One thing I LOVE to do is contradicting myself. Why? Because I believe discussion about a topic can never be black and white, and because I see value in many things from both sides of the coin. Last month I wrote an article about unintentional juxtaposition in Tribal Fusion.
In case you haven't read it, here is a quick summary: in the medium of dance as a performative art, we talk about 5 strands that make up a performance: space, performer, movement, sound and audience. All of these strands influence a performance, and each strand is linked to each other. The relationship between these strands can be integrated, juxtaposed or coexistent. An example of juxtaposing two strands is having a hip hop dancer dancing to the soundscore of Swanlake.
I found that through observing different tribal fusion performances, a lot of juxtaposition takes place at times, and it is often not an intentional choice. A performer wearing Afghan jewellery while dancing to Dubstep is a perfect example of juxtaposition, and with my article I wanted to ask questions about making these choices as a performer.
But today, I am going to contradict myself slightly. But first: let's look at the term Binocular Vision:
Binocular Vision is a term used to describe the nature of performances into two elements: phenomenology and semiotics. Phenomenology in dance refers to the pre-reflective experience, for example, the 'wow' factor when watching a performer. Aesthetics belongs to this element. Semiotics refers here to meaning in a dance performance through the study of signifiers. For example: in ATS the semiotic language that happens before the turn following a Choo Choo Arch is the flick of the wrist which is non verbal communication for all dancers to turn in unison.
In Tribal Fusion, this sign of the hand gesture has been adopted into the aesthetic, but has lost its purpose somewhat as it is often used in group choreography (so cues are not necessary anymore) OR it is used in solo improvisation which again means the cue lost its purpose.
In this article I want to talk about the Art of Cut and Paste. Cut and Paste culture is a term often used in ATS and Tribal Fusion. In dance cut and paste is about taking one element of one dance style and adding it to elements of another dance style. It can be more than just that, it can be adding one idea/philosophy of one dance style and adding it to a dance movement vocabulary. For example: Indian Classical dance is about story telling. So Indian fusion dance could possibly be using the idea of Indian story telling with the movement vocabulary of contemporary dance, it doesn't necessarily mean Indian dance movement needs to be used in order to make it Indian fusion, in my opinion. I believe the idea of Cut and Paste has a lot of controversy and criticism. Many believe it to be cultural appropriation, but that's a discussion for another time.
I personally believe that Cutting and Pasting can be an Art. In terms of Aesthetics, it means that an aesthetic of one dance style is combined with the aesthetic of another style, and somehow 'it works'. This notion of 'it works' often gets criticism, because it suggests that art isn't subjective and that somehow there is some golden rule that makes one work more beautiful than another. That is certainly an interesting discussion to have, and that has been going for quite some time! But perhaps there is some truth in the universality of the Art of Cut and Paste? Take for example Carolena Nericcio and let's link it to the strands of the dance medium (explained in the previous article): Carolena is the founder of ATS, a dance style that proved it is here to stay and has sister studios all over the world. So: one can say that 'it works'. Of course, good marketing does help in this day and age, but I think for a dance form to be here to stay, a lot of research has gone into it as a system. Looking at the strands of the dance medium:
1) Performer: costume: flamenco style full circle skirt, pantaloons, Indian cholis, coin bra, turban or hairpieces,... A mix of North African, Central Asian,... jewellery none of which are necessarily contextually related to each other.
2) movement: movement inspired by: Flamenco, Indian dance, Turkish dance, Egyptian dance, ...
3) sound: Turkish 9/8, Eastern European, Greek music, Egyptian,... and the use of finger cymbals.
4) space: Tribal Fest stage, big theatre productions, haflas, restaurants, Renaissance Fairs,...
5) Audiences: from all over the world, use of zaghareet, clapping, cheering,...
Even though many of these substrands seem completely unrelated to each other, one of the reasons why ATS is so popular is because as an aesthetic, 'it works'. In an age where we can find out about any dance in any part of the world through youtube at any time of day, it is important that Cut and Paste does and will happen. And in contradiction to what I might have hinted on in my last article, I actually really love this sort of work, as I believe it is an art and some do it very well.
Rachel Brice spoke about this in an interview in which she says that when she finds two things incredibly beautiful that to her make sense together, whether it is music, movement, costuming, ... she just HAS to put them together. And I think she is very good at that...
If we go back to the language used in the previous article on unintentional juxtaposition, perhaps what Rachel does is not so much juxtaposing two strands, in fact she is integrating two strands as she found a common element between the two: HER idea of what is beauty. So for her, it works. And I think when the intention of the artist is there, perhaps it comes across to the viewer?
We can have weeklong conversations about the notions of meaning and aesthetics in dance and in arts. I'm sure many of you have seen the images of the Daasanach tribe in Ethiopia turning garbage into beautiful jewellery... Now THAT is the Arts of Cut and Paste. We could have a long discussion about what it means for a tribe in Ethiopia to create adornment out of something that is seen as disposable by others. We could look at the aesthetic nature of repetition (in this case: use of many of the same objects) in order to create texture and patterning and therefore create something beautiful or meaningful.
I'm intrinsicly fascinated by what makes something beautiful. What makes something work. I often throw in terms such as 'Golden Ratio' to try and explain these ideas, but really they are sometimes inexplicable. I believe there is such a thing as universal beauty in arts, in which direct meaning becomes obsolete and the work can stand on its own. It's what makes you gasp when you experience it, because it moves you so deeply, without being able to articulate why.
One of my favourite Tribal Fusion choreographies is the Glide Trio performed at Tribal Fest 2013, choreographed by Rachel Brice. In this piece the dancers are wearing 1920s full length assuit, Obsidian Windchime headdresses, music by Felix Thorn (Brighton! of course...) in which xylophone (don't quote me on that) seems to be used patterned with electronic repetitive percussive sounds and movement varies from American Cabaret, Tribal Fusion and yoga. You cannot get more eclectic than that, right? You could say the performance is a mix and match of different juxtaposing strands. Yet, it works. And it works well. Because the overarching aesthetic works as a whole. What Rachel has done with the Cut and Paste of these different elements that make up her performance is creating this dreamlike quality throughout the whole piece, and each element of the strand fits that description perfectly: the music, the performers, the costuming, the make up, the movement, even the iconic Tribal Fest backdrop on the stage. Perfection.
So in contradiction to what I might have insinuated in other articles, I don't believe in a right way and a wrong way. And even if sometimes I do, that opinion shifts often. A person is never one way or another at any time, we have complex thoughts about arts, which are always evolving. Sometimes I crave creating meaning with my dance, sometimes I crave just creating something beautiful (or whatever that means for me) for the sake of it. I find that meaningful in its own way.
For me the most powerful performances that stay with me for years to come are those where there is a balance created in the binocular vision: if a performance is only focused on aesthetics and the phenomenal experience, I will most likely enjoy it at that time, but it won't stay with me. Likewise if a performance is filled with semiotic content yet no attention went to the phenomenal experience I usually switch off as there is too much information to absorb yet no moment to let the eyes feast on the aesthetic. Yet to find balance between the two? Then we have a winner...