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December 16, 2005

awakening the imagination

by

Regarding the state of dance studies and the appreciation of dance, the late dance scholar Iro Valaskakis Tembeck commented that, “The public, and even the dance community keep thinking that dance is in the doing and they have not yet shifted to the idea that dance is also in the thinking and in the reflecting.” There is a resistance to looking at dance as a legitimate object of study that can provide considerable information about society; that the writing, talking, and discussing are just as important as the doing.

If we expect the audience to view dance as a relevant and contemporary language of expression, if we want them to continue to invest energy and interest in supporting dance, dance artists need to be more articulate and more forthcoming in offering information so that bridges of knowledge can be built. I’d suggest that’s what we’ve been doing all this week in this forum. Audiences, for their part, need to be more active in asking critical and thoughtful questions not only about what is produced but about every aspect of the process involved in creating and presenting the work.

As this week’s discussion indicates, people are rigorously questioning what community means to them. Where I come from, community in Quebec is perceived differently than in Alberta or in Nova Scotia. So how to unite people or find tools to unite everyone? That’s a big task. In a place like Montreal, for instance, there’s a diversity of dance forms. But the cross-currents don’t always cross. The ballet world and the contemporary dance circles rarely meet. There are cliques among cliques. People with self-serving blinders.

I’d like to invoke the wise words of Marshall McLuhan, the influential futurist died more than twenty years ago. His famous phrase - global village - may be a clue to understanding the cross-currents. The man who anticipated the worldwide information society has a pivotal idea. The means of communication changes the message that is communicated - or as he stated it, “the medium is the message”- and this profoundly changes the public that receives the messages.

But what’s the message that needs to be communicated? Let’s talk about the transformative power that can occur with dance. But political will is not perceptible until we start talking to people outside our community, looking at other art forms, and getting a broader, diverse perspective. Take that idea anyway you want - beyond our borders, beyond our disciplines, beyond what we perceive community to be.

The visionary thinker Northrop Frye argued that the nurturing of the imagination is a vital task for the functioning of a democratic society. He wrote - and I’m paraphrasing liberally - that without poets, painters, dancers, actors, writers, who can imagine a new future, what future can we have? Frye was defending the merits of a good liberal education - to awaken the imagination; to allow young minds to imagine new possibilities and new opportunities.

Dance needn’t remain a mystifying art form to the public-at-large. Besides, as Frye memorably wrote, “Great art refuses to go away.”

Posted by at December 16, 2005 1:19 PM

COMMENTS

"imagine a new future"...this has been my constant ache, how we do this? Collectively and as individuals? These are overwhelmingly critical times, for reasons which I don't need to go into here, and even if the media is set up to thrive on bad news, and even if I don't want to be in the Chicken Little Hall of Fame, it seems reasonable to assess that man-made threats to extinction have never loomed larger.And the responsibility to imagine a better future has never weighed more heavily on my conscience and I hope on the conscience of lots of artists. I'd really like a forum on this one.

Posted by: Diane Moss at December 17, 2005 4:27 PM

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