Photo © 2009. Nannette Bertschy & Ann Moradian.

looking at the world and challenging our assumptions, definitions and creation of it through the lense of the body, movement, the arts and science.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

International Dance Day in the City of Light

UNESCO Headquarters, Paris
April 27, 2011

International Dance Day was established in 1982 by the International Dance Committee of the International Theatre Institute of UNESCO. They, along with dancers and dance lovers around the world, have been celebrating on or around the 29th of April every year since. It has come a very long way from the intrepid expeditions in UNESCO's hallowed hallways, guerilla-style at noon, that I first attended a number of years ago. (Think 'tile-on-concrete,' dancers!) I am delighted to say that this ITI celebration has become an event not to be missed.

photo © Charlotte Zoller

Each year, the dance committee invites a prominent dance artist to speak on behalf of dance. This year the author was the Belgian choreographer and dancer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. I am sure I was not the only one who appreciated her honesty in saying that she is not "busy about meaning," despite the fact that the first question people often ask about dance is "What does it mean?" For her it isn't about translating meaning because, she says, there are things that dance can embody and express that are not nameable.

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, photo © Herman Sorgeloos

We had the opportunity to see her perform Part 3 of Fase (a four-part work to the music of Steve Reich, created in 1983), which is an excellent example this. The base phrase in this section of the work, as in the music it is choreographed to, is repeated again and again and again, with small variations that accumulate over time to add up to a powerful transformation of the work from beginning to end. You can't really put words to those kind of subtle, and very abstract variations in energy, angle and intent that change our experience as viewers entirely. And that is, indeed, one powerful and curious aspect of what dance can and sometimes does do.

Rosas Danst Rosas, photo © Herman Sorgeloos

A section from Thierry De Mey's film of De Keersmaeker's Rosas danst Rosas was also presented. I suspect it would be very unusual not to respond viscerally to De Mey's dance films. His lighting, footage, editing and music choices are merged with actual sound in such a way that we feel it in our skin -- we are there, and we are that. I find this Belgian composer, director and filmmaker to be a choreographer in his own right, and was sorry not to see more of his work on this program.

Salva Sanchis and Kris Defoort, photo © Charlotte Zoller

I appreciated the quiet connection between Salva Sanchis and his collaborator, pianist-composer Kris Defoort in their improvisational work, Action. I found the quality of Sanchis dancing honest, sincere and organic.

Albert Tiong's Second Chance, photo © Charlotte Zoller

Frontier Danceland, the group of young dancers from Singapore, were beautiful movers in Albert Tiong's work Second Chance. I was impressed with how effective their lighting was, creating beautiful pools and shadows, especially knowing that their tech was set and run only briefly that afternoon.

And that leads me to what I really want to talk about here, which is all the people you don't see and often don't even hear about when you go to a live performance: The lighting and technical staff, for example; the rehearsal directors and teachers who have dedicated their lives to training the next generation of artists; the staff of ITI and its Dance Committee members who have, year after year, decided that dance matters; World Dance Alliance, and World Dance Alliance Europe which collaborates with ITI on this event each year; the Permanent Delegation of Belgium to UNESCO; the Flemish Government and the National Arts Council Singapore; and those who are no longer with us but have carved out a path for us, like Ilona Copen who was a driving force for the creation of this and many other dance organizations and events. These are "dance enthusiasts" of the most dedicated and modest variety, and it is good to remember them from time to time, and thank them for keeping dance (even if it isn't 'busy about meaning') in our world.

photo © Charlotte Zoller

International Dance Day Message 2011
by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
"I think dance celebrates what makes us human. When we dance we use, in a very natural way, the mechanics of our body and all our senses to express joy, sadness, the things we care about. People have always danced to celebrate the crucial moments of life and our bodies carry the memory of all the possible human experiences. We can dance alone and we can dance together. We can share what makes us the same, what makes us different from each other.
For me dancing is a way of thinking. Through dance we can embody the most abstract ideas and thus reveal what we cannot see, what we cannot name.
We carry the world in our bodies.
I think that ultimately each dance is part of a larger whole, a dance that has no beginning and no end."

© Ann Moradian 2011.
This article was originally published in The Dance Enthusiast

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Why Support the Arts?

This is Randy Cohen's post for Arts Watch. He was asked for '10 Reasons to Support the Arts' by a major business leader. He was supposed to put together a compelling argument in one page. This is what he said:

10. True prosperity…The arts are fundamental to our humanity. They ennoble and inspire us—fostering creativity, goodness, and beauty. They help us express our values, build bridges between cultures, and bring us together regardless of ethnicity, religion, or age. When times are tough, the arts are salve for the ache.

9. Stronger communities…University of Pennsylvania researchers have demonstrated that a high concentration of the arts in a city leads to higher civic engagement, more social cohesion, higher child welfare, and lower poverty rates. A vibrant arts community ensures that young people are not left to be raised solely in a pop culture and tabloid marketplace.

8. Health and well-being…nearly one-half of the nation’s healthcare institutions provide arts programming for patients, families, and even staff. 78 percent deliver these programs because of their healing benefits to patients—shorter hospital stays, better pain management, and less medication.

7. 21st Century workforce . . . reports by The Conference Board show creativity is among the top applied skills sought by employers. 72 percent of business leaders say creativity is of high importance when hiring. The biggest creativity indicator? A college arts degree. Their report concludes, “…the arts—music, creative writing, drawing, dance—provide skills sought by employers of the third millennium.”

6. Improved academic performance…longitudinal data of 25,000 students demonstrate that students with an education rich in the arts have higher GPAs and standardized test scores, lower drop-out rates, and even better attitudes about community service. These benefits are reaped by students regardless of socio-economic status. Children motivated by the arts develop attention skills and strategies for memory retrieval that also apply to other academic subject areas such as math and science.

5. Arts in the schools = better SAT scores…students with four years of arts or music in high school average 100 points better on their SAT scores than students with one-half year or less. Better scores are found in all three portions of the test: math, reading, and writing.

4. Creative Industries…the creative industries are arts businesses that range from nonprofit museums, symphonies, and theaters to for-profit film, architecture, and advertising companies. An analysis of Dun & Bradstreet data counts 756,007 businesses in the U.S. involved in the creation or distribution of the arts that employ 2.99 million people—representing 4.14 percent of all businesses and 2.17 percent of all employees, respectively. (Contact Americans for the Arts for your local and state numbers.)

3. Arts are the cornerstone of tourism…arts travelers are ideal tourists—they stay longer and spend more. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that the percentage of international travelers including arts and culture events during their stay has increased annually the last six years.

2. Arts are good for local merchants…the typical arts attendee spends $27.79 per person, per event, not including the cost of admission on items such as meals, parking, shopping, and babysitters. Non-local arts audiences (who live outside the county) spend nearly twice as much as local arts attendees ($40.19 compared to $19.53)—valuable revenue for local businesses and the community.

1. The arts are an Industry…arts organizations are responsible businesses, employers, and consumers. They spend money locally, generate government revenue, and are a cornerstone of tourism and economic development. Nonprofit arts organizations generate $166 billion in economic activity annually, supporting 5.7 million jobs and generating nearly $30 billion in government revenue. Investment in the arts supports jobs, generates tax revenues, and advances our creativity-based economy.

If he asked for 11 reasons . . . what would you have added?