Precision

Different dance styles have different notions of what “precision” means. Here’s how I’ve seen it used (in different ways) in contemporary dance.

This piece by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (b. 1960) is set to music by Steve Reich (b. 1936), who is one of the pioneers of minimalism in music. He uses a lot of repetitive patterns and rhythms. (A lot of modern electronic music owes a great deal to him!) In the first piece (Fase, created in 1982), two pianos playing identical repetitive patterns slowly go in and out of phase. And so do the two dancers. It’s kind of stunning.

The second video is from the 1983 piece Rosas danst Rosas, a piece that’s now been made famous because of Beyonce using (without the De Keersmaeker’s permission) the original choreography.


In this contemporary ballet piece by Jiri Kylian (b. 1947), precision is important to highlight little gestures, like how the lower leg straightens partway and then suddenly completely, creating a fluttering effect at around 0:17. They do a similar (but not identical) movement with a sideways pelvic thrust at around 2:17, which they accentuate by extending their hands at the wrists. (I love the music Jiri Kylian chose for this piece. Love Baroque music for the same reason I like some kinds of electronic music…. when pure structure and formal rules are balanced with expression and emotion.)
Merce Cunningham (1919-2009) used algorithms in his choreography. He sometimes used chance operations to put together sequences of movements. Because the movements were not always in a “logical” fashion, they were often very difficult to perform… but that’s also what made them very interesting. He also used chance operations to put together entire pieces; in 2003, he collaborated with two bands (Radiohead and Sigur Ros) on a piece called “Split Sides” and, as the New Yorker describes,

“made two separate dance sections and ordered up two lighting designs, two backdrops, and two sets of costumes. Nor was any element paired with any other. Everything would be sorted, by chance, before each performance. Mathematically speaking, there were thirty-two possible combinations.”

I studied Cunningham’s technique as a dance undergraduate student, and it was a totally amazing experience. My entire body had to be paying attention to patterns, directions in space, where the walls of the the room, all the while keeping count. You had to be precise in time, precise in space, precise with the body (especially with the spine). It was an unnatural experience at first (“biomechanical rebellion“, as a group of science researchers called it), but as Merce pointed out, if you do something long enough, it becomes natural.



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