Julia Gleich is a professional choreographer and a professor of dance; and I am a writer, or so they say. (I took ballet when I was four years old. I took some modern dance classes in gym in college.) So what gives me the right (or even the inclination?) to insert myself into a master class with Gleich? The latter, who lives in London, is only in New York for two weeks, doing (among many other things) classes like these, in which she exposes professional dancers to her artistic philosophy.
She choreographed, on the spot, to “Cars” by Gary Numan, and “Rock Lobster” by the B52′s. It didn’t matter what was playing on her iPod: anything could turn into funky artistry — with ballet steps, no less! How rapidly the steps come, only to be followed by a decided, conscious pause; how beats, counted out subtly by the dancers to themselves with a structure (4, down to 3, down to 2, down to 1) translate into a magical no-you-see-it, now-you-don’t feeling that makes you, as a viewer, want to rub your eyes. It’s the same in visual art. There’s something going on in the structure that’s got meaning, and the vocabulary or the materials, or whathaveyou, can change — it’s still the message of the mind and heart of the artist that you see, and all the details and particulars fall away.
It was scary, even if these pictures don’t show my fear. I found that one ingredient helped: smiling. If you smile, you feel totally different while you f*ck up. In fact, you probably get it right.
I couldn’t resist grabbing this opportunity for a bunch of reasons, one of which has its start in a conversation Gleich and I had outside a Bushwick art gallery some time ago. I had, in weeks prior, taken a walk-in hip hop dance class at two separate dance studios, and found them utterly lacking in artistry, explanation, anything. They were just formulaic steps. I asked her what the problem was, and she said that dance should be about “suspension and weight, not form and shape.”
It is so amazing to get close to a master of any craft that it’s worth risking your own embarrassment; that way, you can take back, to your own profession, what you gleaned, and teach your students.
By the way, I learned that ballet dancers wear shoes. Sheesh, who knew?
All photos by Jason Andrew.