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December 13, 2005

Dance Presenting (US): The Story Thus Far

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Never a fan of the bloodless term, "presenting" (and its enacter, "presenter") demonstrates the gulf between making and marketing that Teri earlier discussed. Recently, while participating in a Dance USA/Dance on Tour session with choreographers in Portland OR, I spoke with Paul King, a co-founder of the highly successful White Bird dance series in that city. He pointed out that, nationally, dance-specific, single-disciplinary presenters had dropped in recent years from a high of 26 to a current low of 12. Regardless of scale or aesthetic orientation, that number alone represents a mass shuttering of the public window on the dance landscape, especially as regards the full spectrum, large and small, of choreographic investigation. Many US cities only see dance as an occasional visitor in multi-disciplinary series, and only then the most well-known companies (or the cheapest versions of well known spectacles). and this only addresses general, off-the-shelf concert presentation - the constriction on the far smaller well of support for experimentation, new work and sustained community residency is far greater, and for being so much limited, all the more drastic.

In a remarkable back-to-the future twist, that once again leaves good old New York, competitive buzzing hive or not, with the greatest and most visible concentration of dance-making and dance-enabling in the country, again both large and small. Another bromide from the good old dance days: when the NEA Dance on Tour program got underway in the late 1960's, 80% of the American dance audience was in New York City. By 1980 when it crumbled, 80% of the American dance audience was outside of New York City. That subsidy-driven march to the countryside did indeed make an American art form from a locally grown patch of individual imagination and determined effort (with smaller outposts of course in San Francisco and elsewhere). We find ourselves left with a "vast sucking sound" of the American dance floor being rolled up from under its creators' feet.

There is no lessening of the numbers, vitality and exploratory diversity of US-based choreographers and dancers today, relative to any other population elsewhere. But the disappearance of vast tracts of opportunity have doomed the defining, self-empowering road trip of American contemporary dance in all its forms - as well as the road's communal availability to peer artists and companies from abroad. In such a way, the United States has awoken to find itself removed from the center of the global dance conversation, its artists struggling to escape the thickening mire of its marginalization.

Posted by at December 13, 2005 11:42 AM

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