Daniel Nagrin, dubbed “the great loner of American dance” by Dance Magazine, has worked with Martha Graham, Helen Tamiris, Mme. Anderson-Ivantzova, and Anna Sokolow. He has danced on Broadway, in film and television, and has toured nationally and internationally as a solo concert artist. He is professor emeritus of dance at Arizona State University.
“The world outside has burst into the studio,” writes the influential dancer, teacher, and choreographer Daniel Nagrin. Many dancers want passionately to confront concrete, difficult subjects. But their formalistic training hasn’t prepared them for what they need to say. This book, the first on choreography approached through content rather than structure, is designed with them in mind.
Spiced with wit and strong opinions, Choreography and the Specific Image explores, in nineteen far-ranging essays, the art of choreography through the life’s work of an important artist. A career of performance, creativity, and teaching spanning five decades, Nagrin reveals the philosophy and strategy of his work with Helen Tamiris, a founder of modern American dance, and of Workgroup, his maverick improvisation company of the 1970s. During an era when many dancers were working with movement as abstraction, Nagrin turned instead toward movement as metaphor, in the belief that dance should be about something. In Choreography and the Specific Image, Nagrin shares with the next generation of dancers just how that turn was accomplished.
“It makes no sense to make dances unless you bring news,” he writes. “You bring something that a community needs, something from you: a vision, an insight, a question from where you are and what churns you up.” In a workbook following the essays, Nagrin lays out a wealth of clear, effective exercises to guide dancers toward such constructive self-discovery. Unlike all other choreography books, Nagrin addresses the concerns of both modern and commercial (show dance) choreographers. “The need to discover the inner life,” he maintains, “is what fires the motion.”
This is Nagrin’s third book of a trilogy, following Dance and the Specific Image: Improvisation and The Six Questions: Acting Technique for Dance Performance. Each focuses on a different aspect of dance—improvisation, performance, and choreography—engaging the specific image as a creative tool.
Part history, part philosophy, part nuts-and-bolts manual, Choreography and the Specific Image will be an indispensable resource for all those who care passionately about the world of dance, and the world at large.
In the late twenties, actors and directors of the Group Theatre, who were pioneering the use of Stanislavski's teachings, saw the value of teaching ballet and the emerging modern dance. Actors now routinely learn dance, but dancers rarely study acting. In The Six Questions, Nagrin maintains that a command of acting techniques allows the dancer to couple the passion of a body in motion with the heart and mind of the dancer.
In five parts, the book first examines the personal essentials demanded by dance. The second part looks at the pitfalls inherent in the act of performing from vanity to self-hatred. The third part, the core of the book, poses six questions: Who? is doing what? to whom? where and when? and why? and against what obstacle? In the fourth part, Nagrin looks at the tools for working on the role, and the fifth part enters into the very act of performing. All of the work is handled in terms of movement alone: no dialogue or scenes from plays are used.
The Six Questions is a companion piece to Nagrin's other works, How To Dance Forever, and Dance and the Specific Image: Improvisation. Together they present an invaluable teaching and learning tool for anyone in love with dance.
After an extraordinary career in dance – as a performer, choreographer, and teacher – Daniel Nagrin has now written an extraordinary book. In it he explores the roots of his aesthetic philosophy, influenced by Stanislavski, Helen Tamiris, Joseph Chaikin and the Open Theatre, and his work on and off Broadway as an actor and dancer.
Dance and the Specific Image includes over one hundred improvisational structures that Nagrin created with his new company, the Workgroup, and has taught in dance classes and workshops all over the United States. Designed primarily for dancers, many can be adapted for actors and even musicians.
In the 1960s, at a time when many modern dancers were working with movement as abstraction, Nagrin turned instead toward movement as metaphor. His passionate belief that dance must speak of people led him to found the Workgroup, a small company of dancers who, in the early 1970s, devoted themselves to the practice and performance of improvisation.
Nagrin invites the reader into the mind of a dancer totally absorbed in his art, one who writes with wisdom and authority about what it means to be an artist.