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December 12, 2005

Traffic: The political diasporas of dance

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In this forest-for-the-trees discussion, it is important to remember how dance forms and influences - both contemporary and traditional - have often traveled over the last century. There was the ever increasing movement of key creative populations into and out of Europe, as well as into and out of what were the far vaster and more geographically diverse cultures that had been appropriated as exotica by colonial empires. There was the global merchant and trading class that, as in the case of the Netherlands and Belgium among others, augmented tulips, diamonds and spices with a commerce of cultural production and presentation. These and others like them were in addition, of course, to the involuntary diasporas of the slave trade and floods of refugees that pulled previously unknown deeps of cultural information in their painful wake.

And there was the American Century, or at least that part of it in the postwar glow of the 1950's that promenaded Abstract Expressionism and other demonstrations of rugged (if uncomprehended) US individualism - including Martha Graham - around the globe, supported by State Department and other public subsidies. This same period gave rise to the NY State Council on the Arts, under Nelson Rockefeller and Nancy Hanks, which begat the National Endowment for the Arts which begat the NEA Dance Touring Program in the late 1960's which begat an American dance audience (and national public identity for dance as a peculiarly indigenous form) that ultimately resonated beyond US borders.

Merce Cunningham was recognized at home in a major way after his resounding success in 1964 at London's Sadler's Wells. Much later, Alwin Nikolais was offered an apartment in the Louvre, and named the first director of France's first National Choreographic Center in Angers. His American protege Carolyn Carlson would become perhaps the most successful American expatriate choreographer since Loie Fuller. The French manager Benedicte Pesle would champion not only Merce but Trisha Brown; others would do the same for Paul Taylor and Graham. Robin Howard would create a home abroad for the Graham aesthetic at The Place Theater/London Contemporary Dance Theater in London. By the late 1970's, the postwar cultural effort that ultimately nourished an overwhelming American influence on so many of the 1980's-bred generation of international dance artists ( the group that has allegedly led the usurping of New York's primacy of place) would vanish dramatically in the gathering gloom of the incipient Reagan era - replaced by a tightening conservative stranglehold on American artistic opportunity.

From that point on, American dance would be largely stuck at home, and a new diaspora of dancemakers was off to the races.

Posted by at December 12, 2005 3:45 PM

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