Friday, April 26, 2013

dance · scores · notation · tradition

"This erosion of clarity over time is an inescapable problem of dance. A symphony exists on paper, the composer’s intentions clearly noted and open for interpretation by each new performer, and for study by scholars and students." Marina Harss, The Nation, Life After Merce, 2012

As beautiful as her description of the problems around choreographic legacy may be (in this case how the interpretation of Duets by Merce Cunningham was very different in feel when re-interpreted by American Ballet Theater) I wish to counter this statement of Marina Hass, which she keeps repeating elsewhere. 

As composer Hans Zender points out in his book "Happy New Ears" (Verlag Herder im Breisgau, 1991) today's ways of reading music scores differ sometimes vastly from what the very same signs meant even 100 years ago: in a score by Ludwig van Beethoven, just barely 200 years apart, several indications have changed their meaning over the time since the 1800's. Moreover the entire practice of making music has changed: the mega-orchestras of today, say playing a euphorizing version of the 9th Symphony, didn't exist at his time, people had no iphones (not even in the 1990's when Zender wrote his book) etc. etc. etc.

I dare propose that it's the same with any language/system, words / elements on the one hand keep a sense of their becoming, on the other continue to change their meaning / context over time, even if they seem to remain the same in sound and form - and even the sounds change significantly with each epoch & period. For English, just think of such recent examples as American versus British English, itself a vast conglomerate of vocabularies from Anglo, Saxon, Latin-French and many others, or the very recent ongoing change of the uses of "gay" or "bitch". Another example would be Chinese writing and its change in the use of characters. All of these suggest a growth and death that could be compared to the becoming and decaying of plants, life-forms.

Just like in other literature that uses visual signs, or any kind of tradition, I am increasingly realizing that despite any impression or opinion, nothing is here to stay very long, because we change and the context changes from generation to generation. Words & notions come up and disappear, entire languages and styles die out and are forgotten.

In what is considered classical ballet, itself a comparatively young tradition on a global scale, but even with more settled traditions, there is still considerable space for personal interpretation, taste, opinions, fashions / interests of the day, new rulers, etc., and inevitably different with every performer, each performance.

Even with a relatively unchanging medim such as video/film, it is by now possible to become nostalgic for an era that has video / film / sound but it is becoming ever more remote, and except as currently with black & white films of the first tries, one can easily forget that, as highly evident in propaganda films, life around those films may have been rather different, especially for those who were barred from being represented. Moreover, the technical standards keep changing, even rendering computer archives inaccessible by now. 

And so any creation/record/ing we make is temporary, for the now, lives & is most meaningful NOW. ... As our societies are changing, while believing that they are having sound roots in set traditions, actually the traditions keep changing because as living beings we are changing, therefore what was then is no longer 100% valid for now, it has to be re-understood what was meant in the first place, then: what was the situation then, what was tried to be achieved etc.

As we are faced with the challenges of overcoming traditions of subjugation and careless exploitation, or else perish as a species, the very same impermanence gives not only greater responsibility and duty towards the cultural professionals of today, but also more space in what is accepted as "tried & true".

Good be with us all!

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