Friday, January 30, 2009

07 CCTV9 Dance Competition Winners

I just came across this YouTube video of a piece that won first prize in a 2007 annual dance competition on CCTV9 International in Beijing. The amazing part is, it's performed by a young man who lost his leg as a child and a woman who lost her arm in a car accident. What a pair! 

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Dance in Musicals: Part 2—Dance = A Form of Acting

This is Part 2 of a series of posts called "Dance in Musicals." For more information check out Part 1

Part 2--Dance = A Form of Acting

In 1944,  On The Town used modern dance and song to tell the romantic adventures of three sailors on leave in New York City. Collaborating with George Abbot, Jerome Robbins, who started at New York’s Ballet Theatre, choreographed the musical. A character was the motivation for every step Robbins created. He was one of the first to consider dance a form of acting and mixed ballet, jazz and realistic movement in his choreography. He changed musicals forever by making dance as vital to the story-telling as the score (Kenrick, “History of Stage Musicals”). “In one startling night…and 436 subsequent performances, On the Town created and established the greatest of all American contributions to the stage arts: American theatre dance,” said Denny Flinn (qtd. in Everett 175).

When On the Town was turned into a film by MGM in 1949, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra took leading roles. Kelly, formerly a Broadway hoofer, also choreographed the screen version. He had won dancing acclaim in the film Cover Girl (1944), produced by Columbia, by performing a series of dance pieces where he danced with his own reflection. He received such acclaim that MGM refused to loan him to other studios for future musicals. His athletic and dynamic choreography and performances combined ballet, tap, jazz, ballroom and gymnastics. This would lead him to collaborate with producer Arthur Freed to make some of the finest musicals ever created, such as Singin' in the Rain (1952), bringing on-screen dance to a new level of sophistication (Kenrick, “History of Stage Musicals”).

Toward the end of the decade, the last musical hit had little dance. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific (1949), a story of a military nurse who falls in love with a French planter, was directed by Josh Logan. Besides including little dance, there was more than one main love-story and dramatic tension was created by racial prejudices. However, it won the Tony for Best Musical and became the second musical to receive a Pulitzer Prize for Drama (Kenrick, “History of Stage Musicals”).            

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Emotional Intelligence in Dance and Business

Emotional Intelligence (EQ), as defined by Robert Cooper in Executive EQ: Emotional Intelligence in Leadership and Organization, is the ability to sense, understand and pass judgment on the emotions as a source of information and influence. It motivates us to pursue our potential and activate our desires. Cooper says, “the word emotion may be simply defined as applying ‘movement,’ either metaphorically or literally, to core feelings.”

This way of deriving movement from an emotion or attaching an emotion to a movement is of great interest to me. Dance allows performers to express their desires, values and aspirations in a healthy and physical way. With emotions attached to the performance, an underlying bond connects the audience to the performers and the work as a whole.  

This type of expression and understanding of EQ is important not only for dancers, but for all people −even those who work behind a desk all day. Exploring emotions through movement and understanding the underlying meaning has brought about EQ research in the business world. Understanding emotions though movement would help all business leaders recognize the emotions of their followers, allowing them to lead and react with the appropriate counter emotion. 

Unfortunately, taking dance class or even viewing dance performance that is thought and emotionally provoking is not of interest to today’s general society. Most people view art solely for the purpose of entertainment and escape. The challenge for choreographers today is to bridge a gap between entertainment and mind-engaging dance, to bring about a shift in the general dance-viewing audience.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dance in Musicals: Part 1—The First Musical

In elementary school, I developed the habit of routinely flipping to old movie channels in hopes of catching a glimpse of a musical with legends such as Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra or Judy Garland. After a day at school I would watch one of the classics, such as "Singing in the Rain" or "An American in Paris," enjoying the care-free characters and energetic dance numbers. Then I branched into the lesser known musicals like "Summer Stock" and "Follow the Fleet." Today, I would rather watch any of these classic films than most of the movies found in theaters. 

So, I thought I'd take a look at the evolution of dance in musicals on broadway and  film in a series of blog posts. Today, I start with dance in the 1940s and the beginnings of "the musical."  (A list of references is at the bottom of the post.) 

(And on a side note, check out Entertainment Weekly for information about Michael Jackson's new endeavor, "Thriller" the musical.) 

