I am surrounded by dance music these days. As I’ve danced my way through the dance season so far at various companies throughout the United States I’ve been struck by how the humongous popularity of music, particularly EDM, and their throwbacks to what Americans used to think about dance music have forced the contemporary dance audience, and many dance companies, to consider dance as a creative performance art, and a force for social change.
In a very complex and difficult world, my theater would be offering those in need joy, and unity through dance.
There are so many dimensions to dance music. So many facets to dance that, especially in the dance musical genre, dancers can be used in ways that make the performance of dance an entity of art.
At a time when social justice activism from the Donald Trump era has reemerged across the cultural spectrum in all forms, it makes sense that many dance companies have wanted to respond to this call to arms. In a very complex and difficult world, my theater would be offering those in need joy, and unity through dance.
Dance a song
A few months ago, midway through a trip to Europe to perform with the international company I am so privileged to lead called Pacific Overtures (Pacifica), I saw a show in Paris about a man named Steve Rose, who dared to challenge classical piano music and its conventions in the 19th century. Rose had been plucked as a young artist from the dance division of the Metropolitan Opera to make recordings of opera a cappella. This ensemble show featured a twelve-piece orchestra with a hard rock band, the Verdians. It had many moments of sublime singing from the orchestra conducted by the incomparable Jacques Lacrima, under the tutelage of the great Max McElhone. And, of course, it also featured some of the greatest voices in all of contemporary music.
One of the theater performances that really brought it all together for me was the Lepere movement. The dance drama was about a sickly boy and his interactions with his guardian angel, who was visiting him in a hospital ward. The idea behind the Lepere was that even though Steve would die, his soul would live on. It was his final connection to his closest friends and loved ones in the world. I thought about Steve Rose and his journey and realized that Steve Rose was not a metaphorical entity that lived on or made things happen. He was a fully formed human being who lived his life according to his own rhythms.
Adverse to routine, and committed to solving his own problems, Steve was sure to find a way to make himself happy without relying on the help of others. To give credit where credit is due, Steve had a golden light illuminating his every step. He was a hippie-type with a rock star’s lifestyle and, like all painters, he blended his visions and recreations into something new and entirely his own.
As I walked out of that show I was hooked by the music, the choreography, the story, and the emotion. I had found a musical spirit of my own. Not a party spirit but a musical spirit, a spirit of love, joy, and energy. It was beautiful to have realized that I don’t have to have a happy ending for myself and others to find that thing within myself that serves as the turning point for something more important.
Dance is about celebrating who we are with joy, and I have been enjoying doing that more and more as I have been visiting the dance theaters and watching the dancers giving performances in which they explore the underlying meanings behind their own work.
Eluxe Hartenstein is a Theater Arts professor at Columbia University and the artistic director of Pacifica Dance Theatre. Contact her at [email protected]