Table of Contents
1.0 Extended introduction
1.1 Influx of Modern Dance
1.3 Background of Hofesh Shechter
1.4 Hofesh Shechter’s perceived language of movement
2.0 Research Process
2.2 Justification of Research
2.3 Research Design
3.0 Critical Review
3.1 Movement Analysis of Hofesh Shechter’s Choreographic Work
3.2 Discussion of the Movement Analysis Findings
4.0 Explicit Summary
I owe my deepest gratitude to Sally Varrall for her continued support, guidance and encouragement throughout. I would also like to make special reference to my parents as without them the completion of this thesis would not have been possible.
This study investigates, through a detailed movement analysis of several choreographic works, whether Hofesh Shechter has created a new technique within contemporary dance today. The analysis utilises elements from both Adshead’s (1988) model for movement analysis and Stinson’s (2006) model for choreography: however adapting elements to consider the form and provide an evaluation through an external observation.
In conclusion this study has revealed that irrespective of era;
‘Art cannot be divorced from life – it is of life’s essence. The central subject matter of all art is emotional value not fact. The art which expresses emotional values in movement is dance. So to dance one must study and explore and know movement’
H’Doubler (1998, pxxix)
1.0 Extended introduction
1.1 Influx of Modern Dance
Towards the latter part of the nineteenth century, due to the popular ballet productions relying ‘more on scenic effects than on actual dancing’, other new and exciting forms of dance were emerging (Cohen, 1992, p118). Two pioneers influencing the early materialisation of modern dance were Loïe Fuller and Isadora Duncan. Cohen (1992, p119) explains that Fuller, a minor, unsuccessful actress experimented with electric lighting, she did not possess a particular technique, but ‘she created a novel form of movement and revealed a tremendous potential for dance in the imaginative uses of lighting’. Cohen (1992, p119) expresses Duncan’s disapproval of ballet which she stated was ‘unnatural and harmful in its system of training, empty and unworthy in its theatrical form’ as she believed that ‘movement must spring from within’, coming from the instincts of the spirit. Although Duncan had a very specific approach, due to the reliance on ‘individual sensitivity’, no formal ‘technique’ was established (Cohen, 1992, 119).
The most instrumental flurry of pioneers in modern dance were Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman who emerged in the early twentieth century following their departure from the Denishawn Company; which is recognised as ‘the first “modern” dance company’ (Lewis, 1999, p14). Lewis (1999, p14) states that these three pioneers each envisaged further possibilities for movement, all wanting to ‘pursue their individual ideals, to develop new subjects for choreography and, eventually, new vocabularies of movement’. Furthermore they strongly believed that ‘dance could and should express themes more directly connected to their lives, to their own heritage as Americans’ (Lewis, 1999, p14), in contrast to the Denishawn Company, who’s inspiration for movement derived from ‘ethnic and folk dances from around the world’ (Lewis, 1999, p14).
Graham did not seek to ‘evolve or discover a new method of dance training’ (Cohen, 1992, p136). Horosko (1991, p2) explains that ‘Graham somewhat disingenuously made no claim to creating a new technique of movement. “No school of movements” she insisted should be added to her accomplishments; I have simply rediscovered what the body can do’. However, Graham admits to ‘dancing significantly’ which implies performing ‘through the medium of discipline and by means of a sensitive, strong instrument, to bring into focus unhackneyed movement: a human being’ (Cohen, 1992, p136). Lewis (1999, p15) describes her movement vocabulary as ‘extraordinarily angular and percussive… focused upon the structure and function of the body – on the physiological effects of breathing and on the function of contraction and release in the muscles, especially those in the back and abdomen’.
Humphrey & Weidman’s aspirations were to create choreographic ideas through the exploration of the human body; there was no intention to formulate a technique (Lewis, 1999). Lewis (1999, p18) reveals that ‘she was in essence a formalist. He was an expressionist’, Humphrey was concerned with a variety of movement responding and resisting to gravity ‘falling and recovering’ which she referred to as ‘the arc between two deaths’ (Lewis, 1999, p15). Whereas Weidman contributed an element of reality and humour incorporating everyday gestures (Lewis, 1999). Inevitably, Humphrey ‘created a technique to serve her creative purposes…an elastic one with inspirational resources open to those who practised it’ (Stodelle, 1979, pvii).
