UMS Night School: Curious About Dance – Session 1 Recap
Not New, But In a New Way
If one thing was made clear from Monday’s first session of Night School (besides the fact that Clare Croft calls “intermission” “half time” like in basketball games), it’s that there are tons of awesome dance performances happening in Ann Arbor this winter. Between intimate experimental works, large-scale productions, films screenings, and more, we’ll have plenty to discuss in our Night School sessions each week. As a senior Dance Major at U-M and an avid fan of performances that push the boundaries of how we interpret movement and storytelling, I am definitely looking forward to unfolding this Night School series with a new cohort of dance enthusiasts. I’ve only experienced an hour and a half of Night School so far, but I can tell I’m going to have a great time, especially knowing that each session will be led by two wonderful members of the U-M Department of Dance: Professor Clare Croft and first-year MFA candidate Charles Gushue.
Curious about dance, and all ready for Night School!
We began tonight’s session with a crash course in watching and writing about dance. Clare, a longtime dance critic and writer (who just celebrated the publication of her new book!) showed us some examples of writing that successfully paints a picture of movement on stage. We then engaged in our own writing exercise: we watched four fellow classmates embody aliens exploring the planet and came up with our own descriptive sentences based on the detailed notes we took during their performance.
We observed these four Night School participants and came up with sentences to describe their movement and interactions with the space. It definitely wasn’t too difficult to come up with colorful metaphors, given these vivid characters and images!
Writing about dance begins with observation, and requires awareness and acknowledgement of what it is that we notice. As we observed these “tasty little animals moving through the jungle” (as described by one Night School student), Clare prompted us to take note of details such as how the performers interacted with objects in the space, how they directed their focus, which body parts they maneuvered.
The three major elements of successful dance writing.
After we landed on some descriptions that envied the writing of Deborah Jowitt, Charles launched into a set of activities that prepared us for this weekend’s performance: Afternoon of a Foehn, presented by Compagnie Non Nova. This experimental work is set to Claude Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, which also serves as the musical score for the Vaslav Nijinsky ballet L’après-midi d’un faune (The Afternoon of a Faun). Charles shared his experiences dancing Nijinsky’s Faun, and introduced labanotation as a way of seeing how the ballet choreographer recorded his movement on paper.
Night School students Harvey and Linda try out one another’s movement via labanotation.
We experimented (and jovially struggled!) with our own versions of labanotation, then got a taste of Compagnie Non Nova’s interpretation of the Debussy score through plastic bags, which serve as the main playing characters for the production. As we tossed these bags around the circle like a group of slap happy children on the playground, Charles invited us to call out words that described our actions–returning to Clare’s earlier point about how we can use words to describe the movement and interactions we notice. This is what I love about the versatility of the Night School series: in one session, we can regard the movement of the Trisha Brown Dance Company and flitting plastic bags as equally legitimate agents for describing and discussing dance.
Having fun exploring the motions of plastic bags in preparation for Compagnie Non Nova!
Next week, we’ll kick things off with a reflection of Compagnie Non Nova, then begin to prepare for the next set of performances. We will be joined by U-M Associate Professor of Dance Amy Chavasse, who will introduce us to work of the Trisha Brown Dance Company (performances at Power Center Saturday, 2/21 and Sunday, 2/22); and solo contemporary artist and performer Anna Martine Whitehead, who will appear in the U-M Department of Dance performance of Confetti Sunrise (Wednesday, 2/18 and Thursday, 2/19 at the U-M Duderstadt Center Video Studio). These productions, Afternoon of a Foehn included, will each offer us new ideas about how to view and interpret performance, and I can’t wait to see what discussions surface in next week’s session!
Performances this weekend: Compagnie Non Nova, Afternoon of a Foehn, Feb. 14-21, various times, Skyline High School. TICKET REQUIRED.
Session 1 Resources and Readings: