Arts & Culture / Dance / Mosaic / October 14, 2010

DAH brings dance and politics

During the DAH Theatre workshop for dance and movement, dancers from Knox experienced catharsis on the dance floor as they went through exercises about gravity and connection and created pieces based on their memories. While dancers stretched before the workshop, Sanja Krsmanović Tasić, the instructor from DAH, told them to make a large circle.

Students sat in the circle and Tasić asked for students to say their name, what they study and why they wanted to be in the workshop. Many students said they loved dance and wanted to learn a new or better way to express themselves through dance. Tasić, who has been dancing since she was four years old, said she was trained in classical dance but wanted to learn contemporary dance. Tasić later joined DAH Theatre in 1993 when. she said, “It was [a] two-year-old toddler learning to walk.”

She emphasized how dancers have an indvidual voice and when they dance they create “a space of meaning” to tell a story. She also said she did not care about dance techniques during the workshop. “I’m interested in your humanity. From here, from your guts,” she said as she moved her hand up from her stomach to her chest and continued to say, “and your heart.”

While still in the circle, Tasić told the dancers to stand up and their put feet apart. She instructed them to “grab power from center of the Earth and up to something spiritual, connecting spirituality with the Earth.”

Workshop, from front page

She said to have their jaws soft, to keep their ribs in and she went around the circle correcting positions of the dancers.

Tasić mentioned she was not going to use music, but simply use breathing and a drum. She said, “Music is a crutch. But to get deep into yourself, you need silence. You must be in contact with your thoughts.”

Before beginning the exercises, she said, “We are here, present now. That is the most difficult thing.” She grabbed the drum and said that with each beat, the dancers must take one step. As she drummed, people began to walk around the dance area and as she sped up the tempo of her drumming, the dancers followed suit.

“Your physical body is here but your spirit is in the space,” Tasic said.

When she stopped drumming, the dancers were to stop. “If the focus moves, it is like your body moves,” she said as the dancers froze in place, some in awkward positions.

Tasić tested the dancers’ concentration and powers of observation and as she drummed, she would stop them to ask them a question such as how many people were wearing gray t-shirts. “Relax your hands, open your eyes,” she would call out to them through the sound of the beat. Soon, they internalized the beat and their synchronized footsteps echoed throughout the Auxiliary Gym.

Next, she asked the dancers, “What defines us?” Those in the room replied with answers of “life,” “emotion” and “religion.” She soon said, “Something we all share is resistance of gravity.”

For the next exercise, dancers crawled on their hands, resisted the ground and then stood up. This was an exercise in stopping resistance and a lesson in giving in. Dancers collapsed and they dropped to the ground. Tasić asked dancers to think about how their bodies were experiencing the resistance to gravity and how balance made them who they are.

“Our bodies are more clever than our minds,” she said.

The next exercise was to check the shape and how to control little aspects of the body, which Tasić said was her favorite exercise as she was taught by her favorite master: the floor. She did rolls over floor, controlling every part of her body slowly.

Soon Tasić told dancers to partner up with those of similar height. She had one of the pair walk backwards and the other forwards and then had them switch. Afterward, she told them to slowly approach each other and touch foreheads and then pick any contact point on their head, connecting like Siamese twins attached to the head. “Try not to talk, let your bodies talk,” she said amongst giggles.

After three to five minutes playing around with heads connected, partners started to mirror movements. They were instructed by Tasić “to have a little dance secret:” moves choreographed with each other that they would later memorize what they were doing and fix.

Some partners choreographed rolling on the floor and getting up. Some swung their arms in time with each other. Before beginning the segment where dancers would perform their little dances, Tasić said, “I’m interested in the little sparks of life in a dance, not the technical parts of spins or jumps.”

Sophomores Alicia Niles and Maddie Mandel were partners during this section of the workshop. “I like how this is individual stuff, Niles said. “It’s not structured movement, it’s movement ideas. And so we’re free to move however we want and however our bodies can move. And I feel like I’m moving through movements my body can do but I’m also learning new things in the process.”

“The only dance class I’ve taken here has been ballet which is so much more structured and presentational. The biggest part that I’ve learned from here is be yourself and don’t get embarrassed by what you’re doing,” said Mandel.

“It’s a study of the body and our relationships to gravity, and especially with the movement work we were doing when we were attached to the head. It was a lot of being aware of connections—where I am I moving into the ground, am I still connected to my partner?” said Niles.

“It’s like moving by yourself and being aware of someone else,” said Mandel.

After everyone finished, Tasić asked if people knew songs they could sing. The dancers ended up with fragments of six songs during which they would repeat their secret moves. Tasić emphasized the importance of playing with material in order to create art.

During the last part of the workshop, Tasić told dancers to think of five memories from birth to the present and make up a dance incorporating those five memories. Dancers sat deep in thought for a little while, thinking of ways to shape their very existence into a dance. One by one, they stood up and began to move about the dance floor. Soon, they were caught up in what they were doing, their bodies possessed by memories. During their performances of their five memories, dancers screamed silently, laughed, were surprised, were scared, moving through the spectrum of emotions in as little as ten seconds. Tasić combined some of the movements of the dancers to create new pieces which melded together surprisingly well.

When asked if she was going to incorporate anything she learned from the DAH dance workshop, Professor of Dance Kathleen Ridlon said, “Try to find ways to bring the individual into the classroom because I saw a lot of personal stories in here tonight and that made the movement really believable and when the personal story is missing, then movement isn’t very beautiful.”

“I want to try to find ways to get students to bring their personal stories into what they’re learning in class so that they’re not just copying or reproducing, they’re creating something. They’re truly being something.”

“It was similar to some things I’ve been introduced to while at Knox, actually, but taking it further from another culture, seeing methods of exploring the connection between body and soul and people and dance. To have that, it’s just really wonderful,” sophomore Kate LaRose.

“There’s just a lot of acceptance for space for everyone’s exploration, which I really, really liked. It was really amazing creating those dances, those little pieces that we made for the final where it was from our own experiences but it was really amazing doing it through and around everybody,” said junior Anna Witiuk.

“When we were working on it,” LaRose said.

Witiuk continued and said, “Yeah, because I felt like I was walking through other people’s experiences. I would fall to the floor right next to somebody else that was doing something else, who was in their own little world. There were moments of stillness where I would see other people just sitting there like me.”

When asked about what it was like working with Knox students, Tasić said, “It was really very interesting because first of all, I never expected that they would achieve so much for such a short time—in just three-hours. It was wonderful to see how students open themselves and just created great material. Also, what I really enjoyed was their focus, their readiness and it is a very, very interesting group ready to go deep and express wonderful things in their work.”

Sheena Leano

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