Three Words, x 2
Dance teachers say it all the time: ballet is the foundation for all dance. Yet students who see only hip-hop and contemporary dance in their future don’t think they need ballet. Those students should be taken immediately to a performance by Nederlands Dans Theater and placed somewhere in the first 12 rows. From there they will have an excellent vantage point from which to see absolute proof that ballet is essential to every dancer.
I saw Nederlands Dans Theater perform last October in Berkeley, California, in two pieces by the artistic team Paul Lightfoot and Sol León. The movement could only be called contemporary, but the dancers’ ballet training was obvious. Contemporary dance, these dancers proved, does not have to be (as so much of what passes for good dancing seems to be these days) something you slide, fling, flail, and hurtle through. The NDT dancers had finesse, such control that you’d think each muscle fiber moved individually. Smooth grace interrupted by the flash of a smile, the counterpoint of a sudden, fleeting freeze. Isolations? Precise. Pops and rolls? Nuanced and articulate. Falls to the floor, bounding leaps, pelvic thrusts (primal, not nasty), snippets of ballet vocabulary? All done with perfect timing and individualized expression.
Watching them, I thought of what writer Italo Calvino described as the essential qualities of literature: lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, and multiplicity. I’ve grown used to looking for these qualities on the page, but there they were before me, made physical by the NDT dancers. Lightness: bodies that flew, outstretched, or effortlessly reoriented to the changing gravity in a rotating cube. Quickness: the fast-twitch switch from the pop of a shoulder, knee to the chest, to an elastic attitude in plié, arms reaching stage right. Exactitude: perfect placement, set on repeat. Visibility: each step shaped to show emotion, intent. Multiplicity: the rolling together of turnout and parallel, sharp and smooth, lizard-quick and luxurious, sometimes almost simultaneously.
Your next advice to that reluctant ballet student? Three words: Nederlands Dans Theater.
And now three more words: Happy New Year! Because we are always saying how important it is to experience dance beyond the studio doors, we’ve created two new departments that will help you and your students do that. Starting this month, College Close-Ups will help you guide students who are interested in studying dance in college to programs best suited for them. Each issue will profile a college or university dance program and include at-a-glance information for easy perusal.
Starting next month we’ll bring you Performance Corner. After scouring the myriad performances happening across the U.S., we’ll bring you our recommendations for concert dance that will broaden your students’ thinking (and teachers’ too) about what dance can offer, and hopefully inspire them in the process. Whether they set off on a lifetime of dance class or performance or simply support and enjoy the art form as audience members, they have so much to choose from. And so do you.
—Cheryl A. Ossola, Editor in Chief