September 20, 2013

Individual's condition expressed through visual sexual signals.

This is why people wear make-up, more or less.  This seems like a no-doi experiment.

From Science magazine:
Be Honest
Sacha Vignieri
Sexual signals, such as plumage color, are thought to reflect an individual's condition and thus to be a relatively honest indicator of quality to those seeking a mate. The condition of individuals, however, can change over time, leaving one to wonder if such traits only provide honest information about condition at a specific point in the past. Vitousek et al. tested whether signals themselves may influence an individual's condition and thus provide a more accurate indicator of current quality. Specifically, they experimentally darkened the underside of female North American barn swallows and measured indicators of physiological state, such as reactive oxidative metabolites and circulating testosterone. Manipulated birds had consistently lower levels than controls. Naturally darker birds have greater resistance to oxidative stress and reproductively dominate lighter birds. The authors suggest that darkening the birds led to altered social interactions, including fewer challenges and greater mating success. Further, they suggest that the reduced stress experienced by darkened birds left them in better condition, one more reflective of the high-quality trait they displayed. These results suggest that feedback between a signal, its bearer, and recipients may help keep both the signal, and the signaler, honest.
Biol. Lett. 9, 10.1098/rsbl.2013.0539 (2013).

September 3, 2013

Tribal Fest 13 Critique

I have never written a critique about an entire dance festival before, but I was sick during Tribal Fest which meant I was at home and had the time to watch every performance video that came out.  Well, actually, I got better and had to go back to work half-way through the release of all the videos, so I didn't see them all, but I did watch every video that came out for the first couple days, as they were released, and didn't skip unknown dancers, or rush to watch the famous dancers. I held off on posting this til I could go through them all, but you know what? I've been too busy to actually finish watching them all with the attention that they deserve.  So, please recognize that this is a partial critique.  As someone who has participated in the tribal fusion dance world for more than 15 years, I feel like one way that I can give back to the community is by voicing my opinions and observations, and hopefully these will be constructive, even if my opinions and observations reflect an incomplete selection of the festival. Of course everything herein is my own opinion, and is not meant to offend.  Do I even need to say that? 

In the keen spirit of building up rather than tearing down, I will share a few of my top favorite performances with brief notes on why these particular pieces struck a chord with me, followed by some other notable performances, and general notes for improvement for the community as a whole (check in to see whether they might apply to you, and if not, congratulations on a job well done).  Remember, if you don't see yourself mentioned here, it could be that I haven't seen your performance yet.  Much love, Dancers!

Top 7 Picks (it was going to be top 10, but this is as far as I got):

Rin Ajna.  I have never seen anyone do a drum solo as anything but a drum solo.  Here, Rin expresses "all the emotions dance helps us through".  She is, indeed, possessed by bellydance.  I clutched my face in recognition of my own experiences, and how aptly she portrays them all.  Frenetic but always in control.  Amazing.

Apsara dancers in Angkor

Apsara.  These ladies know how to create visual interest, not just through their incredible costumes, but also in their thoughtful tableaus, use of level changes, and body lines fitting of their name "Apsara".  Their use of stillness makes it perfectly clear to the audience what aspects of their movement they want you to take home with you.

Portico.  Simple and strong.  The Indian styling/mudras comes through loud and clear.  The costuming is no-frills, but elegant, attractive, bold, crisp, and streamlined. Simple 'costume change' utilized to mark the switch into bhangra.

Imajaghan. These dancers dance with abandon.  And they are able to do so effectively because technique and timing come first.  Their simple costumes unite them without distracting from the dance.  I particularly love the peeling, cannons that happen after 6:45.  

Jenna Shear.  Each of her movements is danced all the way through the tips of her fingers and toes, and she completely draws you in, which is difficult to do as a solo dancer in that large space. Beautiful classic costume unaffected by current tribal fads, and a simple/effective 'costume change' of removing the mourning mantilla for the second piece.  

Donna Mejia.  "...with ease and flair," indeed.  She luxuriates in dance, and we are lucky to share in it as her audience.  Her large headdress helps her fit on the stage, but she has the moves to make any costume irrelevant.   Start at 5:30 for the dance section. 

Illan.  An impressive (!!) and emotive piece reminiscent of Amazonian natives with his red face and chest paint and feather headdress.  1:55-7:00

Notable Mentions:

  • Tjarda. She knows how to use her body and costumes like props. She knows exactly the effect she is having on the audience.  Always powerful.  
  • Brenna Crowley.  Everyone wins with Michael Jackson.  She does a good job in this tribute. 
  • Sepiatonic.  It's like they distilled and caricaturized all the crowd pleasers into one piece.  
  • Skella.  You've never seen four swords and two ladies so picturesque.
  • Qabila.  Solid Moroccan shikhat.  Nice to see straight up folk dance. And, (I know this might sound backwards, but...) it's nice to see (in contrast to the widespread skin-exposing dancers which, of course, is fine too) the ├╝ber modest shikhat costume.  
  • Sassafrass. Hip hop and Etta James fusion, solid costuming, nice use of staging.
  • Bevin Victoria.  Strong pop'n'lock fusion.
  • Persephone Dance Company. Straight up ATS. Bad-ass Turkish drops. 
  • Kumuda Tribal Collection. Beautiful ATS styling to non-traditional music choices.
  • Foxy Cat Alice. Cool peacock styling 1:15-1:45.  Plus her white skirt with peacock feathers reminds me of miniver.  
  • Kendra Katz.  Ease in fusing club dancing with bellydance.
  • Lisa Hyde.  The music she chose perfectly arced with her storyline.  

