Participating in this project over the course of the semester has been incredibly enriching for me. Studying a work from the Tharp repertoire as an active participant rather than a viewer has given me access to a bit of the embodied knowledge held within Eight Jelly Rolls. Before Yale Dance Theater, I’d had the opportunity to watch Eight Jelly Rolls in my Advanced Dance Repertory course with Emily. While I could analyze the work visually to see the influences of popular dance, postmodern dance, a variety of dance techniques, and the use of movement manipulations, it was only through trenchantly delving into the material through rehearsal that I could really fully understand the masterful crafting behind Eight Jelly Rolls.
Certainly, this is a work with so many nuances that it could be rehearsed for years; I’m far from knowing everything, but the glimpse I’ve had through this project has still yielded invaluable experience. I feel that I am a stronger dancer, and that I’ve found new ways to use the floor and to manipulate a phrase choreographically. I’ve also learned about one of my personal interests, dance preservation and reconstruction, through actively practicing it. Reading Katie’s copious notes, hearing Jenny’s insider knowledge about the video tapes, having Sara correct my movements in her solo, and watching Rose piece together the four little phrases are all examples of the extensive work and decision making that go into recreating a work of dance.
So why is this important? In my opinion, dance pieces (like visual art, music, and works of theater), are part of our collective cultural heritage. They can tell us so much about artistic processes and philosophies of another time, and serve as a window into the minds of great artists like Twyla Tharp, whose pasts are an important part of their legacy. However, unlike other art forms, dance doesn’t have a form of notation that lends itself well to reconstruction: You can’t read it from a playbook or a musical score. This is the reason why video and authentic coaching are so important.
Although the hurdles towards recreation are greater, in my opinion the rewards are richer as well. Learning a dance is a truly intimate process; you learn how other people move and think about movement, and come close to understanding the intentions of the choreographer. Through deep research, practice, and working with experienced coaches, I feel like I’ve developed a huge appreciation of Eight Jelly Rolls as well as a wealth of movement knowledge and experience.