It’s such a treat to watch contemporary dancers do barre work. They have a total love affair and connection with The Ground: floor-eating tendus and positively lascivious rond de jambe.
A lot of ballet music for class aims to maximise time for the body to be airborne. When it comes to jumping exercises, we are often told that unsuitable music is that which is too heavy or doesn’t allow for higher jumps. Well…. as far as I can tell, heaviness and groundedness are welcome in contemporary class where dancers do jump despite ‘heavy’ music.
Especially useful was watching percussionists accompany contemporary classes. My very first experience of this was hearing two highly sophisticated drummers at work , an event which left me with extreme drum envy.
I eventually took up djembe lessons. In the time-honoured way of African drumming, djembe music wasn’t definitively written down so it challenged everything I thought I knew about music. I began working regularly with phrases of 6s and richly layered rhythms and textures. It was all so different to typical ballet class fare – plain waltz or polka rhythms began to feel very bare – and didn’t take long for all this to start feeding into my improvisations for ballet. It was liberating to learn that you don’t necessarily need what was conventionally accepted to be a tune in order to create effective and highly dynamic dance music, and how to create phrases of 6s which didn’t come under the straitjacket of polonaises or minuets. Next stop – Conga Land!