Sunday, February 1, 2015

tempo variations

The dance classes opened spring semester with a short creative work unit on tempo variations. I wanted to work fairly quickly on this one because we only had 3-½ weeks between the beginning of the semester and our February break (officially called "Presidents' week," unofficially "ski week"), in which to cover one creative-work unit and one world dance unit — so I asked the students to make slightly smaller groups for their choreography project in order to get it done more quickly (big groups do tend to get a bit unwieldy).

We began, of course, with a couple of lessons on tempo. The first day, I gave them a fairly extended exploration, trying various actions (tiptoe, glide, slither, twist, skip, gallop, swing, sway...) in different tempos (slower... slower... s-u-p-e-r slow-mo... faster... faster... hyperspeed!) as well as acceleration and deceleration. We tried a single movement in one count and stretched it out to 2, 4, and 8 counts; then reversed the process by making a short phrase in 8 counts then speeding it up to fit into 4 and 2 counts. We danced across the room in 8 counts, then 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2... (both of these are venerable exercises from Anne Green Gilbert's Creative Dance for All Ages, if I'm not mistaken). We had to leave out the composition piece that day because it was a very short school day.

The second day we warmed up with the "whimsical minute" — a wonderful little exercise from Blom and Chaplin's The Intimate Act of Choreography in how we perceive time: the dancers free dance very slowly, to slow music, until they think one minute has passed, then freeze; they then do the same but dancing quickly to fast music. It is always interesting to see the range of perceived minutes — there is always close to a half-minute difference between the first dancer to freeze and the last, and the times are always much shorter the second time around, with the fast movement. We then explored variations of traveling, turning, jumping, sliding, swinging, and shaking; after plenty of exploration for lots of ideas, dancers were asked to create a short phrase with just four of those actions. After they created their phrases, we tried them with the same tempo variations we had explored the previous day, then the final composition piece was to revise the phrase using one or more of the tempo variations.

The group choreography project was very simple: create a short dance (30 seconds to a minute) that uses three very distinct tempos. I specified that their medium tempo should be what they think of as "on the beat," their fast should be at least doubletime ("think hyperspeed") and their slow should be at least halftime ("think super slow-mo"). They could mix their tempos however they wished, as long as there was enough of each to register for the viewer. My last big requirement was that we would work to instrumental music — I would play them songs from my pop beats playlist, so they could use tunes they were familiar with (in the karaoke versions), but I stressed that I didn't want the words to distract them from their movement.

We are only halfway done with the showings (about half showed Thursday and Friday,  the rest will show tomorrow). So far they are mostly doing well — I'm seeing some lovely solutions to mixing tempos, turning into interesting accents. One pair that stood out for me began a fast connected turn, suddenly slowed down to complete the turn in slow motion, then sped up to repeat it quickly while letting go of the connection — very effective. My one slight disappointment so far was with one group of excellent performers who begged and pleaded to be able to perform their dance to their actual song with words (which they of course had on their phones), so I caved in and let them... The dance was obviously well-rehearsed and performed with great energy, using a variety of tempos — but it was an object lesson in song lyrics distracting from movement creativity, as so many of the movements were just mimicking the lyrics (if not taken straight from the music video) — what I would call "Mickey Mouse-ing" the movement. If nothing else, it gives me a chance to remind students in the future exactly why I will keep them working to instrumentals for a while!

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