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Posts Tagged ‘Charles Atlas’

I became aware of this film during a workshop with famed video artist Charles Atlas. Sergei Parajanov was one of the great Soviet film makers, and one of the more controversial for his time. After breaking with the institutionally approved “Soviet Realism” style, Parajanov was routinely persecuted, denied funding, and eventually imprisoned for homosexual acts. “Sayat Nova,” “King of Songs,” was the moniker given the 18th century Armenian poet Harutyan Sayatyan (the film is marketed to the English speaking world as “The Color of Pomegranates). As luck would have it, the whole film is on Google video:

It is indeed a feature film of about 70 minutes. If you’re pressed for time and want a taste, I suggest the Prayer Before the Hunt scene at around 19:00. It may give you an appetite for more, as it did for me.

What I love most is how Parajanov uses the still frame and the choreography to activate iconic portraiture. The work is a remarkable marriage of 20th century film editing technology with the image production of the 18th century Persian empire. Fans of Meredith Monk or Christopher Williams should get a kick out of it, as should anyone else who enjoys the poetry of image – it is beautifully composed.

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For the past two weeks the ex.e.r.ce group (for so my program at CCN Montpellier is called) has been working with choreographer and CCN director Mathilde Monnier to mine the video documentation of dance legend Merce Cunningham for material that can be personally relevant to our work. We began by directly copying phrase material from video, a current favorite method of appropriation among some contemporary choreographers. It was thrilling to see both our failures – owing to our largely soft-body technique backgrounds and sketchy familiarity, for all but one, with the American modern dance tradition – and our successes – owing to our two weeks of Cunningham training with Foofwa d’Imobilité, diffusion of culture, and our brave spirits. I gave myself the assignment of learning all of the material danced by Lisa Fox in the 1978 piece Fractions I, a collaboration for video with Charles Atlas. I was interested in identifying how a single dancer interprets choreography made both specifically for her and for a group of her piers, and in how this interpretation adds variety to an often mythologized and monolithic understanding of the world of Cunningham. I also found Fox’s sullen understatement and delicate athleticism really compelling. She reminds me a bit of my friend Anna Whaley. Below is one of the solos that I learned – it begins with a shot of the now superfamous Karole Armitage as a bendy young thing in a pink uni.

 After working on direct appropriation, we have continued by analyzing the presence of the source video in staging the appropriated material, examining our own confrontations and critiques of the Cunningham body, etc. The fruits of this research will be performed at the CCN Montpellier on Thursday, December 3rd.  If you’re in the neighborhood, do drop by.

Exploration of archival material is certainly a hot topic in choreography and the arts in general. While the future keeps getting smaller (mark your calendars for 2012), the past keeps getting bigger, so in terms of numbers there’s just a whole lot more to explore behind us than in front. Add to this a recent rekindling of enthusiasm for the appropriation art of the 1960s and 70s – I personally couldn’t get enough of Sherrie Levine and Louise Lawler at the recent Pictures Generation exhibit curated by Doug Eklund at the Met this past summer.

Sherrie Levine's "Untitled (President: 4)" (1979)

Louise Lawler's "Pollock and Tureen" (1984)

Louise Lawler's "Pollock and Tureen" (1984)

If you’re curious about how restoration and adaptation of material from historical or external sources is playing out in current choreographic practice, check out “Studies Project: Reconstructions and Re-Imaginations,” a panel conversation moderated by  Randy Martin and hosted by Movement Research at PS 122. A variety of perspectives on adaptations ranging from traditional transmission of repertory to extra-legal appropriation of copyrighted material will be present. Richard Move will be there, hopefully dressed in Martha Graham style, comme ça:

Richard Move, as Graham, photographed by Josef Astor

My friend Deborah Black will be present to discuss her adaptations of solo scores by Deborah Hay. Lori Bellilove, artistic director of The Isadora Duncan Dance Company, will discuss her restorations of a repertory with a marked dearth of archival material, while Levi Gonzalez will provide perspective on appropriation from film and video as a contemporary choreographic practice. Pat Catterson, DD Dorvillier, Stacy Spence, and Jodi Sperling will also be on the panel.

Monday, November 23, 2009

 PS 122

150 1st Avenue at E 9th Street

New York, NY

7pm – 9pm

Admission: FREE

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