Part 1: The First Musical

Entertainment that provided an escape from reality was what performers sought for their audiences in the 1940s. America was still suffering from the aftermath of the Great Depression and the world was at war. This atmosphere created an ideal place for experimentation. The acceptance of innovation in theater was balanced with a greater appreciation for American life and history (Everett 139). The 1940s, with fantasy and drama, was acclaimed as the golden golden age for musicals.

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II met at Columbia University and agreed on the importance of writing the lyrics of a musical first so the integration of the songs and book would be easier. In this way, Hammerstein, the lyrics writer, did not have to follow the structure of music already composed (Lewis 35). They began working on a love story called Green Grow the Lilacs (based off the play by Lynn Riggs), which was set in the Okalahoma Territory during the early 1900s. After collaborating through character analysis, song placement, style, lighting, casting and staging, the two parted. Rodgers headed to his farm in upstate New York, while Hammerstein sought his farm in Pennsylvania. Hammerstein labored over the lyrics for weeks and then wired the results to Rodgers who could create melodies within minutes. Because the Theatre Guild was bankrupt, Rodgers and Hammerstein had complete creative control over the project. They took risks, such as writing lyrics in conversational style, starting the performance with a duet, instead of a large ensemble number and casting lesser-known actors as leads. Because it could not be classified as a musical comedy or operetta, the duo had created something new: a musical play with every element dedicated to moving the plot forward.

To deal with the emotions of the story, which might sound awkward if verbalized, the team decided to integrate dance as a key story-telling device. The choreographer would help move the story along. Choreographer Agnes DeMille, who choreographed the ballet Rodeo (1942), insisted on casting trained modern dancers in the chorus, therefore enriching the ensemble. She bridged the gap between choreography for ballet and Broadway, combining steps from square dancing, tap and ballet. She was also known for creating “dream ballets,” such as in Brigadoon (1947), which brought the audience into the thoughts of key characters.

Under the title Away We Go, the musical opened in March 1943, but Variety gave it a poor review: “No gags, no girls, no chance,” (qtd. in Everett 139). Worried investors sold shares in the show after that first performance. However, while the show played in Boston, Rodgers and Hammerstein made extensive revisions, including staging the chorus piece called “Oklahoma,” for which the show was now titled. Oklahoma opened at New York’s St. James Theatre on March 31, 1943 to roaring reviews and excited audiences, who enjoyed the all-American show during wartime. It became the first Broadway musical to record every major number on a full-cast and orchestra soundtrack. Running for more than six years, the show made millions of dollars and backers saw a 2,500 percent return on their investments (Kenrick, “History of Stage Musicals”).

Works Cited

Everett, Williams A., and Paul R. Laird, eds. The Cambridge Companion to the Musical. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

 Laufe, Abe. Broadway’s Greatest Musicals. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1973.

Lewis, David H. Broadway Musicals: A Hundred Year History. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2002.

“” 2006. Ed. Kenrick, John. 17 Feb. 2006.                                                                

“News Reviews.” 2006. Movin’ Out Tour. 8 April 2006.

“The Phantom of the Opera.” 2006. Wikepedia. 17 April 2006.        

Sunday, January 25, 2009

An Experimental Multimedia Event: "Club Midnight: Flesh into Light"

This weekend, Amy Greenfield, the award-winning director and producer of more than 30 films, combines video, photography and contemporary movement for a three-piece multimedia event, "Club Midnight: Flesh into Light," in New York. 

The event first showcases the expanded version of Greenfield's award-winning film "Club Midnight." The premiere of "Live Tides" follows, combining the on-stage presence of a nude performer with the new version of Greenfield's 1982 film, "Tides." Again integrating stage movement and film with music, the premiere of "Spirit in the Flesh" follows, based on the photography and book, Kabbalah, by Leonard Nimoy. The main character of this book is Shekhina, who is considered a "female power of creativity and healing." In his book, Nimoy writes, "I am intrigued with scriptural mythology that tells us that God created a divine feminine presence to dwell amongst humanity." 

"Club Midnight: Flesh into Light" will be at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater, Symphony Space in New York on January 30 and 31. Visit Club Midnight for more information. For reservations visit the Symphony Space.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama's Inaguration Day: Great Day for the Nation. Hopefully, A Great Day for the Arts

I spent most of the day in front of the TV and online watching the historic inauguration of President Barack Obama. While our President has several difficult problems to attend to now, such as the economy and the war on terror, in the future he can focus on the arts. 

