East Meets West
East Meets West in the Middle
By Beatrice Hintze
It is the synthesis of dance techniques which has impulsed and pushed dance forward to new forms and possibilities through the ages. The synthesis of peasant and court dance movements gave birth to the classical ballet in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Europe. In the twentieth century, the highly refined classical ballet technique with its poses, elegant arm and leg movements, pirouettes, jumps and big leaps was revitalized and refreshed by combining it with modern dance movements. Freedom of movement was gained by integrating swinging torso movements, falls, the use of weight and gravity, etc. The results of these innovations can be seen in the choreographies of Balanchine, Robbins, Bejart, Neumeier, MacMillan, Tudor, Cranko, etc., choreographers who have very individual styles that differ very much one from the other. The examples of combining movements of different dance techniques, creating new styles, new forms and possibilities, are manifold.
Oriental dance is a cultural expression of Middle Eastern people with an old tradition and deep roots. Oriental dance is a highly developed dance form, and demands a striving for the preservation of its integrity and genuine style. So many of us around the world today have found a means to express ourselves through this dance tradition.
However, this spread has produced some inevitable cross-fertilization with other dance forms. For example, Ruth St. Denis, the great American modern dance choreographer who began choreographing in 1906, experimented with using Oriental dance movements in her choreographies. Great Oriental dance choreographers like Mahmoud Reda employ classical ballet movements. Reda explains that dancing on a big stage demands beautiful and sophisticated combinations to move across the stage. Why not use elements of classical ballet, which is international and fits the need?
Although the cultural background and tradition of Oriental dance are very important to me, nevertheless it is a temptation and very exciting for me to abstract from it and look at Oriental dance as a dance technique. It has especially highly refined isolation movements of the torso, giving the torso plasticity and expressivity. Although it does Oriental dance a disservice to reduce it to movements of just hips, abdomen, rib cage and shoulders, one of the unique things about the dance is that there is such a wide range of possibilities of torso movements. It is the soul of Oriental dance!
I had been practicing classical ballet at a professional level for many years. When I also took classes in modern and jazz dance, each of these dance techniques enriched me. Modern dance helped me to discover contraction/release, fall/recovery, working with weight and gravity, rather than against gravity as in classical ballet. Jazz dance opened my mind to dynamic rhythms, strong, sharp movements, isolation. When I began Oriental dance, I was fascinated because the movements not only flow from the center of the body, but the dancer actually dances with the body center.
Inspired by choreographers like Maurice Bejart, who freely combines movements of several dance techniques to give form to his imagination, I began to experiment with combining Oriental dance movements with movements of classical ballet, modern and jazz dance. I found some of the Oriental percussion music very suitable for my new approach. When I choreographed “La Mer,” the percussion music I chose was perfect for strong, sharp, dynamic jazz dance movements, swinging torso and arm modern dance movements, classical ballet leaps, and shimmies, waves, hipdrops and kicks, and turns from Oriental dance. Images were evoked of seawaves, spindrift, foam, swirls: the dancing of water, arising to a crescendo, breaking on the rocks, calming down to gentle waves. I designed a costume for “La Mer” abstracting from the common Oriental dance costume: a whole-body tight with a silver fringe belt.
I also found suitable music for my choreographies in Western “classical” music, ie., the Arabic dance in the “Nutcracker Suite” by Tchaikovski. In this choreography, called “Opium,” I created flowing images, either of the body in space (classical ballet), or in the body itself (Oriental), like smoke. There is a polarity between classical ballet, which is airy, light, Apollonian, and Oriental dance, which is earthbound, emotional, Dionysian. I liked the complementary quality of the two techniques when combining them.
For my next choreographies I will use Egyptian music by contemporary composers, who integrated Western elements in their musical pieces.
Bejart has said that twentieth century dance and art are universal, integrating what human beings all over the world have created. Every place in the globe is very near to the rest of the world as a result of our advanced communication media. The examples of combining movements of different dance techniques, creating new styles, new forms and possibilities, are manifold. New styles and new forms lead to new interpretations or even to new themes. Of course, the danger of bad style, bad taste, eclecticism, and incongruity exists. Nevertheless, if there is a profound and well-grounded knowledge, consciousness, and emotional sincerity, the results can be artistically enriching. The choreographic process should have an element of daring and risk-taking, otherwise, nothing new in movement or concept will be created. This should be balanced by a conservatism that does not allow novelty merely for novelty’s sake.
On one hand, the endless possibilities of working freely with elements of different dance techniques is a tempting challenge that offers the chance to develop artistically, aspiring to new experiences. On the other hand, we must have in mind that the cultural tradition of Oriental dance is highly developed in itself, and cries out for preservation in its pure form. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Beatrice was born in Mexico City in 1960. She has danced since her childhood, studying classical ballet at a professional level in Mexico City, and later studying teaching methods for ballet. She has also taken classes in modern and jazz dance. She began studying Oriental dance in 1985, and performs it in Mexico and Germany. In 1990 she started Dance Space, a dance studio in Hamburg, Germany, for Oriental dance, classical ballet, and jazz dance. Following in her father’s footsteps (he is a world renowned German physicist), she has also taught college level mathematics and physics.