Archives for posts with tag: Merce Cunningham

Paul Pavey ` wolf instruments`` Visual and Aural Counterpoint `. In Part 1, the previous blog, I covered my approach to commencing a dance improvisation class. This is the continuation where I will attempt to write about the use of counterpoint between what you see and what you hear.

Whereas in a technique class, the musical accompaniment  supports and follows the movement sequence, in an improvisation class the music may take on a compositional aspect. I always look for opportunities to play some `visual and aural counterpoint` which may increase the effect and experience of any given situation. For example; open atmospheric sounds against fast frenzied movement or happy and jolly musical themes against melancholy or aggressive movement.

Only using counterpoint may prove less effective than if it is used after a period where the music has followed either movement or a narrative. Counterpoint is neither easily understood by  children or inexperienced dancers/ performers and can lead to confusion. I would usually avoid it when playing for  those type of classes.

Here is a clip of Foofwa d’Imobilité interviewing Merce Cunningham discussing a point that music and dance do not always noticeably `fit` together and how and possibly why an audience is now accepting of that.

I think that aural and visual counterpoint increases the effect upon a third party/ audience providing it is used with purpose.  Definitely an effective tool in the creative box!

As a musician for dance, you must understand the need, purpose and function of a dance class. Here I am attempting to give the general environment that you may well experience from a contemporary class.

Essentially, a dancer takes a class in order  to develop the body and mind enabling them to perform incredible athletic feats or subtle movements while at the same time not becoming a broken wreck (over the last 30 years so much more care has gone into developing  dancers training, allowing  an increased work span and much less injury). A standard class usually has  warm up exercises, centering exercises which lead to small jumps, movement across the floor and more jumps. Other class exercises that a musician may play for include choreographic sequences, improvisation and a warm down (I will cover these elements singularly in due course). A class is usually around one and half hours.

A musician has to ‘work out’ what music suits a teacher best on the first few classes working together, attempting to build a relationship of mutual taste towards the music.You should be able to communicate with spoken word, occasionally it is necessary to judge from the body language of the teacher if they enjoy the music you play or not. There are three elements or protagonists within a class situation, Teacher, dancers and accompanist.  It`s the musician`s ( accompanist) job to give the rhythm and atmosphere that the teacher requires in order to communicate their lesson to the dancers. Usually, I find when that works the dancers enjoy the class and can give more focus to their bodies.

There are four main class based techniques ( contemporary dance) for which each require a completely different approach to the musical accompaniment style. That is not to say there are no other movement techniques that have  developed, but these really are the main four used to describe class style. Many teaches these days are combining ideas from different techniques and styles to suit their own work and doctrine towards a dancers health.

Graham Technique : a passionate, spiritual and physically strong technique based on the original method developed by Martha Graham ( see http://marthagraham.org/center/ ).

Cunningham Technique : an architectural style of movement through space developed by Merce Cunningham ( see http://www.merce.org/about/ ).

Limon Technique : developed upon the work of Jose Limon this technique demands  the use of gravity, weight and energy ( see http://www.limon.org/About/History.html ).

Release Technique : uses breath and fluid movement to minimise muscle tension and many exercises associate with therapeutic movement research ( see a great British exponent of this work  http://www.siobhandavies.com/dance/company/vision-mission-values.html ).

The adjectives used above for the movement styles can also be applied to describe the musical style of accompaniment. I will go further into describing my thoughts and experience on playing for these different techniques in later blogs.