Rhythm and life

Dancers from the Contemporary Dance Theatre not only present high-energy, free style dance that measures the pulse of the world in its steps, but also take viewers along on a reflective odyssey, writes Hema Vijay

Dance synchronised to the natural rhythms in life.

Dance, yes. But, what has rhythm got to do with life? Even leaving cynicism aside, perceived in the metaphor of rhythm, life would sound like a particularly discordant note at best, and a cacophony of sorts at worst. That’s because life never falls into a rhythmic pattern. But there are other rhythms — rhythms in everyday movements, habits and practices.

The dancers from the Contemporary Dance Theatre of Brigham University reach out to such rhythms. Around this, they weave a free style dance which takes you along on a reflective odyssey. They call it ‘The Rhythm of Life’; it is a choreography that is simple in the content it narrates, but one that delights the soul and lifts the spirit with its gay display of balance, agility, pace and flowing movement. “Inevitably, people respond to ‘Rhythm of life’ as it has the pulse of the world measured in its steps,” says Pat Debenham, the artistic director of Rhythm of Life. This dance theatre group first performed ‘The Rhythm of Life’ for the Winterfest 2012 in Salt Lake City.

A dance company that has been in existence for over 30 years, BYU’s Contemporary Dance Theatre (formerly known as The Dancers’ Company) has one of its dance groups performing somewhere on the globe, any month of the year. This kind of success has been possible because of financial support from the Brigham University in part, and in part because this dance theatre keeps reinventing itself as the years go by. “In our dance group, new dancers keep moving in even as others move out, and this brings in fresh energy,” says Pat. July saw the BYU dancers in India, on a country-wide tour in collaboration with the Indian Council of Cultural relations (ICCR). Alongside performances on stage, the members of the Brigham Young University Dance Theater have also been taking part in workshops with Indian dance studios.

Choreographing rhythm

There is a definite, unified and perceivable rhythm even in a complex amalgam like a city, Debenham feels. Really? “You can sense it from the way people move, the way traffic flows and from the way people respond in a casual encounter,” he says. But these are just broad terms and can’t be more extensive in description than say, fast, slow or laidback. “The same is true even within a group of dancers, for that matter. Some are slow, deliberate; some are contemplative, some rush in... It is not a value judgment, just a description,” he is quick to add.

“In its literal sense, rhythm in life is in its movements,” Pat goes on. Rhythm is in the breath of a new born baby, the stride of an athlete, the antics of a dolphin... but this choreography also looks at poetic rhythm, at choices we repeatedly make in life. For instance, Rhythm of Life includes a choreography that reminds you to take time to play; there is another piece of choreography that glorifies the sacrifices that mothers make without much ado; there is another piece that explores the movements and moments of work in a person’s life, ranging from that of the farmer to the new age worker who works in the virtual world — in cyberspace. Meanwhile, choreography ‘Chakra’ explores the ‘Hindu’ concept of the balance of the chakras (energy centres in the human body). Remember, all this happens in the syntax of movements, which can be very tough to choreograph. Perhaps, this is probably why each song was introduced with a small audio-visual film that primed the audience on what was to follow.

Throb of energy

When a dozen dancers leap and swirl on stage in perfect synchrony to the rest of the group, it does set the dice rolling for a high-energy performance. In contrast with Indian choreography (be it classical or contemporary), which still relies on the solo format predominantly, the BYU dancers opened the stage to the entire group, with each set of dancers subtly waxing and waning their presence on the stage. Rather than staying close to centre-stage, the clever use of various locations on the stage did a lot to beat the monotony. There were many small groups of dancers in action all over the stage, rising to a crescendo at designated points of time. The waning of one sequence of choreography became the backdrop for the unfurling of the next one. The costumes were minimal, as were the props. The few props used included a wheel-like frame of about 8 feet in diameter, employed for the choreography ‘Chakra’, a trampoline that the dancers effortlessly leaped on and off from in the choreography ‘Flingflangflung’ and a couple of benches that the dancers dragged in for the song ‘Life’s a bench’. Intriguing lighting played its part too.

A gay move

Purists may look down upon the group for its eclectic style that extends from hip-hop and swing to even moves of the acrobatic kind, but to the world, it reveals the massive diversity in the contemporary dance scenario in the US. This dance theatre group likes to dance to recorded music over an eclectic horizon that stretches from the swinging pop music of the seventies, to oriental beats, to jazz, and more. One of the music scores was Silk Road that had an Asian slant to it, while one choreography was set to the sound of silence – a military step dance with the dancers slapping their hands and stomping their feet to create music.

You have to admire western contemporary dance for inventing movements on the go — choreography by choreography, concept by concept, rather than regrouping from the same repertoire of movements. “BYU dancers move about with ease and comfort with their bodies, and the trust and confidence that they displayed in their partners made the dance feel friendly and uplifting, rather than formal and masterly,” remarks veteran Bharatanatyam dancer Chitra Shridhar. Occasionally, the group does draw from pre-conceived repertoire of movements, like the ‘swing’ dance steps. But since they were put in a context, they didn’t look borrowed, just remembered.

If Rhythm of Life was a choreography synchronised to the natural rhythms in life — from the rhythm of heartbeat to the rhythm of the street, and the rhythm of the city, the dance fell short. But if it was a celebration of the small things in life, if it was a celebration of the ordinary, if it was conceived as a gay move that casually points out the extraordinary gift that we have in every ordinary day of our life, and if the idea was to get the viewer to pause a bit and think about the path he is moving on… then, the dancers did move you.
After all, when the body unfolds, the mind does too… at least a little. And then, when you watch dancers move with so much gaiety, you can’t but get infected by the joy of movement.

The group’s current and past choreographies can be viewed at http://pam.byu.edu/SimilarPage.asp?title=Contemporary%20Dance%20Theatre&...

Comments (+)