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December 14, 2005

Global Dance Traffic

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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 December 14, 2005 3:47 AM

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