: Vocalising the African downbeats/European backbeats
Solo. Playing the double-open tones and slap strokes, then vocalise "gung-gung" and "pak" synchronously, respectively. Without music, and then to music.

Practice: Converting a count to non-verbal cues of action
Solo. Contratiempo example, to music.
  1. Initiate a four-beat count: "one–two–three–four–"
  2. substitute 'pak' and 'gung-gung' accents: "one–pak–three–gung-gung–"
  3. substitute a ghost syllable 'um': "um–pak–um–gung-gung–"
  4. synchronise dance rhythm to the vocal accents, where the first beat/step of the dance rhythm coincides with 'pak', and the third beat/step of the dance rhythm coincides with the first 'gung'
  5. subvocalise the cues.
Exercise: Comparing the synchronisation of movement to verbal and non-verbal cues
Solo, to music. Assessing the qualitative nature of verbal and event-led (non-verbal) cues to movement.

Exercise: "Is the difference between the use of verbal and non-verbal cues externally discernible?"
Partnered, to music. As the exercise immediately above. Can your dance partner tell the difference?


Friday, July 13, 2012

Hierarchy of Advancement Workshop Twelve

Section I - Movement Dynamics

Concept: The dynamics of movement
A movement can be broken down into three simple phases: commencement, continuation, and completion. The dynamics of movement are governed by the intensity, the transitions and most importantly the relative duration of each phase. For example, emphasis on movement completion results in a rapid, contrasty, staccato action, whereas emphasis on commencement and continuation results in a smoother action.

Exercise: Lower body action, emphasis on completion
Solo. Smooth control of motion is paramount, irrespective of speed.
  1. Commencement (rapid): descent of the heel, extension of the knee
  2. Continuation (rapid): transfer of weight, deflection of hip
  3. Completion (slow): final settling of the hip, preparation for next commencement
Understanding and appreciating the kinesthesia of high-contrast motion.
Learning point: quickly pushing nails into the floor then standing on the nail head.

Exercise: Lower body action, emphasis on completion, to music
Solo, to music. What kinds of musical styles is this kind of highly dynamic motion best suited to?

Exercise: Lower body action, emphasis on commencement and continuation
Solo. Smooth control of motion throughout.
  1. Commencement (slow): descent of the heel, extension of the knee
  2. Continuation (slow): transfer of weight, deflection of hip
  3. Completion (short): final settling of the hip, preparation for next commencement
Understanding/appreciating the kinesthesia of low-contrast motion. Notice how the phases push the timing to later on the beat.
Learning point: easing the nails powerfully into the floor with a brief tap on the nail head just before the next commencement.

Exercise: Lower body action, emphasis on commencement and continuation, to music
Solo, to music. What kinds of musical styles is this kind of smooth motion best suited to?

Exercise: Lower body action, changing dynamism, to music
Solo, to music. Practice changing dynamics of movement within a song. Some songs are arranged in a manner which suggest that the dynamics of movement should be altered.

Exercise: Lower body action, changing dynamism, to music
Partnered. As per the above practice. What does it feel like when your dance partner changes his or her movement dynamics?

Exercise: Lower body action, exploring phase ratios
Solo. Plan and execute the lower body movement with different ratios of the three phases. What are the results? What does it feel like? When would it be used?

Concept: A universal approach to movement dynamics
Although movement dynamism was explored using the lower body action as a case study, the same principles can be applied to other movements in dance, for example, rotational body speed, foot speed, and arm speed. The process universally applicable to movement. It requires:
  1. the disassembly of a motion into its sequence of component parts;
  2. the segregation the sequential components into the three phases;
  3. a decision regarding the relative duration of each phase; and
  4. execution and evaluation.
Section II - Movement Targeting

Concept: Conscious planning of motion
Movement is understood to be planned subconsciously in the premotor cortex. However, there is nothing to hinder a person from planning motion consciously; expert dancers often do so and naturalise the mapping of the start-points, trajectories, speeds, routes and the end-points of movements. This results in clean, deliberate, well-timed motions - making transparent the dancer's execution of expression.

Exercise: Visualising the end-point, arms
Solo. Visualise the spatial position of a gate, imagine the feeling of the wrist being at that gate, imagine hearing the sound of the beat when the wrist arrives at the gate. Execute the motion to tempo.

Briefing: Check-points for legs
Ball-spots are target-areas on the floor into which the medial-front quadrant of the foot is placed. Heel-spots are the target-areas where the heel would land to 'crush the grape' or on the 'head of the nail'. Ankle-gates are the lower-body's analogue of the upper body's wrist gates.

Exercise: Visualising the end-point, legs
Solo. Visualise the spatial position of a ball-spot, imagine the feeling of pressure on the sole of the foot being at that spot, imagine hearing the sound of the beat when the foot arrives at the spot. Execute the motion to tempo.

