Friday, January 25, 2013

Alvin Ailey via Claude Thompson

"Discuss a Choreographer who has had the most impact on you..."
The following is what I wrote about

Alvin Ailey
Alvin Ailey
Photo by Carl Van Vechten
Claude Thompson
Claude Thompson
Photo by  Carl Van Vechten
The more I explore dance history, the more difficult it is to choose only one choreographer responsible for having the most impact on me. However, it is also my exploration of dance history that has helped me to elect Alvin Ailey (1931-1989) as the one choreographer responsible for impacting my dance career and influencing me the most. I chose Alvin Ailey because the choreographers, dancers, and techniques which contributed to Alvin Ailey’s dance style and history are also what connect him to my mentor, Claude Thompson (1935-2007)-therefore contributing to my personal dance history.
When I was about fourteen years old, I saw the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, for the first time. I immediately fell in love with the combination of athleticism and grace, of both the male and female dancers. I remember chiseled male bodies, in nothing more than what resembled loin cloths, jumping, turning, stopping, and balancing in such dramatic ways, women who were barefoot, strong, yet still feminine, and both the men and women equally strong, elegant and captivating, whether dancing with each other or apart-I was mesmerized. Up until that time I had been singularly focused on ballet and had never seen male and female dancers showcased in such a beautifully unified way. I wanted to dance like that, but had no idea how a ballet dancer would learn how to do such things.  About five years later, I had the opportunity to take a master class from a gentleman named Claude Thompson who had assistants demonstrating the exercises and choreography for the class. His assistants instantly reminded me of the dancers I saw with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. After taking Claude’s master class, completely unaware of Claude’s association/history with Alvin Ailey and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, I became determined to someday become one of Claude’s assistants.
During the years I was taking classes with Claude, he always made mention of “Alvin” when discussing his days of studying “Horton” and he often mentioned the names Dunham and Graham when we would work on contractions and hinges and while working on one of “Talley’s pieces.” It wasn’t until I was his assistant that I learned that “Alvin” was Alvin Ailey of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, “Dunham” and “Graham” were the highly regarded modern dance pioneers Katherine Dunham and Martha Graham, and “Talley” was Talley Beatty who happened to have been a former Graham student and is well known for his amazing solo choreographic piece, Mourner’s Bench.
Claude often told his dancers and assistants that in order to become a strong and versatile dancer, it was important to study as many different dance styles and techniques as possible. He was also insistent that his assistants take Horton and Dunham technique classes, Afro-Haitian classes, as well as keeping up with our ballet classes. Claude also told many stories and lent many of his assistants and dancers videos in order for us to become familiar with the works of Talley Beatty and Jack Cole. It wasn’t until years after Claude’s death and while I was taking Dance History classes that I became aware just how much influence all these dance styles, dancers, and choreographers contributed so much to both Claude’s and Alvin Ailey’s dance history. The more I learned about Graham, Dunham, Horton, the more I began to see similarities in movements and philosophies that have influenced Claude and Alvin’s dance vocabulary , for example, when I recently heard a quote by Judith Jameson, of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, “If you haven’t studied at least four techniques, you’ll never get trough one of Beatty’s Ballets.” Upon hearing Jameson’s quote, I couldn’t help but give a nod to Claude for all the encouragement he gave his students to take as many classes of varying styles and techniques, from as many teachers as possible in order to help up become strong-capable of doing one of “Beatty’s Ballets.” I too have become an advocate of dancers and athletes having an extensive knowledge of different physical disciplines that will promote keeping their strong, dynamic bodies lean, flexible, expressive, and less prone to injury.
Exploring the topic of which choreographer has had the most impact on me has been a wonderful opportunity to realize how all dancers are the sum of all their parts, as well as the sum of all the parts of the teachers and choreographers who have shared their history with us. When given the opportunity to study dance history, dancers have the chance to become aware that the world of dance is small and we are all connected thanks to this beautiful art of movement. Through this exploration, I have learned that my most influential mentor, Claude Thompson, not only studied with many of the same people Alvin Ailey did, including Lester Horton-for whose style and technique I have tremendous respect, and who has influenced the way I structure the overall full body conditioning class I provide for my dancer and athletic clients- he was also the first guest artist in Alvin Ailey’s 1958 premier concert at the 92nd Street Y in New York. I am thankful I have had the opportunity to have been re-inspired by both Dance History classes to learn more about my mentor‘s dance history, which in essence has created mine. 

