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'The Dancer's Body'
Last uploaded : Sunday 6th Oct 2002 at 18:31
Contributed by : Carol Gould



Every so often the BBC comes up with a documentary or series that is breathtaking and that one preserves forever in one’s home video collection. One of these was the 1984 Omnibus special chronicling the recording by Deutsche Grammophon of ‘West Side Story’ by Leonard Bernstein, starring Dame Kiri te Kanawa, Jose Carreras and Tatiana Troyanos and produced by Humphrey Burton.

A new classic, in my view, is ‘The Dancer’s Body,’ a three-part series on BBC presented by Royal Ballet star Deborah Bull. The series explores the origins of dance in different cultures and features interviews with prominent neurological experts who explain the manner in which the body and brain interact. This highly informative series explores the primal nature of human movement and the reason why, for example, we cannot resist tapping our feet or ‘moving to the music’ when we hear rhythmic sounds. We have, it is explained, primitive reflex reactions within our nervous system that send messages to ‘move’ when certain sounds are heard. These reflexes date back to our early cave dwelling days when we had to learn to identify danger from ‘friendly fire.’

Alongside the excellent pedagogical aspect of this series – which I think will inspire loads of little boys and girls to take up ballet – are numerous choreographies demonstrated by Deborah Bull and her fellow dancers. The two most outstanding can be seen in the final segment of the series: one by Wayne McGregor in which the male ‘mirrors’ every movement made by the female dancer to a percussive theme played by a small jazz ensemble. This essay was so breathtaking that one lamented the fact that due to the limitations of transmission time, it was shown in sections. One longed for the complete version.

The second essay was an interpretation of Erik Satie’s ‘Gympopedies’ by David Bintley, based on the ancient art if Greek wrestling portrayed by Bull and her male partner. (Sadly, he was not credited!) Bull invited a group of people of all ages and professions to watch the performance and then comment afterwards on how they interpreted the movements. Some thought it depicted ‘the sex act’ and others guessed correctly that this was a re-creation of a wrestling match. Needless to say this was an erotic essay and the pleasure was in the superb performances by the two young, beautiful dancers.

The series visits many genres of dance and has a splendid segment on the origins and performance of tango. Deborah Bull is a sparkling and inspiring presenter; if this series comes to your country do not miss it. It should be used in schools and is an accessible tool for those wishing to introduce young people to this magnificent art form.

Dance is healthy : whether you live in the USA, Britain, Israel or anywhere else, childhood obesity is a growing problem. Dance – classical or popular – is an enjoyable vehicle for young people in a weight loss program.

Have you ever seen a fat dancer?

‘The Dancer’s Body’ – a three –part series produced by BBC Television ; Producers Sarah Miller and Robert Eagle.

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