General Notes for Improvement:
  • Flocking/timing could use some work.  One thing I got really good at from years of practice in ATS-ish dance is looking at (and interacting with) the audience while using my peripheral vision to track and mimic the exact arc of the lead dancer's armwork, body position, timing.  Miniscule (hopefully imperceptible) differences in timing are excusable when the piece is improvised.  However, the majority of pieces at Tribal Fest are choreographed.  I expect, in these cases, that every dancer in the piece should be counting the timing the same way.  AND I expect that dancers will STILL be using their peripheral vision to make sure that their armwork/bodylines are flocking perfectly with those around them, despite the fact that the piece may be choreographed.  You should not ever have to look away from the audience and look, instead, directly at the dancers who know what they're doing; use your peripheral vision to check in to make sure you're on track if you need to, change your sightline if that helps, and know the choreography inside out.  Drill until it's perfect!  Everyone has cameras on their phones these days--use video to see who's arms look different than everyone else's! In short, there is no excuse for sloppy timing. 
  • There is no substitute for good posture, and a strong core.  In bellydance, we often don't think of using our core for strength because we generally think about using our core for isolated belly/hip/chest action.  But guess what?  If the action/attention is in the legs or arms or full body (ie spins), then you should be using that core strength to better improve your balance and lines.  In moments when you are using your core muscles for isolated work, then check your posture to make sure your stance is not unnecessarily wide (i.e. unintentionally vulgar).
  • Limp wrists, please, no more! So many otherwise strong dances lose their impact because the energy fades at the wrists.  The dancer may even have lovely hand gestures, but the gestures must be expressed deliberately, and the lines from elbow to fingers shouldn't be broken unless intentionally, if you want me to see a bubble of energy around you all the way from the back of the room.  
  • A few pieces didn't seem to reflect bellydance or folk or tribal fusion elements.  Therefore, I did not understand why they were on the Tribal Fest stage.  Lack of connection to the already nebulous "tribal" identifiers is super distracting--we (the audience) spend time and energy waiting for the tribal/bellydance/folk influence to show up, which distracts from the gorgeous pieces that you worked so hard to prepare.  In some instances, the performers may have been recognized members of this tribal community (yay, we love you!), and, whether you are new to this genre or not, I am all for avant garde expressions of the art form, but when I see nothing recognizable mixed in--neither in the dance, nor in the music/costume choice--the message that comes across is "I am starving for a venue," rather than whatever the actual point of the piece may be.  Which is unfortunate.  I suppose this bit of critique can be boiled down to "know your audience."
  • Listen to the music.  There is probably a lot more going on than just the phrases of 8 counts.  While dancing to the music in sets of eight can afford more space and stillness in your piece (which is something most people can afford to strive for), if you never change it up, the piece becomes boring and predictable.  Phrases of eight can not only be broken up into 2 sets of 4 counts, or 4 sets of 2 counts, or eight single counts, but a count of six and two, or 3, 4 and 1, or even hemidemisemiquavers!  Listen to the music, and be imaginative with your interpretation. 
  • The face is so expressive, it's a shame to see a blank countenance, especially when the rest of the piece (and your body) is full of emotion.  Are you aware of your face when you practice?  Practicing your performance face when you practice helps to make sure that under the pressure of getting everything else right, your face isn't the only thing not performing.  
  • I guess there's no denying that dubstep is IN.  Though it's not necessarily my 1st choice, I recognize why it inspires and moves people to chose it.  But, see here, as a musical genre, it's pretty darn strong.  Because of that, it can be used super effectively--but requires equally pretty darn strong dancing or else the music can overshadow your skills.  In Swahili, the word for dance is cheza.  Cheza is also the word for music.  In many cultures, dance and music are inseparable.  They should complement one another and be equal in par.  Use the strong music to practice to, and practice to, and practice to until you ARE on par with it! And until then, maintain the sense of confidence and power that dubstep (or bagpipes or other Super Intense music) instills you with, but exercise your discretion and self-awareness so that your dance comes across as compellingly as you mean it to.  I hope it's clear I mean this as encouragement, to help you shine.  

NACo attends Esri Conference

There's a blog post up on the NACo website about the Esri conferences I attended this summer.  Click here to view!