I’m continuing to enjoy the dance classes here in Paris and the rich textual translation of the words used for dance classes. I’ve taken another class with Wayne Buyers, as well as classes with Jacques Aunidas, and Teo Fdida.
In Wayne’s class he discussed the idea of dancing like a, “’féline ou un lapin,” Constantly ready for action in any and all directions, having a sense of weight that is ready to bound and ready for changes in direction both horizontally and vertically.
In Jacques Aunidas jazz class we started off with an absolutely incredible warm up! In fact, I thought I might have been in the wrong class because it was almost like the beginnings of a floor barre class. What I most enjoyed was the emphasis of equal parts external and internal rotation. This really warmed my hips without strain and tension. I also was pleasantly reminded of my past Spring semester at University of Arizona in Sam Watson’s jazz class. The music was virtually the same playlist. I smiled at the thought that the dance world really is quite small despite the 9-hour time difference, an ocean between, and on another continent.
Dance elements of weight change, traveling, the use of a low and grounded pelvis were really explored on a basic level. Jacques also mentioned that it is unnecessary to muscle through movements but instead, “cherchez le sense du balance dans ton corps.” In French the term, “cherchez,” literally translates to, “looking.” In dance classes we often say “find the balance” but replacing the term “find” with “look” implies an investigation not a destination. I quite liked this because it implies mental and physical action that is continuous instead of as they say in Alexander Technique ‘end-gaining’.
All this mind body learning feels like a game of connect the dots from childhood where initially, I was never quite sure what the dots would yield but eventually a picture emerged. The lines somewhat skewed from my little-girl right hand pencil marks, getting from number 1 to sometimes 100 was etched on the paper with my personal pathway to the end result. Which makes me believe, even more so now, that dance technique is not attained by one specific set of guidelines but instead by many, many paths. Lessons like those of weight bearing, shifting, and transferring need to be learned but there are many ways to teach and access these elements.
And I don’t believe that this only pertains to dance. For instance, the many paths concept works for learning to count and basic arithmetic as well. As a child, I was terrible at math so my parents purchased a multicolored abacus. But some of my advanced classmates counted in their head while others less advanced (but arguably more advanced than me) counted on their fingers and toes. All these learning techniques yielded the same results. So should we be trying to narrow the field of learning by delineating exactly how a child learns or should we focus on different learning styles that yield the same results? My thoughts are that identifying how a child learns is paramount.
And back to classes… I’ve also had the opportunity to take class from Teo Fdida at Menagerie de Verre. Every time we go to this studio I am so amazed by the space. The studios are not labeled A, B, C and so on, instead they are named after notable dance figures including, Duncan, Wigman, Balanchine, and Diaghilev. Menagerie de Verre is a state owned dance studio where the classes are only 6€. It is so nice to be a part of a place where artists can collectively share class time and learn at an affordable rate to continue to develop and hone their craft.
One a side note…Saturday afternoon we went to the Frigos, an exhibition that opens for only 2 days out of the year held in a building that was set for demolition. The building, also state owned, insures affordable studio spaces to artists. We walked around 5 stories of sound installations, artists’ studios, jewelers, sculptors and even a chef! It was just incredible to see so many artists coming together for a day of exhibition. Their work was impressive and varied. There were a series of bands playing and even clowns dancing.
And back to Teo’s class… it was incredible movement! It started with an Alexander Technique style warm up where the connection between the neck, head, and sacrum were explored. As the class progressed, it was interesting to watch the development of the phrases with my teacher hat on. I felt that the class was like the wave of an ocean progressing with large traveling movements and then returning to very technical pulled up exercises from tendus to temps liés. It was an interesting way to set up the class although I do wish we had more time to really delve into the material for a more holistic approach.
Since I cannot abide by the “all work and no play” scenario, we also took the opportunity to go to Djoon, a restaurant/café, which turns into a dance party at night. With all the dancing we have been doing it seemed logical to continue on that train with some more dancing! The advertisement listed Pharrell as the special guest, which really confused us because there was no cover with the invitation and without the invitation it was still only a 10€ cover. We dubbed it the, “Pharrell maybe not Pharrell night” and while it turned out that he was not in attendance and they only played three Pharell songs, we had a blast! We went on Saturday night where “old school,” (which I actually refuse to think of as “old school”) R&B and hip-hop played in some questionable cross fades and record scratches. I was able to revisit the tunes of college days. Bursts of laughter and singing happened throughout the night and shout outs of, “who is this again?” rang out because we were hard up to find out who sang the song since we had not heard it in such a long time. “Busta Rhymes!” The generation gap was present but in a really good way. One of the younger students in the program asked, “Is this Iggy Azalea?” to which we responded, “Nope… its Eve.” All had a good time, and dancing til 4am hasn’t happened in a really, really long time for me. My quads from dippin’ low were really sore the next day! Tracey, Shelly and Nicole you’d be proud!
