Friday, July 11, 2008

DANCING: THE DISCO-BROADWAY STYLE


I thought I'd open with an example of pure disco (above), before talking about how the form morphed into other styles. Of course you could argue that pure disco never really existed. You look at it and you can see Broadway and Funk in it, you can even see Doo Wop and some latin moves...and Ballroom! Ballroom's in there! What a synthesis! Of course disco didn't stay disco very long.



When disco petered out the biggest beneficiary was plain old white people's party dancing, which still looks a little bit like disco. The influence that most interests me though, is the one disco had on Broadway show dancing. Broadway helped to create disco and it, in turn, was also changed by it. Broadway was an amazingly flexible and eclectic style as you can see in this clip (above) from "Billy Elliot." This dance even contains elements of Punk.

This is a terrific dance: age and youth in a light-hearted, sweeping choreography that seems to forgive mistakes. The music (by T-Rex) is typical of the disco-Broadway synthesis. It's laid-back, but also jazzy; the kind of thing professional dancers like.




I've posted this (above) before: Fosse's "Everything Old is New Again" dance from "All That Jazz." Disco mixes with Broadway, and it works! Talk about influences! This has Broadway, Disco, Ballet, Jazz, Funk, and "Eccentric Dancing." Man, Fosse was an incredible synthesizer! How do you like the ballet steps Anne Reinking did around the kid creeping on the floor near the end? Can you believe all these influences work so well together?

Notice the music again: another one of those songs that performers and dancers like, but which non-dancers only like when they see it performed. The Isobel Wren video I put up a few weeks ago had a great example of that style.




Another famous synthesis (above), this time from "Flashdance." American musical theater was still creative right up to the early 90s. My guess is that Hip-Hop killed it. Nobody could figure out a way to merge that style that with Broadway. Rock didn't merge well but Disco, Jazz and Funk made the transition beautifully, as you can see above. With Hip-Hop it looks like Broadway met it's match. The great synthesizer couldn't absorb it. Maybe it was designed not to mix, I wish I knew.

The last gasp of the Broadway style was amazing, as you can see in the last three examples here. If any culture in the past had come up with something this good, they'd have made it the official state artform and repeated it for a thousand years without change. With these dancers this incredible style was just one among many.

23 comments:

Joel Bryan said...

All That Jazz was on a few weeks ago here in Japan. I'd never seen it before because when it came out I was a young lad who hated and loathed anything Broadway related or had dancing in it.

Even my shark-slaying hero Roy Scheider was besmirched by appearing in it.

Finally viewing it with a more mature perspective, I have to declare that and anything Bob Fosse related to be wonderfulness indeed. The movie itself is a mess but the performances are outstanding and its autobiographical candor is breathtaking in its completeness.

I guess it helps too that Sandahl Bergman is in it during her hottest prime, right around the time she played Conan's girlfriend in a movie that same child-self watched and pronounced "AWESOME!" all those years ago.

But what I don't understand is people who won't dance. Movement is fun, music is fun. Combining the two just seems natural.

Anyway, cool post. The breadth of your interests... wow!

Brian said...

I guess it helps too that Sandahl Bergman is in it during her hottest prime, right around the time she played Conan's girlfriend in a movie that same child-self watched and pronounced "AWESOME!" all those years ago.

Sandahl played a muse in the film Xanadu between All That Jazz and Conan the Barbarian. Check it out if you haven't. The acting is terrible, but the music and dancing make up for it. :)

Nico said...

man, was i born too late or what! eddie, were you the king over at your local disco?

Clarity said...

All That Jazz was different, non-linear and candid. The songs work fine in a car or in the theatre wings.

I can relate to Fosse's artist face of calm and the inner experience of the health issues he went through. Some of the most memorable parts of the film are when his alter ego Scheider simply breathes "right...." in all replies.

There is also a sense, despite the apparent freedom in choreography Fosse expressed, of people discussing "him" as an entity, an enigma, sometimes even a product.

