February 2010


When thinking of the London School of Economics and Social Sciences, one usually does not think of dance! However, on February 12th, as part of the  Space for Thought Literary Festival LSE hosted renowned dance scholar Prof. Helen Thomas and innovative choreographer Jasmin Vardimon for a discussion about the intersections between dance and text.

First, the question of writing about dance was explored; Prof. Thomas illuminated the difficulties concerning moving dance from a three dimensional activity to a two dimension medium; Vardimon noted that for her in many ways dance is untranslatable thus she wishes writers would focus on the essence of the work rather than using descriptive language. Then Jasmin talked about a text she finds inspirational, Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor, and showed its correspondence to her work, Lullaby. The question of notation was then raised, and Thomas claimed she doesn’t see it as a key tool in the world of dance. Vardimon stressed the importance of individuality and personality in dancers she works with, and the fact that notation tends to force conformism rather than enable creativity in movement and to encourage personal interpretations.

Bringing the discussion to an end, the question of new technologies and their merit in this dialogue between dance and text was discussed. Prof. Thomas claimed that she doesn’t see a deep potential in dance blogs, youtube etc. to take over the textual- choreographic relationship with all its difficulties. Although this may democratize dance, it does not, to Thomas’ mind, take the place of live interaction between performer and audience. Varidmon agreed but added that she tries to explore how new technologies can be another creative element; for instance in the segment shown from Lullaby scanning and imaging (through medical technologies) functions as another spectator, able to unravel the dancer’s body, and make it visible to a different gaze.

The dialogue was followed by a vibrant Q and A session with the audience, in which both speakers were encouraged to elaborate on the questions asked previously, and also to comment on the relationship between dance and physical theatre; dance and gender, and the relation to the ideal body in dance (from the pre-pubescent ballet body to the strong muscular modern body); the relationship between age and dance was discussed, in which both discussants reflected on the need to include “older” dancers in the dance world; and the question of form and movement in which Prof. Thomas mentioned her admiration to Mulliphant and Balanchine, whereas Vardimon stressed how important to her was the dimension of the dancer’s individual growth and involvement with the piece.

The event was eye- opening and the dialogue formed between these two dance personas vivid and fascinating. Here’s to hoping this is a door opened in the LSE for future dance- related events!

The event “Dance, Text and Translation” was organized by Prof. Luc Bovens of the LSE, Dr. Jeniffer Tarr of the LSE, and Dana Mills from the University of Oxford. The event was funded by the Forum for European Philosophy and the Department for Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method at the LSE.

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Stop press: A filmed performance by the Royal Ballet of Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling, with Edward Watson in the title role, is being screened this coming Monday 22nd February at The Odeon, George Street. Starting time 7.00pm – not to be missed!

http://www.odeon.co.uk/fanatic/odeon-plus-information/m12232/The_Royal_Ballet__Mayerling/

How many of us are now hooked to the television on Saturday nights to see the latest search for talent show, “So you think you can dance?” – another knock-out competition which aims to find “Britain’s favourite dancer”.  Over the course of six weeks a selection of talented, and mostly highly trained, dancers are being put through their paces learning unfamiliar dance styles, working with a partner on new routines made for them by established choreographers.  In now familiar format the public vote on their performances and the judges have the final say in a dance off between the two least popular couples.  The prize for the lucky winner is £100,000 and the chance to dance in Hollywood.

Two of the 14 dancers selected to compete were known to me.  Drew already had precocious technical ability and an assured stage persona as a member of the National Youth Ballet in 2000.  Tommy Franzen caught the eye last year in Kim Brandstrup’s Goldberg at the Linbury Theatre, arrestingly combining playfulness and fluidity in his dancing alongside Tamara Rojo and other members of the Royal Ballet.  I am fascinated to see how far their abilities and personalities have taken them.

But beyond the drama of particular stories the programme raises other questions.  Are such shows beneficial to dance in their raising of public consciousness and enthusiasm – or do they perpetuate gladiatorial practice that favours the flashy and superficial? Is the public vote a true reflection of these dancers’ abilities or overly influenced by the lobbying of friends and the sentimentalising of their personal histories? Ultimately, what does it really take to become a great dancer?  Which of these varied individuals deserves to win this competition and why?  And why do we and others watch this programme?  Looking forward to reading your thoughts and preferences…