José Limón is distinct in the fact that he did not abandon his teachings of Humphrey & Weidman, but developed them further by adding ‘complex distribution of weight in the body’ (Lewis, 1999, p18). Lewis (1999, p24) explains that ‘his technique reflected his choreographic ideas; the imagery he used was dramatic rather than physical’, but still possessed a spiritual quality that came from within, previously shaped by Humphrey (Lewis, 1999). Limón, when referring to the use of the body as a whole, described it as ‘the body as orchestra’, each body part is like an instrument in that orchestra, he would ‘isolate the different body parts and explore the limits of rotation, stretch and flexion’ (Lewis, 1999, p27).
Distinctive from the rest, Merce Cunningham indeed had a clear intention to produce a technique, but not dissimilar to his predecessors, he also set out to challenge the previous teachings of Graham (Klosty, 1975). Klosty (1975, p11) explains that ‘Cunningham proceeded to develop a choreography and a technique based on the kinetic integrity of the body unconstrained by the rhythmic, melodic or formal proposals of an external music. It was a concept of dance quite beyond plotless’. Anderson (1997, p207) delves deeper into his theories regarding ‘chance and indeterminacy’ involving rolling a dice, or tossing a coin to determine orders of phrases of movement in a performance for example, not to be mistaken for improvisation.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s in Britain there was a contemporary movement practice known as New Dance, this involved the continuous process of questioning and re-evaluating, deconstructing and re-constructing the codified techniques (Claid, 2006). Claid (2006, p80) explains that the tools utilised to achieve this were the ‘body-mind centring, Aikido, Alexander technique and release-based knowledge’s’. To clarify, the codified techniques require the dancer to embody the ‘external representation of the performed language’ also referred to as the ‘mirror-reflected languages’ (Claid, 2006, p80). In recent times dance has been seen through a psychological viewpoint, correlating with Freud’s theories regarding the intellectual community which ‘reduce the image of the human being to that of a mere puppet of the instincts’ (Poplawski, 1998, p26). The opposing body-mind techniques focus on the ‘internal anatomy of the body where there is no externally constructed performance form as such’ (Claid, 2006, p80). Bales (2008, p32) imparts that the study of said body-mind movement theories has ‘escalated to a point of prominence among certain tribes of professional dancers, and is strongly reflected on the academy’.
Conceptually, these various techniques ‘represent branches of a tree, rather than steps of a ladder, with no one technique necessarily more “advanced” than another’ (Berardi, 2005 p77). Bales (2008) considers the actuality for professional dancers in Graham’s era for example, when it was typical for dancers to train and perform with a particular choreographer for many years exclusively. This is a rarity in the professional dance world today, suggesting that the ‘continued investment into eclectic training practices’ is essential for dancers to endure the demands of various choreographers, recognising that there is ‘no centre, or one central technique’ that can fully equip a dancer with the skills that are expected and required (Bales, 2008, p31). Bales (2008, p30) believes that ‘every new generation since the advent of modern dance has tried in one way or another to connect the performative and choreographic aspects of the dance art with training practices’. However, if this was in fact the case, the emergence of new techniques or ‘training practices’ would be more frequent. There is evidence to suggest that in reality, new codified techniques in contemporary dance have ceased to evolve in current times; with the vocational schools and conservatoires of dance still teaching these well established and respected techniques of the past (Trinity Laban et. al., 2010). However, some conservatoires do incorporate the delivery of released based dance techniques and other somatic approaches to movement, as they recognise their importance to the development of a knowledgeable dancer ‘offering a path to self-discovery or growth’ (NSCD, 2010; Bales, 2008, p32). Research into why the dance world acknowledges new and unique ability and style in choreography, but no longer seeks to translate this ability and style into technique is important for dance education; making the teaching of technique and technique itself relevant for today’s society.
