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It was dark and cold inside the studio and the audience was quite. The show was just about to begin. 'Graffiti of the Celeste', a sequel of dance performances with 6 dancers by The Arts Fission Company was presented that night at The Esplanade Theatre Studio. I decided not to read the leaflet they gave me at the door. Yes, this may sound a little strange, but the reason I did that because I wanted to watch the show with no preexisting judgment. I wanted my senses to work hard that night capturing and filling my empty mind.
Sitting on the far left off the stage, my eyes were trying to adjust to the dark ambience. As soon as the music started, a heavy white smoke came from the back of the stage and vaguely the dancers were moving behind bygone lined corridors. My eyes caught some of the hand gestures made by the dancers and they are Buddha's hands positions. I was perturbed between the dance moves with the music at the background. At first it felt quite disturbing instead of pleasing but as each movement progressed into different movements, then it was becoming more interesting. While my senses working to capture the moment, my mind was having its own conversation. Every section of the dance surprised me and made me wonder what's the story and the message that the choreographer was trying to convey? Why the music, the costumes and even the face expressions of the dancers made me a little uncomfortable. But at the end, it is all back to the main question of what is the aesthetic and how does it pertain to the dance?
At the very beginning, dance was a sacred form, which was performed in shrines and at the games at Olympia from the 8th century BC. A dance was performed in a circle in honor of a god. A dance was also becomes the centerpiece of the Greek Theatre. Today's dance is different than the ancient times. Although some old forms of dances such as classical ballet are still continue to be performed and appreciated by people from all over the world. There is another form of dance called contemporary dance that developed in the 20th century, the modern dance is showing the no-rules type of dance, free-form way of moving across the stage. This free-form can be seen in the Graffiti of the Celeste, where the whole performance was used as the medium for the choreographer to convey her message to the audience. Angela Liong brought up her concerns about the fact that the environment keeps deteriorating. She shows them in the gloomy dark settings with a minimum lighting, agitated and anxiety body movements and music that sounds so peculiar playing at the background.
What is beauty? Before we even can answer the question, it is important for us to understand the fundamental value in dance and to establish a concept of beauty. In the book of Aesthetic Quality, Stephen C. Pepper said that it is bad taste to say something is beautiful when it is dull and empty, or to say something is very beautiful when it lacks depth and spread and intensity. ( Stephen C. Pepper, p.246) This is a bad aesthetics judgment. A dance performance can be with a full set of beautiful outfits, grand settings but again there is no intensity in the whole of performance. It can be a series of very strong and dynamic movements but there is no story or any background that derives those movements. Then the dance is only an empty set of movements. I can felt the intensity of the work of Angela Liong in Graffiti of the Celeste through her dancers and the music that played in the background.
I honestly think that watching a classical ballet is much easier than watching a contemporary dance. A classical ballet performance usually will adopt a story that many have already familiar with. For example, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcrackers are some of the favorites in classical ballet. Therefore the aesthetics judgment usually should also based on the ability of its dancers, settings and also the costumes. However, in contemporary dance, before we judge based on the ability of its dancers whether they are able to interpret what the choreographers really wanted, the choreographers' ideas and purposes of the creation of the dance are becoming the beacon of the show.
The dancers are holding an important role in the process of aesthetic judgment. It is through the dancers that the audience should be able to feel the emotion of the choreographer and the message he or she is trying to convey. A dancer should be able to embody the soul of the choreography. It is after the choreography then it is the performers' task to search and experiment and find the full dynamic possibility of the choreography. (Pauline Koner, p.37) Although each performer has the individual style in interpreting the choreography, every one of them should deliver the dance with the same dynamic. Dynamics in movement consists of three elements - time, intensity, and space range. As mentioned before in the book of Aesthetic Judgment, again, intensity is also holding an important role in a dancer movement. Under the element of intensity, the emotions stage differently for each dancer and they play another important role in defining the aesthetics from the dancers' side. (Pauline Koner, p.44) Hence, it is when both choreographer and the performers fulfill their roles, perfection is reached, truth revealed, and beauty manifest. (Jill Hoerter, p.19)
I wonder if Plato would have the privileged to be one of the audiences in Graffiti in the Celeste, how would he react toward the whole show? His synoptic generalization toward the art does not always fit the today's perceptions of arts, especially in dance. The aesthetic judgment for contemporary dance starts with the understanding of the dynamic movements of dance. And how important it is for the dancers to go in depth to the purpose of the dance before they perform. The understanding must go deeper to the purpose and the meaning of the creation of that dance. The beauty of a dance performance lies beyond the movement and time and space.