Tag Archives: Dance

COFFEE-HUGGER 2: FRENCH PRESS, Tribute to Eric Rohmer

Coffeecup

My concept behind the Coffee-Hugger series is to create short films based on the making of coffee. The idea is for the films to be amusing, personal and almost voyeuristic in nature, which is quite a departure from my usual work. “Coffee-Hugger 2: French Press” is the second in the series and the solo coffee maker is joined by another character, trumpeter and composer Tim Hagans. This short also tributes the films of Eric Rohmer, which are for me the essence of summer. If watching “Coffee-Hugger 2” inspires you to have a cup of coffee and watch a Rohmer film, then I have succeeded.

I am completely enamored of the films of Eric Rohmer and have been guilty of trying to disappear inside of them for years. No matter how many times I watch “Pauline at the Beach,” even though I realize that intellectually and artistically, the tale the filmmaker has told has come to its perfect ending, I am compelled to yell at the screen as Pauline closes the gate “No, don’t leave…why are you leaving?” and I turn to whomever I am watching it with and say “why are they leaving, I don’t understand why they are leaving?” Usually my viewing partner is Tm Hagans and luckily he loves Rohmer’s films and has patience with my asking him a question year after year for which there is no answer. So real is the film life for me that I can not bear for story to end, or really understand why anyone would leave life in that country house by the sea with its brimming hydrangeas, tranquil chair-creaking conversations about love, and bowels of coffee sipped in the garden.

When watching Rohmer’s “Le Rayon Vert,” I can not help but cry with Delphine when she encounters what she has been longing for throughout the entire film. The film takes its title from le rayon vert, which is a rare phenomenon in nature whereby the last ray of sunlight that the naked eye can perceive, the green ray, is visible briefly during the setting of the sun on a completely clear day. In the Jules Verne novel of the same name, the sighting of the green ray will result in the viewer knowing their true feelings and those of the people around them. This concept is discussed by characters in Rohmer’s film, overheard by Delphine, and incorporated beautifully into the narrative of the story. “Le Rayon Vert” is for me one of his greatest and truest films. I referenced it in an evening-length work I created in 2005 called Desesperadaos, a suite of tangos ranging from the gypsy to the avant-garde with music by Thomas Helton. The poetry in between the dances makes reference to the search for the green ray and the final movement was called “Tango Rayon Vert.” Rohmer’s spectacular film was subtitled “Summer” in English when released in North America, rather than “The Green Ray” which would be the literal translation of the French title. If you are looking to rent or purchase the film, it is listed under the title “Summer.”

For those readers who may be curious, and perhaps not familiar with Rohmer’s work, I have described some of the references below.

  1. The beautiful and plaintive melody played by trumpeter Tim Hagans is the song from “Pauline at the Beach” that all the main characters dance to at one time or another during the film. The music is uncredited in the film and I have never been able to find it anywhere else based on the album cover that appears briefly on camera…the title on the cover appears to correspond to a completely different piece of music. So it is quite a mysterious and magical fragment of music.
  1. The lovely hand written date cards, which Rohmer filmed and inserted to communicate the passage of time in many of his films, is tributed in the beginning of “Coffee-Hugger 2.” I chose August 5th because that is the day that Delphine meets someone very special in “Le Rayon Vert.” If you watch Rohmer’s date cards, there is a slight camera shake, which somehow adds to the sweetness of them, as if to let the viewer know that there is a living and breathing person that wants to tell them the story.
  1. Rohmer’s films are almost always filled with shots of people on vacation at the beach. If there isn’t the sea and sand and waves, it is almost not a Rohmer film. In addition to footage of people at the beach, “Coffee-Hugger 2” has some shots directly down into the water, tributing the beautiful shots in “La Collectionnuese” where the characters stare down at the seaweed and gentle waves as they ponder their relationships to each other.

There are also many tiny references, such as the hydrangeas which Pauline can not help cupping when she passes by, and the white bowls that hold the coffee. I welcome your communications on Eric Rohmer and his films. “Coffee-Hugger 2” is meant to inspire and share the discourse and love of the work of this amazing director.

 

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Still Dancers Displaying Their Exquisite Shapes

LindseyThomas2

The Quantum Bass Center is a unique space that sells and repairs acoustic basses, and offers masterclasses in bass performance. Bassist Elizabeth Steves, who serves as its director, founded the center as a resource for the highest quality equipment and education for bassists. Located in the historic Midtown Art Center building in Houston, the Quantum Bass Center has two showrooms filled with basses from many different time periods, two smaller salon rooms used for private lessons, and a repair workshop down the hall. In August 2014, the Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble presented live performances in this space. The dance and music were created spontaneously in the moment by all the performers, based on concepts designed in turn by different ensemble members. These improvisations were inspired by space, and fueled by our connection to each other and the audience.

Three elements come together in performance: the performers, the audience and the space. When a performer walks out onto the stage, they can feel the audience and the audience can feel them. If the channels are open on both sides of the curtain so to speak, no matter the size of the concert venue, it’s an intimate moment. The mysterious bond between performer and audience that occurs in live performance is difficult to accurately describe; it’s a group experience and yet also intensely personal, and it is that dichotomy that gives it an other-worldly quality.

