Double Whammy, Part I

Before I say anything, I just wanted to forewarn you all that my parents are playing an Eagles CD in the background as I write this. While the Eagles are wonderful and all, I have no idea what effect their music tends to have on people’s writing, so…

Anyways, for those who weren’t in seminar today, we had a fascinating (and at times bordering on aggressive, if I may say) discussion on race, culture, and identity, stemming from David Dabydeen’s Slave Song, but also from our various experiences within and in between our own cultures. Before I talk about that too, I’d like to interject a message from our sponsors, a.k.a. the work I had mentioned in class today, the ballet Glass Pieces by Jerome Robbins, with music by Philip Glass: (it’s only about a minute and a half long, so you might as well watch it)

There are two things I’d like to note in this video that convey my feelings effectively when it comes to Strickland’s Ballad of Sand and Soot.

First is the opening that I mentioned in class. The dancers walk across the stage in opposing directions with great conviction, their paths weaving among one another. Once in a while, some dancers pause, perhaps coming together and dancing with each other, then continue on their way. This sort of spontaneity is well-used in many contemporary ballets, but Glass Pieces conveys it on a grander and more imposing scale than many other ballets. The repetition and pulse of Glass’ music, as mentioned in the video, probably contribute to that sensation. It is also interesting to note the costuming of the “alien couples” – their materials are synthetic, tying in somewhat with the silicon and carbon motifs found in Ballad.

Second is the pas de deux (partner dance for those who don’t speak ballet) amid the “silhouette assembly line” background of the corps dancers (the corps de ballet, who tend to perform similar choreography and move as a body or a unit). The lighting and mood as contrasted with the first movement seem to connect with the variation of colours used as backgrounds in Strickland’s poem. Moreover, I feel that this section puts the sense of repetition, pulse, and the occasional human interaction into a physically-manifested form. While others continue in the humdrum labours of life around them, two people – who could represent anyone – share a dance, one that lasts minutes and then ends, symbolizing the single, momentary crossing of paths between “Sand” and “Soot” that I believe each individual section of the poem represents. The very transience of dance itself as an art form, along with its usual division into short movements – solos, pas de deux, group sections, codas, all of which cannot last too long for consideration of the dancers’ exhaustion – also connects well with Strickland’s short stanzas and erratic diction.

I know I might be reading into it a little bit too much, and I’m kind of throwing a lot of stuff at you guys, but I think that dance is definitely lacking in academic appreciation as an art form. So, a little “Ballet of the Day” for you.

I will post Part II tomorrow! I promise…

One comment

  1. Thanks, Elliott; this is the first I have heard of this work, and I really appreciated your connections to Strickland’s ballad. Bringing dance into our discussion seems quite relevant, since the poem is described as a ballad, which would involved dance as well as music. And yet I know almost nothing about dance! I agree with you in the last point here, that dance is lacking in academic appreciation as an art form. We hear a lot about academic “readings” of texts, plays, films, visual art…but little about dance.

    The two scenes in the work you focus on here do seem very nicely to connect to the poem. I was especially struck by your point about how they show two people in transitory pairings, who share a short dance and then break apart, and how this connects to the “short stanzas and erratic diction” in the ballad. Soot is said to love Sand, but they don’t fully seem to come together, or at least if they do it’s not for long. To me, the poem shows their distance from each other more than their connection. But partly this could be because I’m still struggling with my own interpretations of just what is going on in it!

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