By Victoria Looseleaf
Webster’s defines momentum as “the quantity of motion of a moving body, measured as a product of its mass and velocity; the impetus gained by a moving object.” Madeleine Dahm, an international artist with three decades of experience in theater and contemporary dance arts, has worked with some of the world’s leading companies, arts organizations and training academies. The vivacious redhead thought that momentum was the perfect word to describe a nine-month creative lab, The Art of Choreography, a course she conducted for 15 gifted students as part of The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts’ education program.
Culminating on Wednesday, April 20, Mo.Men.Tum takes to the stage of the Wallis, located in the heart of Beverly Hills, when the prestigious venue presents an evening of dances choreographed and performed by these young people.
Ranging in age from 14-22, these exceptional students have explored all aspects of dancemaking with Dahm (right), who said she is more interested in “process” than the finished product.
Still, this product – several group numbers, solos, duets and trios – promises to be a peek into the future of dance, the most ethereal of the art forms. Meeting every Monday night for several hours, the students, under Dahm’s astute and forward-thinking direction, delved into the fundamental principles of composition in dance. They explored the various creative processes that lead to the development of dynamic choreography, as well as how to build choreography from a single idea. They also examined how choreographers take inspiration from other art forms, such as visual art, music, architecture, and literature.
With dancers being the physical, emotional and artistic instruments of the choreographer, the students learned how to bring out their own unique qualities, a vital tool in communicating effectively as part of a choreographer’s success. (Above, Liessa Son, Jordyn Urman)
Explained Dahm: “My approach in developing this course was to create an open and experimental environment for these young artists to inhabit, with a focus on process, not product. I wanted the choreographers to step outside their comfort zone to find new ways of moving, creating and collaborating – going to the boundaries of what dance is and can be, and investigating avant-garde artists like Pina Bausch.
“We also explored the role that music plays,” continued Dahm, “how and when to use it, and why improvisation is invaluable in building vocabulary. Through that we developed motifs, investigated minimalist movement, viewed master works, and had time for in-depth critiques. Most importantly, we looked at how to work from a place of clear intention and authentic meaning.”
Indeed, the students were also able to study and work with choreographers presented at The Wallis this season – Twyla Tharp, LA Dance Project, Suzanne Farrell and Judith Jamison. And while this concert is the finale of their time spent together, Dahm said that it contains “a fraction of the ideas that were developed,” adding that, “although those ideas might have been left on the ‘cutting room’ floor, I trust that these young choreographers will carry them forward as they develop as artists.”
Another aspect to the course was that the students, according to Dahm, “became like a small company over the months – one that celebrates victories, overcomes challenges, and forms strong creative bonds. It has been a joy to coach these emerging artists, and see their work evolve. In staging the performance,” the energetic director added, “I have tried to bring out the nuances in each of their pieces, and to provide a theatrical framework from which to view them.” (Miles Parsons, above)
When these capable young artists fill the stage of the beautiful Bram Goldsmith Theater, the fruits of their labor promise to be an exciting and emotional high for all involved. Kudos, then, to Dahm, the dancers/choreographers, The Wallis and to Mark Slavkin, Director of Education, for supporting the adventure in, what Dahm called, “all possible ways.”
(All photos by Clive Alcock; cover photo, from left, Susanna Russell, Patrick Fitzsimmons, Isaac Layn, Jayde Kief)