Section III - Skills in Context

Concept: Increasing power in salsa
A partnership couple can be viewed as a closed energy system. The kinetic energy content of the system can be increased through:
  • additional body isolation movements, usually interpreting rhythms over that of the dance rhythm;
  • a change to the dance rhythm to include additional steps; and
  • the inclusion of accents to increase dynamics (however beyond a certain point the accents decrease dynamics)
Exercise: Power variation to salsa rhythm
Solo, then partnered. Inclusion of a ball-heel across the null beat of the standard a tiempo dance rhythm, synchronised with the double-open tones of the tumbao moderno. This contributes up to a 67% increase in lower body energy.

Practice: Power variation in context
Partnered, to music. Swapping between the standard dance rhythm and power variation, feeling the difference in energy.

Exercise: Deploying accents in the salsa dance rhythm
Partnered, to music. Emphasising pulse beats, back-beats, ponché only and whole beats of clave.

Section IV - Case study of rueda elements

A simple analysis of arm positions, partnership angles, distancing, body alignments and overlooked angles in rueda (starting with the diagonals to the line of dance).

Loo Yeo

Monday, July 02, 2012

32nd World Congress on Dance Research, Conseil International de la Danse, UNESCO

The Conseil International de la Danse is the only international organisation recognised to represent all forms of dance. Called the "United Nations of Dance" it was founded within UNESCO offices, hence its acronym CID-UNESCO; and its members, institutions and individuals, represent those who have had the most significant, long-term, world-wide impact in their fields.

The people who made it possible - UFI and CID UNESCO
32nd World Congress on Dance Research, San Marino
This would be my first time at a world congress (representation by more than forty nationalities is the requisite for being called a world congress) despite being a member for nearly a decade. The timing was perfect - I'd just finished a piece of significant dance research and had a window of opportunity to travel. The prospect of returning to Italy and presenting in the Republic of San Marino proved an irresistible lure.

The Location
I arrived for registration at the sugar-white monolithic building of the Kursaal; which accommodates San Marino's state conference facilities sandwiched between Interpol's offices on one side and Radio San Marino on the other. As my security pass was being issued, I caught up on the revised schedule (I'd been travelling around Emilia Romagna with sporadic internet access) and got serious indication as to the prestige with which CID membership is regarded; the government of San Marino had not only made the Kursaal conference site available to us, and resourced it with full technical support and real-time interpreters into Italian and English, but had also reserved its historic 18th century Teatro Titano exclusively for our use over the duration.

The People
The first ones I encountered were the faces to the names with whom I'd been corresponding with for years and weeks: the organisers from CID-UNESCO and the Unione Folklorica Italiana (UFI). Then the attendees: dance practitioners - choreographers, educators, performers; and dance academics - researchers, disseminators, historians, biographers in equal measure. Their subject-matter expertise spanned from the folkloric to the modern, the sacred to the secular, the classical to the popular.

The Format
Three parallel programmes were held during the daytime.
  • Dance workshops by the practitioners addressing choreography, teaching methods, dance techniques, and introduction to genre. These lasted thirty minutes.
  • Dance video displays by academics and practitioners covering technical, biographical and cultural subject matter. These lasted thirty minutes.
  • Dance presentations by academics on the latest research, new interpretations of existing phenomena, and previously unseen archival gems. These lasted fifteen minutes followed by a five-minute question-and-answer session.
The inclusive nature of CID tries to accommodate as many applications for programmes slots as possible but this has a down-side; there were a a number of 'no shows' due to travel funding arrangements falling through at the eleventh hour, or inability to obtain immigration visas. This led to a fluid situation where the organisers were put under considerable pressure just to keep scheduling up-to-date. The night-time hours belonged to performances at the fabulous Teatro Titano.

The Experience
The scheduling was kind to me. Either that, of I was rewarded for being organised by being scheduled to present in the first session of the first day; other people know who you are and what you do right from the start. Also, it allowed me to relax for the rest of the congress. The presentation itself was thoroughly prepared, and contrasted greatly with the majority which followed because of its pure science approach to the research, as compared to a social science one; and the large data sets involved.

The majority of the congress attendees were dance practitioners; 'do-ers' who preferred to spend their time in the more practical workshops. That's not to say that there was such a distinct segregation, a handful of us spanned both practitioner and academic arenas. I personally elected to spend the first two days supporting the lesser-attended lecture presentations, attending the workshops during the 'no shows'. The most notable workshops for me were: Karen Smith's "Give my regards to Broadway: choreography for musical theater"; Marco Santinelli's "Lyrical Contemporary Jazz"; and all of the ones on Turkish folkloric dance.