In view of the issue outlined above, referring to the decrease in the emergence of new codified techniques within contemporary dance, questions have arisen. The distinctive and unique way in which pioneers, Graham, Humphrey and so forth were performing enabled their individual movement style to develop into a new technique. Interestingly, it was in fact the scholars and artists/dancers of that time who identified that Graham’s choreography, and the works that she presented, required a new technique to enable the body to achieve this movement aesthetic (Horosko, 1991). Perhaps this was in relation to the current issues in society and economy at the time when these techniques were established. As Jordan (1992, p9) explains, in the nineteenth century ‘woman were shaking off constraints. They needed to, for they were being stifled – mentally, physically, neurologically’. However, it could be argued that throughout every era people face issues and tribulations in their society which instinctively inscribes their being and their creative work.
An alternative factor could be due to the community dance boom, since the Dance and Mime Animateur Act in 1986, which shifted the importance from technique to just dance (Jordan, 1992). The emphasis changed from aspiration and imitation of the elite art form, to creating self confidence in one’s own ability to move the body regardless of status. Amans (2008, p4) stresses that this inclusive practice breaks boundaries and prejudices of dance as an elite art form; ‘community dance is about dance not being elitist… it can be anything that we, the community want it to be’. Nonetheless, professional training of a high-level is still fundamental to a dancers development as Beavers (2008, p129) agrees, ‘the idea is not to do without technique but to reinvent it over and over again in whatever way the moment requires’. It is suggested that as a result of the community dance boom, which fostered an increase in the popularity of dance, the desires and hopes held by modern dance pioneers have been objectified as simple form of amusement.
Whether, despite the popularity of dance, the art form has lost its way, is merely thrashing about in search of a core, has either sunken into a morass of subjective experimentation, physical acrobatics, or mere entertainment – the dangers that Duncan, Fuller, and Ruth St. Denis sought to transcend. One fears that somehow the impulse of these great pioneers has been side-tracked; that despite the genius of its leaders and the spiritual aspirations of many of its practitioner’s modern dance has not formed of itself a vessel that could carry these aspirations; that contemporary dance has somehow failed in its most profound mission
Poplawski (1998, p28).
Poplawski (1998, p28) also draws our attention to the detail that modern pioneers made every effort to surpass the ‘physical body’ and would view todays ‘increase in the physicality of dance…such that dance has come to be associated with athletic rigour… as a throwback to the acrobatic dancing which they strove to eclipse’.
Another aspect to consider is whether the practicality of creating an innovative and unique method of moving is still feasible. Smith-Autard, (2004, p73) states that ‘all choreographers try to invent new styles and even if a traditional style is used, rather than merely rearranging the prescribed content, the choreographer will probably take elements from the traditional style and embrace them within a style more relevant to the choreographer’s own time’. Beavers (2008, p127) continues this thought by suggesting that through personal experimentation and exploration of what the body can do, instinctively a technique is required; ‘discovering what is possible creates its own necessity, which gives rise to techniques or practices. So, in fact, there is always a technique behind a technique’.
On reflection upon the realisations of modern dance; the pioneers and their codified techniques; past and present training and development for the professional dancer; and possible explanations as to why new techniques have ceased to evolve from current day choreographers, it is clear that the next progression is to ascertain a definition for the term technique and all that encompasses.
Beavers (2008, p77) supports the claim that ‘technique is often codified and associated with a particular teacher or choreographer: for example… Graham, Cunningham’, however this offers an overly straightforward interpretation of the term stating that, ‘technique is the way in which dancers use basic physical movement in class or performance’. This description indicates that no consideration was given to the body-mind techniques or somatic approaches in order to generate this explanation. Berardi (2005, p78) believes that incorporating these additional techniques and approaches are essential for a dancer’s development and progression: ‘a dancer needs to become a “thinking body” – to train mindfully and to dance seamlessly’. Smith-Autard (2000) agrees that there is room for a more profound description of the term technique, suggesting that it is the combination of skill and personal qualities that is the most ideal definition of technique.