I find that the third element of space, however, is even more intangible. Although its not often discussed, every stage or performance space has its own vibe that it communicates to performer and audience alike. It’s inexplicable but some spaces lend them themselves to performance and what constitutes this is much more than architectural. As a performing organization we are looking for places where we can connect with our audience. We are looking for spaces that will speak to us.

Maybe it was because the rooms were filled with basses from many different time periods; or the fact that the center was started out of Elizabeth Steves’ passion for her art form; or the poetry of knowing that just down the hall, that which is broken is carefully restored by hand, but we knew immediately that the Quantum Bass Center was an ideal place to perform. It embraced us and the audience in its two lovely main rooms. Tall upright basses lined two of the walls, like audience members in standing room only, or still dancers displaying their exquisite shapes – you decide.

The first of two episodes of ARTCAST created at the Quantum Bass Center airs this Sunday at 8 p.m. E.T. on YouTube.com/brangwendance. It features Lindsey McGill, dancer; Thomas Helton, bass; and Seth Paynter, saxophone.

Please remember that following each broadcast, episodes are available for viewing any time on YouTube.com/brangwendance or brangwendance.org

The Lelias

The Lelias

The film critic and scholar Ray Carney surmised that the work of independent filmmaker John Cassavetes was not given the critical acclaim it deserved because his films required the viewer to become involved. With most films, we observe the action from a safe distance. It may be a moving and powerful story, but we are still watching a story and able to stay outside the frame so to speak. We are voyeurs. With the films of John Cassavetes, you are in the room with the characters. This is for me a kind of cinema paradise. I feel like I am experiencing life, with all its incredible complexities and contradictions and mystery.

IN AND OUT OF THE SHADOWS, a new film with choreography by me and music by Tim Hagans, tributes Cassavetes’ first film SHADOWS. Released in1959, SHADOWS is the story of 3 siblings in New York City: Hugh, a jazz singer; Ben a jazz musician, and Lelia, a painter. Shot in black and white, we can see that the siblings have varying skin colors. One of the many points Cassavetes was trying to make in SHADOWS was that color was a question of perception and not reality. The film is about the emotional journey of the central character of Lelia. Her journey is a human journey, and therefore a universal one.

Lelia is the youngest character in the film. She is energetic and hopeful, moving in literary circles of people who see no color, until she meets a man who courts her and wins her affection. They become lovers and this is her first love experience. The young man becomes alarmed, however, when he meets her oldest brother, the dark-skinned Hugh, and realizes the woman he is having an affair with is black. Lelia is devastated at his reaction. She murmurs “I love you, doesn’t that mean anything.” Perhaps those words are key to understanding SHADOWS and all of Cassavetes’ films to come. He was continually exploring our human need for love and the power of love, and our turning away from it. Our turning away from what we crave most, for the most absurd of reasons.

It’s impossible to watch SHADOWS and not fall in love with the character of Lelia. When Tim Hagans wrote the music for IN AND OUT OF THE SHADOWS, he wrote it from her perspective. It’s a journey of what its like to discover the unfairness of life and then to come out on the other side and move forward. The musicians are expressing her emotional narrative when they perform the music. And so in making the dance, I decided to make the choreography follow the same narrative. Rather than a work where the different performers represent different characters in the film, we all instead represent Lelia. So we have Lelias of different genders and ages.

The middle brother Ben, runs through the city with his two buddies, and the only conflict they experience is their youth and their desires against the world in general. There are no issues of skin color. Scholars have written that Ben is passing for white, but to me it’s more that his 2 buddies see no color. They are just friends. I was on the subway across from 4 happy, bubbling teenagers having an animated discussion about skin color, of which they represented the many shades of the characters in SHADOWS from the snow-white lover of Lelia to the dark-skinned Hugh. It was as if they were discussing as insignificant a descriptor as hair or eye color. This seems indicative of Cassavetes’ idea that loosing the openness of youth is to the detriment of adulthood. I used the feeling of the boys in SHADOWS as they bound through the New York City streets — budding hipsters — also in the choreography.

We all suffer to some degree the pain of being judged by what is perceived on the surface about us, rather than the essence of our beings. People’s insecurities make them ostracize people for a variety of reasons, reasons that exist in their minds rather than in reality. If we all some day in future are the same color, will society find some other equally unreasonable thing to use as justification for what the playwright Arthur Miller so eloquently called ‘the breaking of charity” with each other.

Lelia moves forward out of her disappointment. She moves forward awkwardly and she is changed inside, yet in many ways she is just as vibrant as before, but in a different way. As Tim Hagans said when discussing the music, she emerges as a mature person. The choreography returns to something that is fluid but a little broken. We cannot erase our past, and sometimes it breaks us. So we try to move forward and one way we can do that is by finding each other.

You can watch SHADOWS in its entirety on YouTube. If you type in “Cassavetes SHADOWS” in the YouTube search engine, it will come up. Like all great art, SHADOWS makes us look a little deeper at each other, and ourselves.

We hope you will also join us for our new film IN AND OUT OF THE SHADOWS, Sunday November 9 at 8 p.m. ET on youtube.com/brangwendance

Please remember if you miss the broadcast, you can still watch the episode any time on YouTube.com/brangwendance or on brangwendance.org.