Characters of Dance



Jean-Phillipe Rameau, Henry Purcell, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, Arthur Foote, Pierre Henry, Marin Marais, Adolphe Adam


Mark Franko
Susan Hogan




Characters of Dance is an evening-length work choreographed in 1990. The following are preparatory notes interspersed with descriptions of the finished work and presented in the form of a project.

Project. To choreograph a "new" baroque work. Guidelines: fanciful atmosphere, corrosive statement, doing impossible things in dance (i.e., using dance to represent abstract concepts).

Title. This piece was inspired by a title of a baroque dance suite, Jean-Ferry Rebel's Les Caractères de la danse (1715). None of Rebel's music, however, was used in the new work. Rebel mapped dance moods as generated by musical forms. The character of each musical segment indicated the character of the dance performed to it. Rebel thus characterized dance moods through musical stimuli. Characters of Dance, on the other hand, recycled dance vocabularies (historical, classical, modern) and their eccentric uses by characters. Here, the emphasis is no longer on dance forms as rhythmic behavior. Instead, dancers articulate erratically different styles in new constructs.

Methods. Convey the historical past as a personal past: another way of dealing with the unconscious. Choreographic lesson: thinking backward--to analyze the conventions of choreographic structure; to dance that theme.

Characters of Dance

Costumes. Designer Susan Hogan has been doing relief paintings using the brass mesh material that she molds here into shapes that appear at once baroque and physically organic. A fine brass mesh molded over black unitards to suggest components of the baroque panoply--collars, panniers, etc.--as well as gender: biocultural protuberances or "cages." The costumes suggest an armature and an interspace. We experiment with the way this mesh moves with/on bodies in space. The costumes are "bent out of shape" by the dancers' movement as the piece progresses. Costumes become expressive as they "lose" their intended shape.

Music. An oscillation between baroque (Rameau, Purcell, Marais) and contemporary (Foote, Henry) composers with occasional excursions into nineteenth-century romanticism (Tchaikovsky, Adam, Rachmaninoff).

Lighting. Designer Kathy Kaufmann scans the piece for its pulses and rhetorical turning points after which we analyze its "scenes" or "phrases." Each phrase should be lit as if it were a painting by carefully determining the intensity of chiaroscuro or the tenor of color relative to the costumes, performance space, and concept. The dance should become a moving painting.

Dancers. I am interested in individuality, characterological presence. I choreograph from their bodies, not on them. I have a particular vision of each of them. For me this vision, remaining unspoken between us, founds the intimacy of our working atmosphere and generates trust. Thus, the work is permitted to take place or come about.

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Last Updated 6/99 by
Mary Keelin

UCSC - Division of the Arts