Dance und Music Contemporary Inter-Relations

Paula Rosolen “Libretto”
Paula Rosolen “Libretto” | Photo (detail): Jörn Lund

For a long time music kept a low profile in the movement research of contemporary dance. Now, however, the engagement with this old ally has become a new source of inspiration for many choreographers, opening up a fertile inter-space between the arts.

What dance gains from the musical is its good mood. The dancers smile directly into the audience, with far-flung gestures they open up the stage skywards and invite the spectators to be infected by their laughter. In her piece Libretto the choreographer Paula Rosolen analyses the genre musical: she delights in disassembling its structural features, its grand gestures and pathos formulas in order to reassemble them in a new way. With her on stage is the pianist David Morrow who engages in a fascinating dialogue with the performer Marko Milic: seated at the drum pads, Morrow sets the beat while Milic performs gestures reminiscent of the video interview with the dancer Jamie Rodney from the musical The Lion King. The expressive gesticulation of the interview becomes itself the source of a new choreography. Later Morrow then speaks the tempi instructions of his own composition Caress, thus rendering its inner structure doubly audible: “staccato with ecstasy!”

Mutual inspiration

A remarkable number of choreographers are currently exploring the relationship of music and dance: in Built to last Meg Stuart confronts the pathos of classical music with a surprising, fragile and absolutely amusing movement vocabulary. And Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and Boris Charmatz are developing together with the violinist Amandine Beyer a very clearly structured trio to Bach’s Partita für Violine Nr.2. Other choreographers are trying to involve music to a greater extent in the choreography itself: in The Nikel Project – Songs & Poems the choreographers’ collective of Fabrice Mazliah, Ioannis Mandafounis and May Zarhy has collaborated closely with Yaron Deutsch and Reto Staub from the Ensemble Nikel, a contemporary music quartet, with the aim of entering into an equitable discourse on stage between music and dance. This discourse takes place in front of the audience; the five performers carry out negotiations and rehearse ideas together. In this dancers and musicians act as both performers and noisemakers, exploring the analogies between music and corporeal movement, also causing the stage space to resound, for instance by slowly drawing a curtain. Or when an electric guitar lies on the floor and Fabrice Mazliah runs around it in a wide circle, his steps causing its strings to vibrate and twang.

The link connecting music and dance is the rhythm, it divides both that which is heard and that which is seen into time sections. More generally, one could say that both are discernible here as movement arts, as a result of tension and release. And another relationship of the two arts becomes palpable in these choreographies: music and dance take effect directly, they enter the eye and the ear pre-analytically – in contrast, for example, to verbal speech – and only in retrospect, in remembrance, are they analysed and thus made available. But they are not only relatives, they are also allies; music and dance have been connected to one another for thousands of years. Before dance became an art and ballet developed, singing, clapping and dancing always coalesced in folklore.

Hip-hop consumed

A fertile source in the discourse between dance and music is pop culture: in his solo Cult to the built on what the choreographer Adam Linder is interested in the confrontation of different cultural codes and sign systems. He uses rap as a strategy, on the one hand, to transfer art discourses into Dadaist language games, which ascribe the syntax to the rhythm and thus remix the discourse. Furthermore, with this context shift and transfer, with the very act of rapping in a theatre, Lindner wishes to call into question the institution itself. As his counterpart he uses a lectern, prettily shaped as a three-quarters circle and made of light-coloured wood. He carries it around like a dance partner, puts it flat on the floor and lies down beside it and enters into a dialogue, physically, with that which the lectern represents – a place of speech that generates attention and, at the same time, creates a certain security. Yet his speech gains its cohesiveness primarily through the rhythm as one can understand, at best, only fragments of the text, which he wrote himself.

Popping discourse balloons

Phrases and fragments of the contemporary art discourse bubble on the surface of the rap beat and burst there: “This is so contemporary, this is so contemporary“. To this Linder tries out various body and movement forms, sometimes robot-like and edgy, sometimes lascivious à la discothèque, then again he breaks out of the forms, strides through the room and throws himself against the wall. The discourse with pop culture takes place in the form of incorporation, he consumes hip-hop in order to repeat it in the context of dance. The result is a glitzy remix of diverse cultural codes and contexts with copious discourse possibilities.

Thus the relationship between music and dance is changing: neither of the two arts is primarily there to illustrate the other one. They enter into a discourse on a level playing field, which opens up a fertile space between the arts. In this a structural transfer takes place, music is thought of as movement, and movement as music. Thus this inter-space reveals new layers of perception and in the structural discourse of the arts it shows both the points of severance and the lines of kinship.