Written for
Saint Mary's College of California's LEAP Program
LEAP PERFA 125 Challenge by Exam
I am happy to report that I earned an A for this essay, along with completing three other questions/essays for the exam!
Margaret Karl
Jan 22 (3 days ago)
to me
Hi Melissa,

Here are your PERFA-125 results -- Great job!

Dear Melissa,
I read your PERF 125 challenge exam and your grade is an "A." Well done as usual. I think your analysis of Thompson via Ailey was clear and respectful and your assessment of the pas de deux was thoughtful. Just a note that pas de deux is already plural so you don't need the "pas des deux" that you have used herein. I don't think anyone has ever recognized the couple in the second pas, so I thought I'd mention that!



Here is a video of Talley Beaty's
"Mourners Bench"


Apples and Oranges

Comparing Dancing Apples and Oranges from Similar Trees
 I was directed to watch two videos, then analyze both dances and the dancers who performed them. 
Here are my thoughts

If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? This is a question many people are familiar with, yet the question is rarely explored, at great lengths or depths, outside of a philosophy class. Interestingly, this is the first question that came to my mind while viewing and analyzing the two video clips that were presented in the Dance in Performance Challenge by Exam Assignment. To address the task of writing about the two video clips with a critical eye, with as much consideration as a philosophy student is asked to ponder the tree in the woods question, requires equal analysis of perception as well as knowledge about what is being scrutinized. The following is an exploration of each dance and the dancers performing in each clip, and how music, movement, and facial expressions influence the similarities and differences, therefore impacting the viewer’s experience.
The clips presented have many similarities which can best be demonstrated upon analysis of the dancers. There is no doubt, after watching both videos that the technical prowess each dancer possesses lends itself to years of dance training with a strong ballet emphasis. The confidence each female dancer has in her male dance partner, and the intuitive symbiotic physical awareness that each male and female dancer have for each other, during the execution of each lift, is evident. The lifts-or tricks, depending upon a viewer’s knowledge and perception-are demonstrative of the type of trust between partners that is usually cultivated during many hours of rehearsals and performances extensively focused on pas des deux. While the video clips show that each couple equally displays great skill, confidence, and mastery of their choreography, and demonstrate each couple’s ability to maintain respect for musicality, without sacrificing their individual artistry, the clips also highlight the stark differences between each pair of dancers.
The first video link presents two dancers in sleek body suits; a male and female, engaged in a riveting choreographic display of movement, in what appears to be a dance or rehearsal room from the late 1970s or early 1980s. The movements of the two dancers are accompanied by music which may be classified as ambient by today’s musical standards or described as something similar to that would accompany a modern dance performance by chorographer Merce Cunningham. The dancers’ movements are fluid, seamless, and effortlessly executed, and the dancers maintain a physical point of contact at almost all times throughout the two-minute video clip, which is slightly reminiscent of the philosophies of the Judson Era Contact Improv of the 1970s. Though the dancers appear to be expressionless, void of passion and excitement-there is even a point at 0:36 in the clip where the female dancer comes up from the floor into a gloriously graceful developpe a la seconde with her hand covering her face-the lack of emotion coming from the two dancers does not detract from the excitement that their movements produce.  The lack of facial expression paired with the stark room and synergy of music and movement creates an atmosphere of voyeuristic opportunity-anyone with the good fortune to stumble upon them would feel as if they were allowed to witness a beautiful secret, or something akin to stumbling upon a sweet woodland creature that you would not want to disturb for fear the beautiful creature would flee. The video clip lends the opportunity for the movements to take center stage and claim all focus yet at the same time, the viewer is not unaware of the relationship between the music, the dancers, and the stark atmosphere.
The second video showcases acrobatic adagio couple, James and Kathy Taylor, performing one of their signature acrobatic adagio routines on the hit 1980s television show, Star Search. The choreography James and Kathy are performing in the second video clip happens to be the same choreography from one of the numbers James and Kathy performed, as The Taylors, while we were performers in the Andy Williams Show in 1996. Though the second video clip does not show how the piece of choreography begins, I can assure you, that unlike the couple in the first video-who appeared to be expressionless and unconcerned with having an audience from the moment their choreography begins-both James and Kathy are completely aware and invested in their audience from the moment they set foot on the stage. The video clip with The Taylors is representative of what 1980s television audiences desired-to be thrilled, surprised, delighted, and appreciated-to be entertained. Much like Disco Dancing of the 1970s, and the popularity of ice skating thanks to the 1984 Olympics, the choreography of  The Taylors  allowed time between the lifts and tricks for a poses, applause, and a moment of acknowledgement of their audience. At 0:23 you can see an excellent example of how the choreography allows the audience the time to process, appreciate, and acknowledge what has been presented. Also at 0:23 in the video, and at other spots throughout, such as at 1:01 there are obvious build-ups in the music where the audience is alerted to anticipate the next trick or lift. The calculated head-nods, choreographed smiles, flourishing arm, hand and wrist gestures, even the choice of using the Oscar Nominated song, Through the Eyes of Love, from the movie Ice Castles, lend to The Taylor’s ability to engage with their audience, and are representative of much of what was valued by an audience and lent to a performer’s artistic merit and popularity during the 1980s.
Prior to receiving the video links, I had never seen the first one and I am still completely unfamiliar with the dancers, the music, the intent of the piece, and the era from which it was conceived. The second video I instantly recognized as James and Kathy Taylor, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to challenge my perception of each piece’s value against the other. Each video highlighted the technical and artistic skills of the dancers, and were excellent examples of how artistic choices made to manipulate similar movements in relation to music can inspire divergent reactions depending upon the audience of intent. A person’s preference for either video can possibly be determined by the knowledge and exposure to both styles of dance. Some would prefer the first video because their perception may be that if a performance is presented in a serious manner, it lends itself more artistic value. Whereas others may prefer the second video because they value the amount of attention the performers are paying to them as an appreciative audience member. Regardless of one’s preference for one or the other, it is important to realize that until an audience has had the opportunity to view both, it is impossible to come to a conclusion of preference. I however, have been fortunate to have observed both, and I have found that both pieces are truly a work of art-creative works inspiring exploration, and worthy of consideration.