Broadway may have given many license to dream, as film does now but it is also an industry like film and "the only (other) asylum run by the inmates".

Pseudonym said...

What killed American musical theatre was what is slowly killing the American movie industry: The urge to up the ante, more expensive productions, resulting in producers playing it safe.

I just took a look at the current musicals on Broadway. Of the 30 I found, only six are original (not revivals or adaptations).

trevor said...

Joel, I couldn't agree with you less. Specifically, about All That Jazz. A mess? A MESS?

Maybe your reception is poor in Japan ( and I mean your reception, not the television's ), or maybe you were thinking of a different Bob Fosse movie starring the late Roy Scheider, though I doubt it. That movie was GREAT, made all the more so by that ending.

As for you theories, Eddie, they make a lot of sense. I only have two thoughts, specifically about your suppositions about punk and hip-hop. There really isn't any dancing involved in either of these.

Take it from a former DJ and twenty-something, there isn't any dancing going on when you see hip-hop or punk rock fans reacting physically to the music. In fact, the needs of those people are purely selfish.

In the case of punk, you've got people slamming into one another, stage diving and very often throwing punches. This is done purely to show the other idiots that you're at least as brave as they are.

The irony here is, punk caters to people who want you to think they don't care what others think, but if that were true, we'd have a healthy number of them off to the sides just trying to enjoy the music.... I say 'trying', because most punk sounds amateur at best.

In the case of hip-hop, the roles are different based on your gender. The women clearly have more to do, because the dudes are all dancing wallflowers who merely give syncopated nods and grab the girls' naughty bits. The girls don't dance quite so much as grind into the dudes, shaking their asses and flicking their hips. The self-serving aspect here is to entice the other person into taking you home, getting you high and then fucking you on their couch.

But I think the reason Broadway has 'met it's match ' with these two dancing styles is that one has a selfless motivation, the other selfISH. If you're only concerned with carnal matters, your appearance to an outsider hardly looks appeasing. But if you're only considering outside perception, you'll look great.

That's my two cents on the subject, anyway.

- trevor.

Musync said...

Wow, thanks for the info I much enjoyed reading it!

San Francisco Photos said...

I enjoy dancing very much and what you've posted here totally makes sense. You might be right about your hip-hop comment ... totally makes sense. On the other hand I still have to see All That Jazz ... it slipped past me although it came out when I was quite young but somehow I saw the other films but not All That Jazz.

Gotta see it now especially that Roy Scheider is not with us!

Anonymous said...

Yo, this is off topic. I found a higher quality video of your what a cartoon short on youtube.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xN35przh8pw&feature=related

Looks a hell of a lot better than the last one you linked to.

Music Lovers said...

nice blog

Anonymous said...

Roy Scheider was grateful to Bob Fosse for rescuing him from a string of dramatic roles wherein he played 'the great stone face' character. Listen to Scheider's commentary on the "All that Jazz" DVD sometime. Scheider, who was then in fairly good physical shape, found his precisely choreographed dancing moves in the film daunting and had to train with a dance master to nail them. Critics of the day said Fosse was merely copying Fellini, but just try watching "8 1/2" in 2008 without falling asleep. Fosse did his own twist on it and the result is far more entertaining. Now all the Fellini fans will be ticked, if they can see through their mime makeup.

jack raffin said...

wow...weird: i had a dream last night were you at some informal swanky gathering i had arranged, and sitting on some white plush couches i asked you if brigitte bardot was ever a dancer. you laughed and then gave me some history lesson on hollywood musicals or some such theory. i wish i could remember.

anyway, so now i wake up and see a post on dancing...

***

also disco is a pretty strange moment in history. i don't know much about the dance, but the discotheque scene end up as the dj club scene we have now? where the dj is praised, not the music or the musicians.

J. J. Hunsecker said...

Hey Eddie,

There's a bit of hip hop in the Flashdance clip, when the Jennifer Beals character flops on her back and spins around. Breakdancers did that move in the 80's.

Here's a related article from The Onion that I thought you might enjoy called "Dancer Risks Everything".

