Dance and Music

The two hardly seem separated do they? It is as if there is some invisible binding logic that forces the two to cavort around together and in such a manner that the relationship hardly seems questionable. Is it because they share such a simple relationship that one does not need to think in order to know that dance obviously accompanies music and vice versa. I propose that the problem begins here, and it is a problem, because if the relationship is so obvious that thinking is unnecessary then surely we are promoting stupidity which isn’t really what we want to promote is it? I would like to offer that even a cursory glance at a body dancing should assert that there is a lot going on socially, psychologically, and most importantly in terms of expression. To justify my making of a statement that is admittedly a little insensitive I will elucidate.

Dance’s relationship with music is something else, it is multifarious and it is not possible to compound it into a general statement. Music does certainly reflect upon and intuit music but the road doesn’t end or even begin here. It is this very common miscomprehension that compels me to propose some classifications for dance in the hope of instigating a debate on the subject.

However, before I have even begun compiling my thoughts into text, there is some conflict in interpretation coming from Rachel Clerke. A quote or citation would be ideal but I’m afraid of misquoting so instead I will acknowledge her argument in what I write because I believe her to be correct in her argument, though only up to a point.

The following classifications generally apply to a music and dance relationship wherein both performers are believed to have some artistic integrity and contribution towards composition and performance. This must be noted for the reason that ‘performers’ may not be considered artists, as much as they are involved in the artwork, because they are constituents of the art piece.

The preceding statement is included as an amendment to my original unpublicised thoughts.

Just before I begin outlining the classifications I will outline my beliefs as to what a Choreographer does, how this affects dance practise, and why this is important to an understanding of the classifications and will hopefully have positive repercussions throughout this document.

The primary issue within the canon of music and dance collaborations is the dominance of music and then the subservience of bodily movements to the rhythmic structure determined by the music. Whilst it seems that music is the protagonist and is whom we ought to discuss, it is actually the conventions of dance practise that can be criticised in the most constructive way. Dance is synonymous with Choreography in one very specific way. This specific way is actually the deliberation of movement that must come from an intention to move in a way that is categorically dance. This is through the conscious devising of movements that reflect an individuals understanding of the social context, the purposes of the dance, the appropriate responses to a given impetus that is typically conventional (popular/popularist) music. In less direct ways Choreography is only important to dance in the way that dance is perceived to be, this means that established choreography influences general perceptions of how one should move given a certain context and some means of impetus. From this we can say that people dance in clubs in a way that reflects the choreography present in popular music videos and contemporary dance is impacted by the education of its proponents. This is also to say that the history of the individual and the influences they receive make the dancer and this exists on every level. Choreography permeates through every level of understanding of what dance is. At the present moment in time it might be safe to assume that dance is anything and everything that is an out of the ordinary movement although the post-modern in dance attempted successfully to deconstruct this general hypothesis.

It is widely accepted that choreographers design dance routines and that this practise is as much about where a body is in space and how it gets there, as it is about the exploration and manipulation of the body’s potential or limits in regards to form and mobility and their corresponding aesthetics. Something that might be taken for granted is the choreographer’s knowledge of Choreology and Choreosophy, the science and philosophies of dance; alternatively called the knowledge and the theory of dance. They certainly seem as though they are taken for granted by audiences and incorrectly so. For it is not known how seriously choreographers generally take these branches of their practise. Taking a cursory glance at choreography it seems as though there is a general lack of interest, which is detrimental to not only dance practise but also the credibility and respect that choreographers and dancers would like to be ascribed with. I think that an unfortunately redundant question is, “What does movement do to the body?” If Choreology and Choreosophy took a greater precedence in the interests of Choreographers then there may be less of an inclination towards studies of music for dance and, correspondingly, for the clichés and trapped aesthetics of such practise.

I hope that I have now set the stage now for the provision of an initial set of classifications that will be open to revision. These stages are as follows.

Dance to Music. The music accompanies the dance and the situation that occurs here is one where the dance intuits the appropriate movements for the music and the environment within which the body is moving. This is typically an improvised dance that exhibits the character of a performer, their understanding of movement, and their social status.

Dance for Music. Beats and rhythms are congruous or syncopated with bodily movements. This is a convention for a large proportion of dance and music productions. Decisions behind the Choreography tend to be biased towards the aesthetic pleasantries of aural visual correlations. As a generalisation, beautiful aesthetics are the primary concern whilst an intentional discordance between movements and the music is a rare intention. This would be because the purposes of the dance become very much an extension of the concerns of the dance or of the Choreographers interpretation of the mood, purpose, or resonances of the music. If the purposes of the Choreographer were not to complement the music then a less aesthetics driven image would be logical. Examples of this kind of work can include Contemporary Ballet as with Emio Greco I PC, ‘ONE & TWO, or Modern dance, often appropriated for mainstream culture productions, by Kate Prince or Jamie King who work with people like Madonna and Girls Aloud.

Dance accompanied by Music. This is where the relationship can begin to become interesting. In being accompanied by music we must assume that the relationship between the dance and the sound is fundamental to the audiences experience but the dance itself is not intended to be a reflection of the music. It is this fact that differentiates this situation from the above two situations. The aesthetics of bodily movement has space to be developed alongside the purposes of the movement, to be an expression, and to be a haptic practise. This is dance for the sake of analysing the body and movement spectacle, a study of body aesthetics, and dance practise as an art. In this situation, both practises, dance and music, are capable of being art in their own right. A good example of this would be in Merce Cunningham’s and John Cages ‘Points in space’ wherein the sound and visuals are disjointed but share discernable moments of discordance and unison. Another example would be the low budget films of Robin Cantrell and Mira Cook –

Dance can create its own sound – Dance movement made in silence can never really be silent, the sounds of the audience and of the performers create a different aural situation. What does this mean and what does it do? Does this situation allow for the intense conceptualisation of the body and of movement? Do the acoustic properties of the body develop because it is possible for the body to do this without the accompaniment of music? All of these questions seem to be rhetoric. Studies of the body and movement can be found in this situation within meditative practises such as yoga or martial arts but exist too in choreographic works…

Dance and Music are made for one another. This suggests a relationship wherein the dance attempts to develop its own dialogue and rhythm independent of the music but is still open to the influences of the musician. Both mediums create an ephemeral situation in an improvised scenario. However it is conceivable that the music will dominate the situation but in a sensitive situation it ought to be possible to create an interesting dialogue.


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