Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Contratiempo Embodiment Rhythm: An Internal Dynamic

Dance rhythms are about relationships between sets of sounds. A set might have only one or more than one tone, and it's how one set 'talks' to another which is important. That's why Cuban percussion instruments are in dialogue pairs: 'hembra' [female] conversing with 'macho' [male]. Take the bongó's martillo rhythm as an example: "tok" talks to "tuk", and the "tik"s in-between could be interjections by either. And so if we're using the martillo as a reference timeline for the dancer's contratiempo embodiment rhythm, should the latter be imbued with conversation as well?

That was the theme of last night's Solares: the basic embodiment rhythm can be interpreted as a call-and-response timeline, thus introducing a rich internal dynamic and powerful possibilities in phrasing.

Warm up: Caribbean sway, maracas, and vocalisation
Solo practice. Caribbean sway performed contratiempo. Maracas playing "tok" (beat 4) with the hembra and "tuk" with the macho. Full vocalisation "tok-tik-tuk-tik" on beats 4-1-2-3 respectively.

Briefing: Contratiempo call-and-response embodiment to the martillo
Call-and-response is a common feature in Caribbean music derived from the African aesthetic. In Spanish, it is known as 'coro-pregón' where the 'coro' is the respondent and the 'pregón' is the caller.

With respect to the bongó's martillo:
  • the pregón or call spans "tok-tik" (beats 4 and 1)
  • the coro or response spans "tuk-tik" (beats 2 and 3)
This means that in the Caribbean sway:
  • the pregón cues the side step with the "slowandslow" transfer of weight; and,
  • the coro cues the back step and replace step, both with "quick" transfers of weight.

Exercise One: 'coro-pregón' phrasing in Caribbean sway
Solo practice. Caribbean sway performed contratiempo. Vocalisation phrased as "tok-tik" (beats 4-1) and "tuk-tik" (beats 2-3). This exercise is a light introduction to the idea that the embodiment rhythm and the basic step are fractionable. Participants begin to understand:
  1. the idea of movement groups, and
  2. the possible relationships between them, in this case, call-and-response.

Exercise Two: 'coro-pregón' phrasing in Caribbean sway, partnered
Partnered practice. Caribbean sway performed contratiempo. Vocalisation phrased as "tok-tik" (beats 4-1) and "tuk-tik" (beats 2-3). This exercise provided the opportunity for participants to compare and contrast their own call-and-response phrasing to that of someone else's. Participants noted the breadth of variation in articulation of phrasing, interpretation of rhythm, and quality of movement.

This spurred a flurry of formative discussion, not on what was "right" (they were all doing it right), but what kind of "right" they preferred.

Briefing: Contratiempo call-without-response embodiment to the martillo
Call-without-response, or call-only, is a phenomenon where its judicious use as 'an insistent question unanswered' creates rhythmic tension.

Exercise Three: 'pregón' phrasing in Caribbean sway
Solo practice. Performed contratiempo. Vocalisation phrased as "tok-tik" (beats 4-1) and "tuk-tik" (beats 2-3). Caribbean sway side step only, executed 'slowandslow'. The vocalisation was necessary to provide the placeholder vocal response to the physical pregón. Without the vocalisation, participants found it difficult to maintain their place in the contratiempo timeline.

Exercise Four: Switching between 'coro-pregón' and 'pregón' phrasing in Caribbean sway
Solo practice. Performed contratiempo. Vocalisation phrased as "tok-tik" (beats 4-1) and "tuk-tik" (beats 2-3). Participants alternated between 'coro-pregón' (i.e. full Caribbean sway) and 'pregón' (i.e. side step only), switching at their own choosing. This exercise was designed for two purposes:
  1. to make clearer the distinction between the 'pregón' grouping and the 'coro' grouping; and,
  2. to demonstrate the necessity of the vocalised timeline as a stabilising component of the compound rhythm stream.

Exercise Five: Switching between 'coro-pregón' and 'pregón', partnered
Partnered practice. Performed contratiempo. Vocalisation phrased as "tok-tik" (beats 4-1) and "tuk-tik" (beats 2-3). Switching between call only and call-and-response states was left entirely to each participant's discretion, and neither partner was required to follow suit. Some participants expected anarchy, and were surprised when they didn't encounter it.

This exercise highlighted the 'pregón' as the crucial synchronising movement between partners; and that the better (smoother, better-controlled, stronger, granular) the quality of execution, the easier it was to achieve synchrony.

Loo Yeo