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December 14, 2005

The Trading Routes


The massively shifting global political dynamic that Nigel alluded to - in conjunction with the internal non-NY-centric dynamic that Cathy referred to - is in reality a sum total of local political dynamics in transformation that are pulling cultural behaviors in their wakes. In Europe, the move to the European Union (out of the Common Market) and its later extension into a (mostly) common currency, liberalized labor movements within Europe's borders and finally into its expansion into East Central Europe is mirrored in the evolving artistic practices and mutual arts financing across the continent. Throughout the 1980's and 1990's, young producers and creators (and their dialogues through such organizations as the Netherlands Theatre Institute, the Informal European Theater Meeting and Airwaves) consciously anticipated the economic and political partnerships that were legislated for the New Europe. The focus on constructing multi-national, demonstrably European artists projects across previously inpenetrable national boundaries became the norm. Nowhere was this more apparent and successful than in dance and related performance forms that could immediately bypass the still significant and politically resistant barriers of language. The result was a deliberate turning inward to the emerging creative ideas and structural issues, and the new citizenship of formerly national artists within Europe (and the nascent pan-national European support structures) as a whole - and away from the disempowerment of the past, symbolized in many cases by the ubiquitous presence of US artists across the landscape of that past.

In the 1990's, sub-regional networks centering on the Baltic region, the Mediterranean basin (southern Europe, North Africa and tentatively the Middle East) and the energetically emergent countries of Eastern Europe further complicated the artistic picture. Similarly in other parts of the world, in Asia and Latin America, artist- and producer-driven networks demonstrating regional pride and non-US affiliation championed and promoted artists, festivals and longterm collaborations that gave the regions (and their animators) a significant public identity, with the notable absence of Americans in their midst.

There are so many variables in this tectonic shifting of underlying cultural plates - but without a doubt, the emerging isolation of the United States through its conservative, non-engaging, unculturally aware and ultimately military geopolitical stance, in great measure, pulled its own artists - New York and otherwise - into its isolationist shadow. Whatever New York has been as a great creative center (and it assuredly still is), the world that formerly applauded it as such would no longer do so as their own political realities continued to grow and thrive, and our politically dominant cultural xenophobia continued, tumor-like, to thrive.

Posted by at 6:23 PM

Perhaps An Inevitable Shift


The concept of New York’s no longer being the dance capital of the world is an analog for America’s place in the world in general. One could ask that if America has become the world’s lone super-power so why can’t America maintain its hegemony in dance and other cultural forms as well? Fortunately, the world is a more complicated place than America would have it be and creativity follows its own paths. New York had a particularly wonderful run when America was still a beacon for more than simply economic success. Now, part of the sense of endless possibilities that fueled the sense of excitement that New York of the 50s, 60s, and 70s represented has moved elsewhere.

Perhaps, we all should lament this but the drift is much larger than simply New York or simply the dance community or how much funding is available for any sector of the arts community. Nonetheless, New York remains one of the most vibrant cities in the world with plenty of fascinating work. (I have to say, Tere, I thought better of Moving Out.)

Posted by at 3:41 PM | Comments (1)

The financial landscape


I really resonate with one of the reader comments (Rachel Feinerman) who said that "We know that innovation in New York isn’t dying. It’s the financial landscape and the desire to build audiences that concerns New York dancers and choreographers." So, the financial landscape. I don't feel like the expert here, since I am not a funder. But I do sometimes feel that the ways dance get funded, and the values that underpin those funding decisions, are not designed to encourage the particular qualities of "risk-taking work" that is associated with a city like New York. This has a trickle-down for the artists who work here and for the organizations that work with them.