In October, I wrote about the differences between Obama and McCain's policies for the arts. Now, I am proud to highlight President Obama’s platform for the arts. The full two-page platform was drafted with the help of 33 arts leaders who make up the National Arts Policy Committee.

President Obama's Platform for the Arts 

-Expand Arts in Education by:

1) Increasing partnerships among schools and arts organizations by expanding resources provided to the Department of Education’s Arts Education Model Development and Dissemination Grants.

2) Creating an Artistic Corps of young artists trained to work in low-income communities, especially in schools.

3) Increase funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, which, over the past 17 years, has been reduced by $50 million.

-Promote Cultural Diplomacy by:

1) Promoting and expanding partnerships to increase cultural and artistic exchanges throughout the world. 

2) Using artistic ambassadors to help win wars by showcasing American ideals, as done during the Cold War.

3) Welcoming members of foreign arts communities to America to help eliminate barriers among nations and reduce hatred and fear.

-Ensure Affordable Health Care and Fair Taxes for Artists by:

1) Creating a new public program that allows individuals and small business to buy affordable health care.
2) Developing a National Health Insurance Exchange to reform private insurance.

3) Lowering the cost of health care for the average American family by up to $2,500 a year.

4) Supporting the Artist-Museum Partnership Act, which allows artists to deduct the market value of the their work on taxes when they contribute to charities.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Win a Dance Lesson with MC Hammer

You could win a dance lesson with MC Hammer or a cash prize by taping "Your Best Hammer Dance" and submitting it to DanceJam is a dance social network, founded by MC Hammer, where individuals watch and rate dance performances. Judges will consider creativity, dance skills, entertainment value and video popularity to announce the finalists on Feb. 5 and select the winners on Feb. 10. The finalist considered the “most skilled” wins the lesson, while the contestant with the “most entertaining” video wins $250 cash. 

Rules of the contest: 
-The video should be 20 to 90 seconds.
-You should perform any section of the MC Hammer dance to any MC Hammer song. 

About 22 videos have already been submitted. Check out the competition at

Friday, January 16, 2009

No Mambo for Cindy McCain

According to Page Six of The New York Post, Cindy McCain was approached in November to star on the next season of "Dancing With the Stars." While Cindy was enthusiastic about the offer--wanting to participate "very badly"--John was not, causing his wife ultimately to turn down the show this week.  

Other offers to perform have been made to Stevie Wonder, Steve-O from "Jackass" and Misty May-Treanor who left last season's show after an ankle injury. 

The next season of "Dancing With the Stars" starts Monday, March 9 at 8pm on ABC. 

Monday, January 12, 2009

Evolution of Dance 2

"Evolution of Dance" performer Judson Laipply released the sequel to one of the most watched videos on the Internet on Jan. 9. "Evolution of Dance 2" features everything from the Hokey Pokey to Soldier Boy. Check it out: 

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Superstars of Dance--What Were They Thinking?

So, I watched the new NBC show Superstars of Dance, and I have to ask, "What were they thinking?" We never needed another dance show, especially not one of poor quality.

I think Annie Barrett from Entertainment Weekly put it best when she described the show as "a forced SNL sketch." 

First of all, how can you judge so many styles of dance fairly? You can't. Most of these judges have probably never seen all of these styles, so they can't be compared sufficiently. 

Second, isn't it a tad self-serving how Michael Flatley (the show's host) featured his group, Lord of the Dance, for the first Irish group piece? Absolutely. And, unfortunately, it now features a soloist (who also performed by himself for Ireland) with no expression or smooth movement like Flatley himself. Not a great way to start off the show.

Third, why isn’t this a live show like the rest? Probably because there are too many performers to move on and off stage and too many set changes for a two hour production. But this makes the whole show appear awkward, especially in the way it is cut and filmed. While Argentina’s soloist performed a Cabaret piece that lacked in movement and concept, it didn’t help that the camera crew forgot to film her footwork. The crew keeps doing this throughout the show, sometimes cutting off the performers from view completely.

Fourth, shouldn’t this be more of a showcase of styles, rather than a competition? Yes! But NBC thinks it needs its own dance competition show like ABC and FOX.

I must admit, there were a few exceptions to the bad performances, including Austria’s modern group piece that featured strong ballet technique and ground-work, and China's athletic group piece. But besides these few pieces, I was not entertained, informed or able to stay awake. 

What did you think? Could anyone actually like this show?