Tuesday, 18 August 2015

'Just Dancing Around'

This is a link to a 50-minute documentary made by Mike Figgis in 1995 after five weeks filming with William Forsythe's Ballet Frankfurt during the rehearsals and performance of a new programme. I had the DVD on loan a few years back and it's great to find that it's now on Vimeo. Even greater that Figgis himself uploaded it, so it's unlikely a copyright owner is going to come and remove it just when you want to watch it. 

'It's not about steps, anyway. Choreography is about organisation. Either you're organising the body or you're organising bodies with other bodies, or a body with other bodies in an environment that is organised. There's these framings of organisation, for me. & this seems to be the challenge of choreography at the end of the 20th century.' Not tango choreography, of course, nor tango either, but this statement about contemporary dance has some resonance with tango. It seems to be a surprisingly clear statement of the experience of dancing in a milonga, the experience of how we organise the body with other bodies and in an environment which is a cultural and historical framing. Steps? It's not about steps...

& if you think 'Ballet... no thanks!' watch just the first three minutes.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

'...and the Tango was born. Come and learn the basic steps!'

It's so dismaying to keep reading this view of tango! Not that there aren't basic steps: of course there are! It's knowing that when teachers talk about teaching 'basic steps' they mean teaching patterns they call salidas, giros, sacadas... 

What are the basic steps we learn when we go to pre-milonga classes in Buenos Aires? The first two are putting one foot in front of the other, or behind it -- walking. A simple act we take for granted. But walking is not that simple in dancing tango. Why else would beginners and more advanced dancers alike at group classes in Buenos Aires spend 30 or 40 minutes at the start of each class they go to, practicing walking? Stepping forwards, stepping back, with teachers and their assistants coming round to help you get it right, to get your walking so it works well when you dance in close embrace, and so it looks good. & it's not so much about walking to the music as it's taken for granted that timing is precise. It's the way of walking that matters, the way of using energy. Simple patterns of steps are also taught, but the priority is how you walk, the basic steps of tango.

If we try to walk in close embrace in the same way we walk on the streets, or the same way we step backwards in daily life without reconsidering the way we walk, our tango will be awkward, insipid, and probably uncomfortable to our partners. It's a different kind of walking, and moreover we need to learn how to make each step count. This is tango from the inside, not just the superficial appearance of tango footwork. It's never insipid, it doesn't look awkward, and it's unlikely ever to feel uncomfortable.