This week we have a choreographer that we haven’t posted before: Dexter Santos! We were looking for some good examples of masculine movement to post, and Dexter and this piece of his are certainly a fine example. After you take a look at how he’s moving, take a look at what he’s saying. He clearly knows what his influences are, what he wants to express, and how he goes about finding the right way to make it happen.
What did you want to express with this choreography?
For this piece, I wanted to reflect the contrast of human emotion between the feeling of despair and the feeling of joy – the range of Blues expression in the body. I feel that we achieve this contrast with the way we move our bodies as the song changes in feeling and tempo. I wanted to convey how our spirits are revived as we rise from our “blues,” how we celebrate life and feel on top of the world. But then also convey how our happiness, at any given moment, can be quickly taken away from us. You can see how our characters progress from feeling low, a sense of loss, and despair to feeling cool, confident, and high and back again.
Why did you choose the song for the piece?
I always want to choreograph a song that has a strong dance performance quality to it, something that also provides a setting for characters and a story. Ultimately, I wanted a song that I felt strongly about. I’m a big fan of Duke Ellington music and when I listened to my music collection with the intent of choreographing to it, I found “The Swingers Get The Blues Too” to be just the perfect song as it had the right feeling and performance quality that I was looking for. And with a title like that, I couldn’t help but feel inspired!
It’s interesting to me how this song cycles from “sad blues” to “happy blues” then back to “sad blues” again. The upbeat part of the song (where the rhythm comes in) has a sort of a “swinger-esque” feel to it – that part in a movie where the boys band together and walk confidently in a scene (the bass line lends to that feeling). I think I remember Damon saying that this would be the “soundtrack” to cruising cooly down the boulevard (or something like that). The part at the end where the rhythm stops and you hear the lonely trombone solo is where the “rug gets pulled from underneath us” and we are back to where we started. We then gather our dignity and what’s left of us, dust ourselves off, and start all over again. This song, I feel, is a great example of the balance between light and dark, the yin and yang, the high and lows. I was listening to the song in a loop as I wrote this and it’s interesting to see how the end ties in with the beginning. A perfect example of the circle of life.
What other dances influenced or inspired this one?
I have always been inspired by performances that are very expressive, emotive and have dynamic movement – anything from solo jazz to hip hop to ballet. I remember watching a lot of YouTube videos to get ideas and inspiration for my choreography. For this specific piece, I drew inspiration from my own learned blues movement vocabulary, African dance, and Michael Jackson’s movements which you can see an influence of in the sharper movements and poses in this piece. By the way, the fedoras we are wearing are a literal tip of the hat to MJ’s “Smooth Criminal” music video. For the format of the “3 Man Blues Routine” as well as the look of our costumes, I got the idea from a YouTube video I saw of a group called Purple Haze led by Darius Crenshaw performing a rendition of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” The quality of their movement is so amazing and entertaining: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UPGWvAzRJA
How did you go about combining your concept, song choice, and influences to create the finished choreography?
I wanted to do a Solo Blues performance for a group of men as I hadn’t seen it in a performance setting at any Blues dance event prior to this. I knew that if I were to choreograph something, I wanted to perform it with dancers that I respected and admired. Damon Stone and -topher Howard immediately came to mind. Before any choreography was created, I e-mailed them the song so they could get an idea of the feeling for the piece. To my delight, they both responded positively and enthusiastically to my invitation and idea.
While I did most of the choreography for this piece, Damon helped fill in a few parts where I was having some difficulty. There were also short segments of the song that provided opportunities for each of us to have personalized choreography which I left to both Damon and -topher to choreograph on their own. The structure of the song was ideal for each of us to do this. You can see that in the beginning and middle, of the song where each of us take turns in the spotlight. At the end, while moving together, we acted in different ways dusting and straightening ourselves. At the time, Damon was still living in the Bay Area and we were able to meet a couple of times to practice the choreography. But since -topher lived outside of California, he had to learn it through video that I provided and, eventually, was able to rehearse the choreography with me when he arrived. Finally, all three of us were able to rehearse together in one space just a few hours before Down Home Blues 2009 started. The video you see is the only time we ever performed this piece.