By technique we do not mean here the mastery of skill and accuracy in a particular style. Such a concept of technique is too narrow…rather we mean by technique the discipline of the art… personal development through movement; the acquisition of skill in movement; the bringing together of skill and personal qualities for an artistic purpose expressed through dance
Smith-Autard (2000, p16-17).
There are several philosophical viewpoints that reach wider than the concerns of contemporary dance. Glasstone (1999, p951) explains that ‘good technique is to be in control of whatever it is one is doing – and I am not referring only to dancing… there is technique to making an omelette and to everything else we do in life – from brushing our teeth to making love’. Beavers (2008, p127) suggests that essentially ‘technique arises from the necessity of knowing how to do something’ which connects with the previous thought that through exploration of the bodies capabilities, techniques are instinctively created as required (Beavers, 2008). When a dancer achieves the balance between developing both the codified techniques and the body-mind techniques, recognising their individual significance and worth, only then will a skilled and accomplished professional dancer emerge. Cohen (1992, p136) agrees with this statement but places more emphasis on the body becoming free, ‘training, technique, is important; but it is always in the artist’s mind only the means to an end. Its importance is that it frees the body to become its ultimate self’. Bales (2008, p35) concludes that it ‘remains to be seen as to whether discrete styles or choreography or training may reach codification in time’ which invites the question as to why this has not transpired as of yet and furthermore, does it need theoretically underpinning. This research aims to investigate the issue of codification of technique; looks to discover a possible methodology in terms of analysis and observation in order to acknowledge the emergence of a new technique, by considering the work of a current choreographer.
1.3 Background of Hofesh Shechter
The new and exciting contemporary choreographer, Hofesh Shechter, who has been described by Mackrell (2005) as ‘ a true original’, has enthused and delighted audiences around the world with his unique and fluid movement vocabulary. Moelwyn-Hughes (2011) conveys, with consideration to his movement style, that ‘certainly it is underivative of anything you are likely to see on a British stage and this makes it extremely engaging… that sense that you’ve not seen any movement like this before’. This makes Shechter an ideal choice for analysis as he continues to receive high acclaim for his choreographic compositions and achievements, yet there has been no desire to consider whether the characteristic movement presented in his works could indeed be traces of a new technique evolving in 21st century contemporary dance.
Whilst studying at Jerusalem Academy for Dance and Music, Jerusalem born Shechter was required to do three years’ military service (Mackrell, 2009). Shechter explains;
In my country… we are brought up with a very strong idea of freedom. Then suddenly I was put into an institution that was the complete opposite of democratic, where we were running and doing shooting practice all day, and we didn’t even get to decide when to go to the toilet. It felt like an electrical short circuit in my brain
Subsequent to graduating from the Academy and qualifying for a lighter version of just one year’s military duty, Shechter moved to Tel Aviv in Israel to join the world renowned Batsheva Dance Company (Mackrell, 2009). Whilst in Tel Aviv, Shechter studied drum and percussion which he later resumed in Paris at the Agostiny College of Rhythm (Hofesh Shechter Company, 2010). This ignited experimentation and development of personal musical compositions together with playing drums in a rock band, The Human Beings (Roy, 2009). In addition to this, Shechter participated in numerous projects across Europe involving ‘dance, theatre and body-percussion’ (Hofesh Shechter Company, 2010). In 2002, upon moving to London Shechter became a dancer for Jasmin Vardimon, ‘a fellow Israeli expat’ (Roy, 2009). Roy (2009) expresses that Vardimon’s ‘pithy brand of dance theatre’ was well-suited to Shechter. Even so, in 2003 Shechter established his own company revealing that ‘I don’t want to dance for other people anymore and other people’s choreography, I want to do my own thing’ (Sharp, 2008). Simultaneous to this he created his choreographic debut, Fragments (2003), ‘for which he also created the score’ (Hofesh Shechter Company, 2010). The recognition that this powerful yet humorous portrayal received, not only earned Shechter the position of associate choreographer at the Place: a dance conservatoire in London, but also won the audience choice award at the Place Prize (Roy, 2009). In 2008 Shechter’s fifth work, In Your Rooms (2007) won the Critics Circle Award at the South Bank Show Award for Best Choreographer (modern) (Roy, 2009).