Arts in the News: Sundance for Choreography, A Prescription for Music and Dance and more

The Sundance for Choreography

The first annual National Choreographic Festival took place in May and is being called the “Sundance for dance.” Organized by Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute, the festival was hosted in Salt Lake City and invited dance companies from across the country for two weekends of performances. The program is a collaborative one, featuring new work by both renowned and up-and-coming choreographers. Sklute explains: “I approached a variety of companies. We wanted to present a broad swatch of what American dance looks like.” Sklute’s own company performed three new works for the festival. His ultimate dream for the festival is that it features only world premieres; for this first year, guest companies mainly performed pieces that were created or staged recently but not yet officially toured. For example, the Pennsylvania Ballet presented Trey McIntyre’s “The Accidental,” and Oregon Ballet Theatre presented Helen Prickett’s “Terra.” Next year’s festival is set to highlight female choreographers and companies run by female directors. Sklute is also considering the possibility of fringe festival events that would involve regional school programs and a choreographic competition: “We want this festival for choreography to do what the Sundance Film Festival does for a film–create a hub for creativity in dance.” What a fantastic new event in the dance world that will no doubt foster sharing and celebration of fresh, new ideas!

A Prescription for Music and Dance

Halton Clinical Commissioning Group (HCCG), a National Health Service (NHS) organization in Britain, has released a cultural manifesto pledging to prescribe dance and music to alleviate loneliness and poverty. HCCG, which plans NHS services in Chesire, wants to “put a choir in every care home” as one piece of a larger “paradigm shift” in health care. The manifesto explains: “Too many of life’s problems are seen as only amenable to medical treatment. We all too readily turn people into patients. Consequently, we have all become less adept at making sense of life and death, pain and sickness for ourselves. There are no pills for loneliness and poverty but a rich cultural context can help ensure residents are better connected to each other and feel more able to cope.” The manifesto speaks specifically to the example of people with dementia but adds that music groups like community choirs can also help those with asthma or other issues with breath control and lung capacity. What a wonderful move to incorporate the healing and social benefits of the arts into medical practice!

How Many People Does it Take to Write a Hit Song?

We usually think of hit songs as credited to one person or one band; a new study by Music Week magazine, however, shows that the writing of a hit song is more often than not a team effort. The study’s results indicate that it now takes an average of 4.53 writers to create a hit single. By analyzing the 100 biggest singles in 2016, Music Week found that only four were created by a single artist (Mike Posner’s “I Took a Pill in Ibiza,” Calvin Harris’s “My Way,” and two hits by Twenty One Pilots). The average number of writers per hit single has increased over the past decade: ten years ago the average was 3.52 per hit single, and 14 of the year’s top 100 songs were credited to a single artist. As 4.53 only marks an average for 2016, many of the top hits have required significantly larger writing teams: Drake’s “Once Dance” credits eight, and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” credits 13. Even famously solo singer-songwriters like Adele and Ed Sheeran rely on co-writers. Managing director of music publishers Warner/Chappell UK Mike Smith credits the change in writer numbers to the evolution of the music business, explaining that decades ago an artist would take several albums to hone their craft, but now “there is a need to fast-forward that process [and] bring in professional songwriters, put them in with artists and try to bring them through a lot faster.” Some stars now go to “writing camps” to help speed this process along. The changing nature of the writing process for hit singles has many wondering: what does all this mean for the authenticity, authorship, and a sense of ownership of music?

New Dance Style Taking on Social Justice Issues

A new dance style known as “flexing” combines numerous characteristics from other hip hop styles, incorporating bone-breaking, pausing, gliding, get-low, and hat tricks. It has its basis in reggae and bruk-up (a Jamaican style popular in ’90s dance halls). Several dance groups are using flex to incorporate autobiographical narrative and social justice commentary into their work: when FLEXN premiered at Park Avenue Armory in 2015, it took the Brooklyn-born street dance style onto the concert dance stage, using it to create vignettes that openly addressed the social justice issues highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement. FLEXN is a collaboration between opera director Peter Sellars, flex pioneer Reggie “Regg Roc” Gray, and members of The D.R.E.A.M. Ring. Gray explains in an interview: “Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and all of these things were on people’s minds. Those are the things we were talking about as dancers, those are things that we speak about with our bodies.” The group is returning now for FLEXN Evolution, set to feature pre-performance conversations about social justice and community issues that help frame the messages in the dance pieces. “The show resonates with different people in different ways, and we don’t want everyone to see the show the same way,” explains Gray. An amazing example of the power of sending messages through dance!

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