We’ve also been able to learn about Coco Channel’s contribution to haute couture in the Diaghilev Period. We were treated to another lecture inside a Paris home. There was an amazing view of the Tour Eiffel from her street! Anne, spoke to us about the ins and outs of Paris high fashion and how Coco Channel, coming from very humble beginnings, was eventually asked by Diaghilev to design costumes for Le Train Bleu, a ballet performed by Les Ballets Russes which premiered in 1924. Anne seemed genuinely interested in us as people and what we thought of high fashion. She also explained to us why those Hermes watches are so ridiculously expensive. I gained an appreciation for haute couture that I otherwise may have simply brushed off as being far too excessive. Later the next day, I found a book that outlined the relationship between choreographers and fashion designers, which began with the Diaghilev period of haute couture and went through many, many collaborations including those with Merce Cunningham and Rei Kawakubo. I truly had no idea that haute couture and dance were so intertwined. It made me remember the days of dancing for cruise ships and having Bob Mackie design our costumes. And nostalgia emerged once again!
Aside from the guest lectures and dance classes we’ve been exposed to, we’re also learning quite a bit from each other. We met as a group to discuss the “Lost Generation” and again were given the reins to our own education. Each person was assigned to lecture on one of the people from the Lost Generation. I was to discuss Henry Miller. I learned that many of his books were banned in America until 1961. That some of books led to Obscenity Trials and that he is one of the figures responsible for the Sexual Revolution in America despite being in his 60s and working to redefine literature for almost 30 years prior. He had several quotes that I admired but this one stuck out to me, “If at eighty you’re not a cripple or an invalid, if you have your health, if you still enjoy a good meal (with all the trimmings), if you can sleep without first taking a pill, if birds and flowers, mountains and sea still inspire you, you are a most fortunate individual and should get down on your knees morning and night and thank the good Lord for his savin’ and keepin’ power.”
Another research project that I was assigned was a Josephine Baker walking tour. I had studied her quite a bit before actually coming to Paris but I really grew more appreciative of her after learning many other details. Namely that upon being asked to lead the civil rights movement after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated she is reported to have declined and said, “ my children are too young to loose their mother.”
For our walking tour, we emerged from the subway where the 4 cafés that became popular hang outs for the Lost Generation, still stand. We saw Le Select, La Rotonde, La Coupole, and Le Dôme. We walked about Rue de la Gaîté where the streets were filled with crèperies from Brittany and where there are still a number of theaters and restaurants. We stopped in front of Le Bobino, which is now a new theater as the original was demolished in 1985. This famed spot is where Josephine Baker had her last performance on April 8th, 1975. She died only three days later on April 11th.
Another interesting thing I learned was that Shirley Bassey cites Baker as being a primary influence for her music. With Baker’s 6 month run of La Créole at the Théatre Maringy in 1934 Bassey said, “she went from a ‘petite danseuse sauvage’ with a decent voice, to ‘la grande diva magnifique’… I swear in all my life I have never seen, and probably never shall see again, such a spectacular singer and performer.”
The walking tour ended at Paradis de Fruits. I was so happy when two of the younger students ordered in French! Les deux pres-que Français made my day! We were treated to a Josephine Baker, coconut, passion fruit, and pineapple juice. Very sweet and not my favorite but a toast nonetheless to an absolutely iconic figure of Paris, dance, and the civil rights movement.
And what’s a week in Paris without another performance? This time we headed to the Théatre National de Chaillot to see Philippe Jamet’s Tubes! First, the theater was amazing! I loved all the artwork and the stairs that lead down to the dance hall. It was regal and palpable to me that dance was and still is a noble art here in France. The show itself was a dance theater piece with singing, set changes, soliloquies, and dancing. Had I not seen Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal perform Für die Kinder von gestern, heute und morgen about a week prior, I think would have liked the performance even more than I already did. It was certainly an entertaining show and the pillow fight and the duet choreography was seamless! But because of the immensity of Pina’s work I felt that Tubes! lacked something. I can’t quite put my finger on what it was but there was something I wanted to penetrate that I couldn’t quite reach. I found it hard as an audience member not to compare the two shows because of their similarities in the delivery of the material. That being said the dancing was flawless and the choreography was impeccable. I really enjoyed the tableaus created during the car scene and the rendition of Nirvana’s Teen Spirit. I laughed out loud several times and loved the pace of the show. I never felt that the show lost my interest or dragged. All in all I think it was a good show with incredible choreography and dancing.
A treat that I was not aware that I would get was a short film clip that played in the foyer both before and after the show. It was a clip from Béatrice Massin’s company Fêtes Galantes and was filmed on the very stairs we walked down to see the show. Vue Sur les Marches paid homage to the victims of the Charlie Hedbo incident. It was so tastefully constructed, simple, and effective. I needed a moment to step away from the crowd and pause knowing that these tragedies happen and control over our surroundings is not possible, that we are not immune to these incidences and that we are not invincible. The simple gestural movement presented by Béatrice and her company profoundly affected me, and the images and the thoughts it provoked will last for quite sometime. Hopefully the link below works to see the piece.