Since the culture wars of the late 80s/early 90s, the NEA has maintained funding from congress in part by ensuring that dollars are going to every congressional district in the country, and are not skewed disproportionately to New York City (and the perceived liberal experimentalism happening here). I understand that political expediency dictated this. The NEA also stopped funding individual artists and pulled back from the kind of peer-review panels that existed in the 80s, when artists had important decision-making voices in the way funds were allocated. Artists sitting on panels at that time often advocated for their lesser-known peer artists because they were enthralled by the work itself, no matter what the scale, and they were not concerned with the issues of marketability that Tere referenced earlier.

Interestingly, though they are not bound by the same constraints, many private funding bodies have followed the NEA’s lead in minimizing the voice of “creative New York” on funding panels, and in minimizing the role of artists as decisionmakers when it comes to allocating funds. I know that there are strategies behind these choices, many of them with sound goals. But, we should recognize that these patterns of decision-making when it comes to allocating funds have the effect of reducing investment in the kind of experimentation and investigation (particularly on smaller scales, or that are less easily marketable) that has long had its home in New York City. And that may, in fact, seed the future of the field.

Posted by at 2:55 PM | Comments (1)

thank you, sir...may i have another?


Tere: More often than not, I go to school every time some one like you opens his or her mouth, as was the case when you responded to Joan's article this past summer. Whether ego drives a passionate response or not, does it really matter? Your letter provided the opportunity to delve more deeply into the points raised in the New Yorker piece and an alternative way for framing the work of contemporary choreographers. The frequent invocation of Judson by critics when viewing conceptual work by young dance makers is a case in point as I agree that most of this work is not necessarily a response or recapitulation of an earlier time. Johanna Drucker's excellent book, Sweet Dreams: Contemporary Art and Complicity, makes a compelling case for using a different critical perspective than the position of radicalism and opposition that defined much of postmodern art.

Posted by at 1:00 PM

genius, commercialism and a slap


Well this is so incredibly interesting to talk about all of this, even if keeping track of who launched what thread is dizzying, particularly for the 48 year old who spends much of the day looking for his keys while holding them in his hand.

So let’s start with genius or that other career-wrecker, master. Everyone is a master and an idiot. The problem with this medieval sense of pedagogy as process is that it is medieval and we are not. What is wonderful about New York right now (and Andre’s friend who assessed the NY scene had better get out more!!! grrrrrrrrrrrr) is that a large group of young makers are not referring to dance history they are not looking at the hierarchies derived from the idiotic , anachronistic power structures of the ballet world or other institutionalized systems. This has created in New York a situation in which young artists and old share a lot of time and thought outside of the constraints of a traditional old/young dialectic. The brilliant Shtudio shows in Chez Bushwick bring together a group of young and old artists that is unprecedented. Movement Research’s ultra successful Melt Festival brings me and my age group peers into contact with very young makers on a regular basis. This relationship with younger people has infused my work with a layer of information subtly born of their queries. Many young makers don’t know anything about the dance boom of the 80’s and they are not rebelling and it is NOT LIKE JUDSON!!!!!!!!!!!!!! They are creating work responding to the whole culture, not the dance culture–a noble goal for any art form– to point its tools outwards. They are creating systems to perform the work in and to make it in that are cooperative and feasible. Out of this different set of circumstances, the work changes.

In terms of entertainment this question from John is striking. I am certainly biased by a love for contemporary work. But again, the importance of the marginalization issue comes up. I entered this form because what the masses want frightens me to death. I think most , not all, entertainment is asinine and that most of it is based on selling products and on financial privilege. To speak about entertainment in this context is to point to an imbalance. The reason a choreographer like myself would be averse to entertainment in dance is that the general audience is still on the long, slow road of wresting dance from the entertainment sensibility, causing many to judge through that lens.
If I want to use dance steps to talk about a political situation through time and dynamic and the audience seesonly dance steps… or the audience and critics make decisions about the work based on this …then yes, vehemence grows.