Nick said...

When it comes to hip hop, I think whether or not people dance to it depends on the crowd. I've been to a few rapper's gigs (local ones here in merry old Oxfordshire, no big names) and at some the crowd was static, just occasionally nodding along, where at others the crowd were really into it. Its a more pleasant and fun atmosphere if you're with the latter, and the performers prefer it more too.

Kelly Toon said...

here are a few interesting links:

This is the "Last dance" scene from the film Save the Last dance, about a ballerina who learns hip hop. This is where she uses her new phat skillz to impress the judges at Juliard (or some fictional academy). I kind of hate the editing on this clip, I feel like I missed a lot!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9E87c1-aYA

And below is a beautiful series of breakdancers, captured in slow motion, their moves taken out of context. I'd be interested to hear what you think about these.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9E87c1-aYA

Joel Bryan said...

Trevor- It's a great film, but the tonal shifts are all over the place. That's what I mean by its being a mess. Messy like a life, not messy like it's a bad film. Far from it.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Kelly: Thanks for the link! Your second link was the same as the first, so I only got to see one. I have to be honest and say that I didn't really like the choreography, but I'm glad I saw it.

I'm sure hip hop can be made to fit with Broadway, You see glimmers of it sometimes. I wish somebody would make the breakthrough fast. I want to see some good dancing on the stage!

Trevor: Wow! Interesting point! There's a lot of sleazy hip hop out there but you see exceptions. That M.C. Hammer video I put up a while back was great!

Pseudo: Well said!

Nico: Haw!

Pseudo: Yes, more cheap but good dance films!

Anon: A better copy of "Tales of Worm Paranoia!" Thanks a million for letting me know!!!!!

Anon #2: Fosse had Fellini in mind!? Amazing!

Kelly Toon said...

oops! My bad, eddie, here is the correct url:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4OJFg6Ngir8

I have a feeling you will prefer this video.

Jenny Lerew said...

I sent this link to Eddie and since everyone else is sharing, here it is for y'all:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRPYQaBpTAQ

Stay with this number till the last couple does their solo--it's a very very young Bob Fosse and Carol Haney(another briliant dancer/choreographer and likely Fosse's first muse), and imho it's a spectacular, exhilarating example of his work.

This number got him his first big breaks on Broadway-the rest is history. It's all here: timing, movement, athleticism. And the other guys aren't shabby either-the lead male is Tommy Rall, who dances with Ann Miller. If you've seen his stuff in "Seven Brides" you'll know him even if you don't remember his name. Enjoy!

trevor said...

One of my favorite Fosse stories comes from John Cassavettes' first film 'Shadows'. Talk about your quintessential indie film, this baby was shot over the course of three years whenever time and money permitted.

At one point, there's a scene that takes place in a dance studio, and it had to be re-shot twice and then later re-dubbed because Fosse and his crew where upstairs rehearsing for some show.

And they still didn't get it all out. In certain shots you can actually here ol' Bob yelling at his dancers.

- trevor.

Clarity said...

Totally unrelated but when Eddie posted this yesterday I also remembered seeing Scheider in the Cassavetes film "Husbands" where he wasn't overly serious and stone-faced as someone mentioned earlier.

To add to this, I used to club a wee while ago, sometimes there was Hip Hop involved, you can't really avoid it when out. Frankly, it got dull as did the whole scene. I think a whole night of it was a waste of my time, then again, you don't tend to think of that when you're a teen and it's "oh so cool". I truly believe it is over hyped and nowadays overwrought, so yes I agree with Eddie somewhat.

Why It's Lame said...

Great stuff. I really look forward to keeping up on your blog.

- Mike
Why It's Lame

buzz said...

Back in the 1970s, Time magazine ran a sidebar that had supposed T-shirt slogans of the year 2001.

One said "Disco STILL Sucks".

Truer words were never written.

You wanna see hip-hop combined with traditional dance? Check out these Rooskies mad skillz:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoQb8vb4blA