Here are the two videos.
I would love to know your thoughts on each.

Video Number 1

Video Number 2

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Biggest Loser Season 14

Have you watched the new season of The Biggest Loser? 

My Personal Training Clients know I'm a bit "intense" and they definitely have heard me yell. However, I am motivating, NOT demeaning! 
I LOVE to push my clients, but also appreciate assessing their abilities, knowing their thresholds, and taking them to their edge without pushing the envelope that flirts with emotional harm and physical injury.
To see a show, such as The Biggest Loser Season 14, that has trainers SCREAMING obscenities and not knowing how to assess if someone is really gonna pass out or not...knowing how to pull someone off a fake edge of fainting and push them further...uggg!
C'mon! The contestants are all taped-up, thrown-up, and falling down and that sends the WORST message to people who are already-self-abusive! 
It breaks my heart!

What is YOUR opinion about The Biggest Loser? Please feel free to leave a comment. 

I want anyone who is struggling with weight, health, and fitness, this:

Do you want to live a happy healthy and functional life?
Or do you crave abuse from someone who has been put upon a pedestal by Television Network Executives?

I posted the following on the Controlled Burn Fitness Blog

Though I have a reputation for being an intense and demanding personal trainer, working out efficiently, and losing weight successfully does NOT require a trainer to SCREAM and push a client to puking, falling, fainting, and risking injury! 

If that is the type of workout you crave, please look elsewhere for a personal trainer who promotes self-abuse, because that is NOT something I would ever endorse, promote, or deliver to any of my Controlled Burn Fitness clients.
I am happy to admit that I am actually a fan of The Biggest Loser. 

I do appreciate that the show does inspire many people to start moving and reevaluate the decisions they make about food and fitness.

However, I do not support the abusive nature of training that is presented during each episode.
Please, be kind to your body, even when pushing it to it's limits, so it will be willing to continue to deliver what you demand from it.

Stay happy, healthy, productive and kind!
-Melissa Adylia Calasanz
Controlled Burn Fitness