I am working in a program for TDF called Open Doors where I take a group of high school students for a year to see dance and then we talk about each show afterwards. Our first outing was to see the satanically mediocre show called "Moving Out" This morally reprehensible work is shaping the view of dance for people in America because of its visibility through commercial avenues. Women are hot whores and men throw them around as they splat there legs open to the teenage musings of Billy Joel.
This is something to fight against. Fortunately without me even opening my opinion loaded mouth, the kids roundly trashed the work as clueless and racist and laughable. Yet it received beaucoup de Tony awards. This is an enormous obstacle for artists who use dance to speak about being on earth in a non-representational way.

Finally a gentle little e-slap to Lane for saying "feathers were ruffled" because this implies ego. I am the bird who wrote that letter to Joan. It is not about pride, it is about the critics role as the translator of new areas forged by artists, and it is about the form not about my work. I love Joan but I needed to speak out about that particular assessment. It is about artists speaking up and saying you have to do better. You cannot use the wrong lens to speak about the work, you have to research and reach way in , way passed the catch-all Judson reference , and others to feel the exponentially multiplying points of view being created by artists who are looking forward-yes right here in New York City, the former dance capitol of the world.

Posted by at 6:42 AM | Comments (1)

Global Dance Traffic


I love what Tere O’Connor says: “One enters deeply into a willful state of marginalization the moment one commits to a mute, non-narrative form….”
Sometimes we forget that choreography requires a certain separation from the mainstream. Choreographers like Merce, Trisha Brown, Twyla Tharp, labored for years without thinking about making any money beyond survival. Dance in its nature resists marketability, and the kind of brave independence we are talking about even more so.
Trisha Brown once said to me, with great appreciation and gratitude, that Harvey Lichtenstein figured out how the avant-garde could make money. I’ve heard painters talk about the time when visual artists didn’t make money, and so young people entered the field with a more idealistic state of mind. But now young painters can see how much money is in the market and they go for it.
Although choreographers in NYC don’t get the kind of funding they do in Europe, there are other measures of the vitality of the NYC scene. Young dancers are flooding studios like Steps, Peridance, the Merce Cunningham studio, etc. The Mark Morris building is expanding; the new Ailey building is teeming with life; Trisha Brown has her own studios. As Gloria McClean says in her “Readers Take,” the dance schools (of which there are way more than in any other city) are a huge attraction for international students. Plus, NYC has three theaters that sustain an audience for dance and only dance: The Joyce, DTW, and the Danspace Project.
But still, I agree with Tere and others who say that whether NYC is still the center is not the point. The whole field of contemporary dance has burgeoned and spread. There’s a fluidity of exchange, so that New Yorkers can see great work from Europe (and by the way I think the term “Eurotrash” dropped out around three years ago when the France Moves festival opened some of our eyes), and New York dancers like Vicky Shick can go teach at Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s studio in Belgium, or Janet Panetta to Wuppertal. So we are all part of the global dance traffic.
I want to respond to a “Readers Take” posted yesterday by Tobi Tobias. I think that counting (or expecting new) “geniuses” is only one measure of vitality. In the San Francisco Bay area, for instance, there is a thriving dance community, and only zero or one certified genius (Anna Halprin). There’s Margaret Jenkins, Brenda Way, Joanna Haigood, and Joe Goode, and a whole lot of interesting young choreographers, and they are doing very nicely without the east coast giants. Same with Philadelphia—and Paris and London. As Philip Szporer said about Canada, “a few creative and bold artists who decided to redefine the landscape” took hold and developed a dance community.
While it’s true that it’s easier to get one’s choreography shown and funded in Europe, I have a couple of (admittedly second-hand) things to say about the rosy picture of dance there now. That $20 million dance center in the suburbs of Paris? My French connection says that it will monopolize dance and keep all the resources in one place, marginalizing the smaller groups. And the wonderful government support, which is often tied up in the opera house system? The Italian choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti, in a recent BAM-sponsored dialogue, fervently wished that all opera houses in Italy would burn down. He says they are closed to any sort of creativity.

Posted by at 3:47 AM


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