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Split Sides An Analysis Of Modern Dance

984 words - 4 pages

“Who knows only his own generation remains always a child.” This quote from George Norlin echoes the edification that cultural exposure can offer. How does African dance relate to do modern dance? The two are so heterogeneous in their make-up that one would not think of them as having similarities. The truth, however, is that all dance forms are linked in some way or another; they all strengthen and sharpen each other. Modern dance has its roots in African dance with the emphasis placed on the connection of weight and gravity. Brenda Dixon Gottschild names five aesthetics that are present in African dance. A particular piece that draws attention to the relation of the five aesthetics to modern dance is “Split Sides”, choreographed by Merce Cunningham.
In the piece the dancer is very distinctive and powerful in his movements. He often holds positions in an asymmetry stance which is a quality that comes from balancing ephebism. Ephebism is one of the five African aesthetics that applies vitality, power, flexibility, drive, and attack in its movements. The holding of the various positions requires great strength and demonstrates a stamina that is similar to the strength and stamina needed for the long hours that African dances are held for. Granted, the stamina and strength for African dances requires a much longer building period, however, training one’s body to hold and sustain an unnatural position is no small feat. In addition to this one characteristic of ephebism, the dancer’s arm movements throughout the piece adhere to an attack like jolting or sharp movement and further enhance the component of ephebism by creating the youthful movements that word ephebism correlates to. The flexibility in this dance piece is seen dramatically through many instances. It is important to note that flexibility in African dance simply implies the flexibility of the joints, rather than one’s extension. The dancer demonstrates this by the use of plié throughout the piece; hardly ever is the dancer without at least one leg bent, whether he’s in a position or in a transitional movement. The incorporation of the plié further reminds the audience of the relation of the dancer to the ground, or to gravity: a quality both Modern and African dance share.
Polyrhythm, the simultaneous use of two different rhythms, is also an aesthetic seen throughout “Split Sides”. There is a polyrhythm in the dancer’s movements as they relate to the music. The dancing is not dictated by the music, it is a background element. The music that was created for “Split Sides” was a hodgepodge of sounds that were fed through electric equipment. Although the music has a distinctive beat throughout the piece, the dancer is always moving to a rhythm independent of it. This could be seen as an opposing style to that of African dance. In African dance emphasis is placed on each drum beat having an equal amount of importance and each beat having a...

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