Tamalyn Dallal in Teatro Titano, San Marino
32nd World Congress on Dance Research, CID UNESCO
The theatre performances were a privilege to experience, with top billing going to all of those from the two Japanese sections who'd travelled a long way to put on a superlative expression of art. Their power and precision would have been culturally expected, but it was their expressiveness which was astounding. Also spectacular were: Tamalyn Dallal's entrancing "Middle Eastern dance performance"; Daniela Morais of Luís Damas Dance Company's fluid "Invocation"; and Nalini Toshniwal's near-spiritual "Kathak: Indian classical Dance".

And the after parties... boy, were there after-parties as only a group of pure dance professionals can have them.

But then, that's where the real value of going to a congress like this is, in the connecting of people - lunchtimes spent talking about the healing aspects of dance with dance therapist Özlem Lale Kaleli and Islamic African rhythms with Tamalyn; bad behaviour with contemporary dancer Ana-Maria Bogdanović and contact-improvisation specialist Bruno Couderc; strolling the walls with Luís Damas.

But quite ironically, it was my handling of the unexpected which left a greater mark.

The Impromptu Lesson
I'd earmarked two workshops in the morning session of the second day 'must gos'; they were on 'Cuban Salsa' by Cubans Pedro Ricardo Henry and Felix Ricardo Lopez Valdés. I turned up to the dance hall to find a rather forlorn bunch of (non-salsa) dance teachers. On asking, and after a search around the Kursaal, it turns out the Cubans were no-shows. I was crestfallen. It was the looks of disappointment and resignation that did it.

I told Marilena (Caponis, one of the organising members) that if they really wanted a salsa lesson, then I'd be happy to conduct one off-the-cuff. What's the point in being a salsa teacher if you don't teach salsa when you could? Their eyes brightened.

Now I was under pressure. The music which I'd hoped to use (it was part of my previous day's presentation) was on the slide-show laptop which was in use. I explained the situation, asked for their indulgence and said, "we'll have to do this the old-fashioned way".

I knelt down on the floor in the middle of the circle and drummed the tumbao moderno on my thighs; getting them to feel the groove, and asking them the vocalise 'gung-gung' with the double open tones.

Then I brought in the concept of call-and-response, and introduced the three beat salsa dance rhythm as a response to the 'gung gung'. At this point, with everyone present being dance educators, I explained the difference between acquired (walk-based) and learned (using structured basics) Cuban dance.

By asking my colleagues to help me by continuing the event- action (vocal cue-dance rhythm) practice, I was freed to vocalised montunos over their rhythms to provide a broader musical context. They began to get into the swing of things, especially Ingo (Guenther, master of baroque dance) who was happily 'gung-gung'ing away. They were partnered up into dance couples to increase interaction and reinforce each other rhythmically.

I swapped their partnerships often, mixing up the content with salsa walks and basics.

Then they started asking about quality of movement; so I explained the key features of East Cuban and West Cuban movement to música bailable (this was billed to be Cuban salsa after all), demonstrated it, executed it, taught it; and they all learned it, replicated it and then interpreted it - an reminder that this class comprised an altogether different standard of attendees.

Then came the obvious question, "When and why would you use which quality?"

I thought to myself, "erm... now how do I explain that?!" Then it came to me.

With my colleagues dancing salsa using Oriente (East Cuban) movement, and vocalising gung-gungs, I sang sones phrased to son clave with traditional intonations and attack. We then did the same using Occidente (West Cuban) movement, as I sang rumba-derived timba songs to rumba clave. There was even time to do a cross-comparison, which they all experienced as very valuable.

Eighteen minutes was all that I had had: from the delayed start, to the next scheduled workshop. And I made it with time enough for remedial work and to engage with some penetrating questions.

Jumping in to provide the lesson allowed me to connect with my fellow CID colleagues in a personal manner, making me a more 'known' and hence 'comforting' quantity. I left the hall having a different stature to that of when I entered. I was no longer simply an academic subject-matter expert; I was now also regarded as a dance practitioner with performance-level abilities as an all-round musician and singer; and an educator who could answer the "whys" and teach the "hows".

The Enduring Memories
The 32nd World Congress on Dance Research was declared a success despite the low attendance (earthquakes in the region a weeks prior put paid to that), and I agree. To be privileged enough to have effectively private viewings of world-class performances in a beautiful theatre, to be able to exchange ideas with people at the very top of their game, to laugh with new friends, and to dance a dreamy bolero under a vault of stars in a Sanmarinese piazza. What else could one want?

Loo Yeo

To visit Loo's Facebook photo albums on the '32nd World Congress on Dance Research, Conseil International de la Danse, UNESCO' and San Marino 2012, click on the links below.

Part One:

Part Two: