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re: awakening the imagination

"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 | 12/17/05, 4:27 PM | permalink

re: you'd think...

I just saw Wally Cardona at the Cannes Danse Festival. Tere O'Connor was dancing a few nights later, which I sadly missed on my 48 hour stay. I am a much less established choreographer, but I managed via networking to present a solo just outside Paris a few years ago. It's not all thaaat dire.

posted by Diane Moss | 12/17/05, 4:01 PM | permalink

re: That elusive spark

When I moved to New York from Paris in 1994, to echo the previous post, I moved in large part for the quality of the training. It was a primary motivator for keeping me there over the next years, those daily classes and workshops taught by such creative, bright teachers, many of whom were generous enough not to play favorites, in the widest range of techniques I'd ever encountered, and students who were very committed, no matter what their age, size or background. Besides the quality classroom training, another big reason I moved was because New York did not have the intense hierarchy of the French dance scene at that time. This made and I am guessing (not having lived in the city the better part of the past few years) still makes New York a special and attractive place for dancers to convene. In Paris, there was a very strong sense of haves and have nots. There were some interesting classes in Paris, but many of them--certainly not all, thank you Peter Goss, among a few others-- were only available to dancers who had earned them as government-funded freebies through company work, and much of the quality training (especially where young dancers' professional aspirations were taken seriously) were to be found in conservatories. As a young non-French dancer struggling to find my way, although I was very nervous about leaving the many perks of the Paris dance scene (money resources, dignity, more rest for the weary), a sense of a more even playing field in NYC was a great relief. One aspect of New York that contributed to that sense, besides access to educational resources was that there were (and to my knowledge continue to be) far more spaces that anyone, no matter how experienced or famous, could experiment and show works in progress. I used to say that it felt like in New York, everyone was in the same leaky boat together, so there was less of a feeling patricians and plebes, more dialogue between the accomplished and the aspiring than in France. My friends from Paris who came to New York to study shared this view. We loved Paris for the feast for the senses and the culture of art, but we loved New York for the openness and egalitarianism. Living in NYC over the years, I surely experienced a fair share jealousies, bitter competitors and other problems that come from the have/have-not state of affairs, and perhaps increasingly so. But I still think, for the most part, New York has the most open spirit backed with concrete resources for dancers of any place I have lived. I have, of course, yet to try other countries in Europe...

posted by Diane Moss | 12/17/05, 2:25 PM | permalink

re: Moments & Economics

Commenting on Tobi Tobias' comment, while I agree that quality of work made is often not commensurate with quantity of funding available, I take issue with Europe not having produced choreographers of the level of Martha/Merce. Pina/Jiri come to mind to start.

posted by Diane Moss | 12/17/05, 12:35 PM | permalink

re: The Anti-New York Bias

Anti-New York Bias?? Are you off your medication? There is a much stronger pro-New York bias, as Bonnie speaks of, that claims that you cannot be any good if you are not from New York. Which is sadly why so many young dancers and choreographers are magnetized to New York only to end up working 60 hours a week in a coffee shop in order to take class three times a week. Perhaps these artists would contribute far more to the dance world by working in their home communities - where good art does actually happen to occur, believe it or not - than to be beaten down by the economics of New York.

New York no longer the center? Sounds like great news to me.

posted by a choreographer no longer in New York | 12/16/05, 9:37 PM | permalink

re: Mixing It Up

Battery Dance Company is in a position to comment on the density of dance activity in New York City. Our two dance studios in Lower Manhattan are shared with over 350 choreographers and dance companies on an annual basis. Our spaces, far from luxurious and 97 steps off the street, are booked 7 days per week. It is not unusual that dancers begin at 8 a.m., and carry on, in 2 - 4 hours blocks of time, until 1 or 2 a.m. The international and ethnic diversity of the dancers and choreographers testifies to the magnetic attraction New York City continues to hold. Given all of the hardships that we all take as a matter of course in this City, the high cost of living, the low level of prestige that dance occupies in the civic consciousness, how can one explain the fact that these individuals continue to flock here if one denies the intangible aura that New York holds in the minds of dancemakers everywhere? It is true that New York companies enjoy scant opportunity in the European marketplace. However, I venture that there isn't a dance company in Europe (or any other Continent) that wouldn't be thrilled by an offer to perform in New York City.

posted by Jonathan Hollander | 12/16/05, 3:17 PM | permalink

re: not namby-pamby

I am glad to see that someone has brought up "the other article" by Anna Kisselgoff - "Thoughts on the Once and Future Dance Boom,” NY Times, Jan. 6, 2005 - appreciated for its more historical perspective on the sign of our times. It conjures up that we ARE at a turn of the century, just as almost 100 years ago that the DADA movement was born in the midst of the first world war and history repeats itself waiting for the next BOOM - in art and dance, that is, not more war - we can only hope. In this interconnected world -- economically - where the balance of power tips the bowl of rice (somehow Eastern countries were not even mentioned in these dance "articles"); physically - where cultures ARE mixing it up; and technologically - the leveler of the playing field and the very reason we are even having this blog -- it's hard to say if there can be any one center. It is interesting though about "centers" - in the height of the real-estate boom in NY, major centers dedicated to contemporary dance have sprung up all over the New York City - from Dance Theater Workshop, Mark Morris Dance Center, Alvin Ailey Studios, Baryshnikov Arts Center, to the multitude of artist-run studios from Brooklyn, Bronx to Queens. How are these organizations and artists doing this without the luxuries that our European allies have? I wonder this everyday as I maintain TOPAZ ARTS and create dance -- creating out of necessity and the necessity to create.

Earlier this year I was a panelist for DTW's forum called "Making Your Own Model", a discussion on supporting yourself as an artist. In the Q&A session, it was disheartening to hear that some artists are trying to follow "the corporate model" and no wonder there doesn't seem to be any risk-taking going on. We should heed these discussions and all go back to taking risks - for artists, funders, presenters and non-artists alike-- take risks in our work, in who gets funded, who is presented, who is elected - I'm all for a revolution!

posted by Paz Tanjuaquio | 12/16/05, 1:30 PM | permalink

re: A waaaaaaay too long final posting.

Mr. O'Connor,
I appreciate your comments, wit, and honesty. As a dance educator and advocate in the Southeast, I find that when I am asked to explain why modern dance is so "strange" and why it doesn't flourish in this area of the country, I am never able to get a clear, normal-speak answer past my lips. I think you have given me a new perspective on why the art form has a place everywhere, but only thrives in specific cultural landscapes, and why it is so detrimental to compare apples to oranges. Thank you so much for your post.

posted by K. Olsen | 12/16/05, 1:20 PM | permalink

re: new york state of mind

Dear colleagues:

I am writing to say how much I have enjoyed following this week’s debate, which has been full of insightful conversation. Since this is a public forum, I will contribute some thoughts as well.

Last week, I attended, and very much enjoyed the Dance/NYC holiday party, on December 9th. The event offered many interesting, and useful conversations for me, especially since I recently moved back to New York City, and find myself looking for ways to re-integrate myself into a dance community that has changed.

I have returned to start my own company, and as such find myself having to learn a great many things about the dance world from a very different point of view, this after fifteen years of working in the field. As a result, I am very excited to know about Dance/NYC, and the support it provides to artists. If there is one major difference that I see in New York City now, from when I lived here before, it is the combination of how the dance community seems more decentralized (or maybe expansive is better – with the growing presence of dance studios, centers, and venues in the outer boroughs), and also united, through the complementary growth of important organizations like Dance/NYC, The Field and others, as well as through the inventive efforts of artists themselves. Ultimately, I feel that the dance community is quite healthy. I see people taking classes. I see opportunities for myself as a teacher, as a choreographer, and as a performer. This is why I chose to return to New York City. There is glorious diversity here. There is also the excitement of meeting the specific challenges that confront artists, and others who live and create here. These are thrilling to me.

As I read the fascinating exchange of ideas in this blog, I remain emboldened by what we share, and by what seems like a strong desire for community – not in the sense of mere self-preservation and self-aggrandizement, these, we know are small goals, but more importantly for a sense of enduring connection to the larger society of which we are a part. Our politicians would do well to consider this premise again. I am emboldened by the ambitious goals of Noémie Lafrance/Sens Productions McCarren Park Pool projects and the desire to recapture a vast, abandoned civic gathering place and transform it into a hotbed for local and international creativity. I am emboldened by the chance to submit a proposal to Neta Pulvermacher’s A.W.A.R.D. show, a testing ground for new work with the potential of winning considerable reward to put toward a more fully realized production of my proposed work. I am emboldened by the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center, and it’s support of a New Techniques Laboratory where innovative teaching can occur. I am emboldened by Triskelion Arts, a lovely studio in Williamsburg dedicated to providing affordable, local rehearsal/performance space as well as classes to artists who are working in this city, in this (my) neighborhood! And this list is probably just the beginning.

Our field is not dead, nor is this city’s population of artists somehow made insignificant by the growth of other communities worldwide. Instead I see artists surviving through their creative drive to make opportunity for themselves and their colleagues. This, I believe, is what historically has made individuals of distinction in our field, whose work is singular, and yet also common, as in from a communal source, and for communal consumption. We should be celebrating this city. We should be celebrating our incredible, diverse legacy. We should be celebrating our future. All of us: writers, producers, agents, dancers, technicians, designers, teachers, choreographers, and audience members. But we shouldn’t celebrate as victors in pursuit of some international prize or title. Instead, wouldn’t we do well to celebrate by focusing our energies, and our attention on what is more practical? We learn through dancing that efficiency in how we employ our bodies is one of our greatest assets as performers. Clarity of intention, and certainty in our convictions are also useful to remember as we build ourselves up for the next exertion, whether choreographic, administrative, performative, or otherwise. Moving forward with awareness of our total community, while preserving the distinction of our own individual ideas. This is important. This is democratic. In the moment that bodies and ideas intersect, there is space for collaboration. There is opportunity for making an expansive choice. We do this in dance. It is not always easy, but we need to do this more in the other areas of our lives so that we can fulfill our duty as citizens of this global community. As far as I can tell, this blog is a good start. Thank you to those individuals who have made it possible.


Peter Kyle

posted by Peter Kyle | 12/16/05, 12:37 PM | permalink

re: A waaaaaaay too long final posting.

Thanks to whomever it was that told New Yorkers (politely) to "Get over it". I just have to admire the brazen, craven components of so many of these posts.

"I still believe, if not a preponderance, at least a very large percentage of dance thinking and making in the United States gravitates to New York. This is in no way a dissing of artists in other cities. I think there are great artists in many cities."

It isn't? It reads like a version of the discredited "Some of my best friends are..." quips that are thankfully gone (mostly) from most conversations.

And gravitation and creation are different things. In the world of science, Harvard and MIT once ruled the roost. Over the years, funding slowly and not without pain went to other Universities. And, whaddya know, excellence grew all over the map. At which point Harvard and MIT (and Stanford, Berkeley, CalTech, and other places) develop their faculties both by hiring assistant professors and by raiding one another of established stars.

Even those of us who are all for tax-and-spend would look askance at 95% of dollars going into one particular district. Especially when the rationale to justify it is "We're the best because we are and why should we stoop to explain it to you?"

Tom Lehrer is attributed as saying that the SF Chronicle would compose a headline such as, "SF Man Dies in NY Nuclear Holocaust". That was in the mid-1960s. It is sad to see the usually stellar ArtsJournal revive this mindset in 2005.

Ravi Narasimhan

Redondo Beach, CA

posted by Ravi Narasimhan | 12/16/05, 12:14 PM | permalink

re: you'd think...

I feel that the lustre of New York, the arts of this country, have become less desirable to Europeans because this administration made it more difficult for artists to come here, and not only more difficult, but less desirable.

posted by Lori Ortiz | 12/16/05, 11:46 AM | permalink

re: The Anti-New York Bias

I'd like to hear more about the advantages of, as well as the sustainability of, the density that Laurie describes. New York is inarguably our (American) location of highest density when it comes to new dance. My question is, does this primacy of scale automatically imply that the investments should be aimed so exclusively at the(NY) population? I ask this particularly given the real estate and related economic issues with which NY-based artists are faced.

A number of cities in the country have a certain amount (nowhere near as much as New York) of critical mass in terms of people working in dance, including but not limited to new, experimental, culturally and socially conscious theatrical and site-specific forms. Whether relocating from New York or having never spent much time there, dance artists are working in other urban centers (Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, to name a few) because these communities offer better working conditions or other advantages that New York does not offer. While the artistic quality of what is being made in these other locations is not yet on par with what we expect from New York, it is also true that it is extremely difficult for artists from these other centers to penetrate the larger market because of the unwritten code which says that if it isn't from New York or overseas (or maybe San Francisco) it probably isn't very good. I wonder what would happen if a major influx of funding were to be poured into alternative urban (or other) centers and how that might alter the landscape, including who is working where, making what, and under what conditions. The economic study you propose would indeed be interesting. I don't, myself, know how on earth conditions in New York are going to improve significantly in the foreseable future -- the money just is not there to do it. The circumstances in the city have changed dramatically since dance first found a hospitable environment there so many years ago. The limitations are increasing and over time I suspect that this expansion of artists and opportunities beyond the Hudson will continue, as opposed to re-directing itself back towards New York. Is there a way to embrace this movement without diminishing the hopes we all have for dance to continue to flourish in the Big Apple?

posted by Bonnie Brooks | 12/15/05, 3:13 PM | permalink

re: The financial landscape

Re: Financial Landscape

I wanted to share this little piece because it's happening right now as we blog.

Two days ago I received DTW's suggestion to write to the Village Voice to protest the loss of space for dance (it was reduced to 1/2 page!). The same day I received a request from the Village Voice for advertising in the dance section. So I wrote back to that person, Joe Holliday, to ask why the paper had reduced the dance section so drastically. THe following is his reply, printed with permission:

"I totally understand your feelings as an artist myself, and, the reason for the cut in the coverage is strictly related to the lack of advertising revenue the Dance Community, overall, has been (or has not been) spending with The Voice. If it were not for advertisers like yourself, we never could have offered the level and commitment we have offered, and conversely, without the continued and increased support of the Dance community, my hands are tied. I could try and convince our Publisher to reinstate the
additional coverage, but I need the help of Dance community to do this. From the sophistication of writing we offer to the amount of listings we print, all come with a price tag. You are aware of this. It's baffling to me to look at other publications that have not provided the level of commitment that we have, and see advertising in it's pages, and we are continually ignored. It's certainly not from a lack of trying on our part.

What would you think of a breakfast or a lunch opportunity where the Dance
community and VV can develop ways to continue work together? Any ideas or
thoughts you can share with me to help turn this situation around would be
most appreciated."

posted by Gloria McLean | 12/14/05, 10:42 PM | permalink

re: genius, commercialism and a slap

I'm glad to see that you and other folks here are enjoying this format for discussion. Kudos to Douglas McLennan for setting it up. May I suggest that this not be a one-time affair? There are but a few of us in the dance blogosphere (as its known) and we've been encouraging more people to join us for this very purpose. To provide an open forum for the entire dance community and to provide an online, interactive, and "discoverable" presence for modern dance. We have also been discussing ways of using blogs to build up the non-dancer dance audience. I have a pretty large list of blogs on the sidebar of my blog http://downtowndancer.com/
If I may direct people to a few in particular:
Tere this seems like a particularly ideal format for you. I hope you'll join us.

posted by Rachel Feinerman | 12/14/05, 7:38 PM | permalink

re: Perhaps An Inevitable Shift

Does dance need a capital? The fact about New York is that there are still a lot of us 'round here. That means we are more likely to see and/or participate in each others' work. Does that direct exposure spur the aggregate artistic output qualitatively or make us more likely to be derivative? Or both?

What we might need is a watering hole, which, as here, could be and often is in cyberspace meaning that it doesn't currently matter where we are geographically.

Re Nigel's question as to why America can't retain hegemony in dance: America doesn't value dance. New York dance (and arts) in particular has only one currency of value: cool. And it's been stolen from us time and again as we've cultivated cool in each new marginalized neighborhood, only to be priced out once the folks with the bucks catch up with us. Seems we should worry less about finding funding to produce work and instead get funding to buy real estate.

posted by Gail Accardi | 12/14/05, 6:49 PM | permalink

re: Is the shifting center the result of financial realities?

Dear Laurie: Thank you.
When I attend International arts conferences I always laugh when European dance artists complain about how rough they have it. One Berlin manager for an arts group actually sighted as hardship having to walk the streets looking for a rehearsal space!!! As you said, compared to us, they have it good. I have always said that if we all know what's good for us we should all band together for a year and lobby all unions to boycott any production or spin-off of La Boheme. I think greater America still thinks that artists ought to live on NYC air and Chauteau Bloomberg, live in leaky shacks and die of consumption. I had the same thought, as commentator 1, that in time one does get the feeling that one is not doing very good work if no one wants to buy it. I mean, the whole culture is about rewarding excellence with money! When a young dancer comes to me about what lies ahead for her/him, particularly those who want very much to choreograph, I am totally at a loss what to tell them. What DOES one tell them? "Join the club?" "Get a life?"
At least I'm laughing.

posted by Michael Mao | 12/14/05, 2:43 PM | permalink

re: making and marketing

Dear Tere:
What you said about marketing has such resonance for me. I told a writer friend of mine this morning that I think our culture markets people and not works, a fairly understandable outcome of a democracy which celebrates the individual. That however complicates things when it comes to marketing: Preconceptions, expectations, political politics, "artistic" politics.
I find great solace having my work seen either by mass audiences in developing countries such as Mexico and China -- audiences which do not have a clue about "dance" or by kids in public schools who think that the dancers make it up right on the spot. (I show regular abstract modern works to kids, but I do arrange them in context.) That allows me to connect immediately to my making and seeing and feeling the response. I think unfortunately we do, most of us, make dances to be viewed and that audience response is so part of the making and re-making process. With the dance "field" -- so rarified in developed countries it is difficult to get a sense of how the audience really responds to the work onstage. I think when the audience does not respond to a work highly praised and beautifully danced, they don't dare disagree but simply stop seeing dance. Twenty years later the demand has not increased, only choreographers and dancers anxious to make works. Of course some of my dancers feel that performing to a mass audience or kids is not like performing in New York City venues for the cognoscenti! That idea totally mystifies me.

posted by Michael Mao | 12/14/05, 2:11 PM | permalink

re: not namby-pamby

Does dance performances have to be at 8?
If there is greater demand for dance (bigger audience or an audience which wants to see dance more frequently) we would all be happier. And certainly a lot of us do not aim to compete with entertainment. If that's indeed the case why do dance performances compete with entertainment and restaurants for the 8 PM slot?? Have theaters tried presenting dance Wednesday afternoons at 2, or weekdays at 4, 5, or 6? Or at lunch time?

posted by Michael Mao | 12/14/05, 1:13 PM | permalink

re: not namby-pamby

The threat is not that people do not care about dance. The cancer is that the dance community does not care about themselves. There is not one major local, regional or national organization that teaches dancers to take care of themselves in every sense of the word. Artistically , mentally spiritually and bottom line financially. The dancer and it's so called community is a one way street to nowhere. We do not produce our own work, we do not take the risk for our own work we stand by and "pretend" that we are doing something great and that the public has a moral obligation to praise us. It's like a sheep telling a wolf 'please start biting me here instead of there' we are in no position to call the shots. Which is precisely why dance has stagnated. It is now time to take pages from the playbooks of Spike Lee, Section8 films, Sundance Film Festival, from anyone in any industry who learned through trial and error to lay it on the line and succeed. Dancers seem only concerned with trial and no error to ourselves.

posted by David Norwood | 12/14/05, 5:44 AM | permalink

re: Some Reader Comments

Two comments to blow this discussion wide open:
To New Yorkers (applies to all aspects of life): Relax. You made it here from the old country. You no longer have to justify your choice by claiming to be the center of everything, or that everything connected to you is the best.
To the dance world: And how fluidly are non-professional dancers moving? Check out the club floors, playgrounds, and sidewalks. Isn't having an expressively moving populace more important?

posted by DB | 12/14/05, 12:04 AM | permalink

re: That elusive spark

Another thing that made NY the modern dance capital of the world was the schools created by most major and even lesser choreographers of the first and second generations. It seems that with the NEA and more funding, the necessity of having a school was less, and the ideas/models changed. I recall how friends in France in the 80's would complain that in Europe you couldn't study modern in a consistent way; there would be a two week workshop here and there, catch as catch can training. So people came here to study, train, and have the daily life of the dancer, a deep immersion. A few of these schools still exist, of course. But the "daily life of the dancer" seems different. It seems that dancers study two weeks here, and two weeks there now, catch as catch can. Part of this is surely economics. But part of it must be also philosophical or pedagogical. What values are we looking for, now that pretty much anything goes?

Yes, I do think the presence of other artists of stature (if you will) like a Martha Graham or an Erick Hawkins - or now Trisha Brown, Paul Taylor, etal -- in this or "your" city makes a difference. It's precisely what people want to come to the capital for, even to be able to ignore them, or oppose them.

But I also agree that choreographers often feel compelled to conform to perceived requirements set by funders (and to a lesser degree by presenters). The emergence of the corporate model for dance companies is not always a useful one. Case in point: most of the funding made available for "the arts downtown" after 9/11 was for presenting or administrative entities, very little for individual artists, or unincorporated entities.

posted by Gloria McLean | 12/13/05, 11:11 PM | permalink

re: Some Reader Comments

I have some separate comments taking place over at my blog that I want to share with the forum so I'm going cut and paste from myself.
I do not disagree about the spirit of place and its influence on its people, arts, or politics. However New York’s inherent spirit of place is international, interconnected, and constantly sharing its ideas while seeking out the ideas of others. One poster at the ArtsJournal forum mentioned Quebec as an example of geographical influence on the arts and then proceeded to name Margie Gillis, Marie Chouinard, and Edouard Lock as examples. I missed Margie Gillis when she was in New York last year but I’m going to see Marie Chouinard this Saturday night. Maguy Marin, Ohad Naharin, Pina Bausch, Jiri Kylian…they all come to New York and are part of the influence on New York dance. As are all the choreographers and companies who come for the French dance festival, the Norwegian dance festival, the Japanese dance festival, the Chinese dance festival…. As are all the independent choreographers and dancers who come to New York for a week, a month, a year, 10 years…. As are all the American companies and independent choreographers that are based in, or come visit, New York…. Take it from someone who actually grew up in New York, most of the people in the New York dance scene are not from here.
I see the innovation in New York in the independent choreography scene. I don’t judge a dance scene by its large, state-funded, touring companies. When I traveled to Budapest, I made it to a DTW Fresh Tracks-like concert. When I traveled to Israel, I took classes and workshops in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In New York, I tend to see many curated, multiple-artist dance concerts. For me, the dance scene and its innovation lies in these places. Like Wendy Perron and Tere O’Connor mentioned in their respective ArtsJournal posts, its really the small scale that I find the most engaging and innovative and, honestly, I don’t know if the New York critics can fully appreciate it. I think the dancers who are moving in and around New York, doing wildly different work with different choreographers on different days, whose friends are dancers doing different work for different choreographers, who are all taking different classes and workshops with yet more choreographers are the folks who know what’s going on in any given “scene.” And as you read through the comments made by dancers or talk to any dancers, they all tend to shrug off the question that Gia asked. 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.

posted by Rachel Feinerman | 12/13/05, 10:47 PM | permalink

re: some questions

I'd like to think that there are indeed exceptions to Kourlas's charge of un-brave Safety In Presenting. Risky programming for its own sake would,in most places, qualify as economically reckless. However that does not mean we (presenters of dance) don't or won't take risks. Many of us curate our seasons and ancillary community activities based on organizational mission and curatorial goals. We are not just booking by the seat of our Safety Pants.

Many presenters are less adventuresome in their programming than I would personally prefer. But it is problematic to lump presenters into a single, disappointing category. Look at what is happening at the Wexner, the Walker, Jacob's Pillow, ADF, the Krannert...an incomplete list but one that points at continued investments in creativity in the field. Are there enough of these presenters? Of course not. Are we as fully capitalized as we'd like. Hardly. But we're out here beyond the Hudson.

I was recently in Lafayette, Indiana with the Cunningham Company. In over 50 years, they had never been invited to Purdue. The presenter there -- and I will name names, Todd Wetzel -- is attempting to develop a stronger and more vibrant dance presence on his performance series. He took a huge risk at the box office in order to introduce Cunningham's work to his audience. Only he can tell you if he felt it paid off, but if you ask me, in a small central Indiana town at an engineering and ag school, that was gutsy programming.

posted by Bonnie Brooks | 12/13/05, 3:18 PM | permalink

re: Some Reader Comments

Frankly, I don't care where the center of dance is. BORING.
What I would like to see is more opportunity for artists to work on developing their ideas and values whether they are "traditional" or not. Too much emphasis is placed on who is the most innovative new kid on the block and who is "important" or " significant" or
"timely" and not on the value of all the work out there and the potential of much of the work and people out there that is not reached.

What to do? ( I am trying to figure it out..what I have got so far is...

1. Don't pay attention to critics, let them argue about where the dance capital is, what is culturally significant and the like... Work on creating what means something to you in your heart of hearts.
2. Create your own venues..even if you do a living room suite...
3. Create opportunities not just for your dance company but your friends dance companies..
New York aint a nurturing city. We have to create that.
4. Get people , real people, (friends who are not dancers, critics or dance presenters) to see your work and to see others work with you . Talk about it...even if your overall impression is Yuck, wierd, too traditional or Eurotrash everyone in the discussion has to find something to like about whatever they see and has to articulate it... ( This helps clarify what everyone values from a performance)
5. Have Children! or if that is absolutely unaffordable and impractical for you as a poor starving artist...Teach children... because when you get depressed, or lost, or wonder why you are doing this you will be put in touch with their creativity and honesty and energy and it will inspire you to work .

posted by christine Jowers | 12/13/05, 2:46 PM | permalink

re: That elusive spark

I don't know if New York is the capital of the dance world, but it is a capital. It certainly has been a wonderful place to live and to see dance, and continues to be. (Of course part of that is seeing the dance that is imported--the more New York is international and internationalist, the better. The more we see artists from other "capitals," and the more New York artists are seen outside New York, the better.) But, New York is prohibitively expensive, for residents, for visitors, for students. As with so much here, what we are talking about, at least in part, is real estate, real estate, real estate: the cost of work space, the cost of performance space, the cost of studios--and the cost of attendance too, because you want young artists to see established artists. That leads me to a passage of Wendy Perron's blog:

"I wonder if any of you think that having the Graham company, the Limon company, and the Taylor company in our midst constrains dance makers of today," she writes.

I don't quite understand this. These companies aren't really comparable--Taylor is still very much alive and making choreography.[ And if you are making such a list including living masters, wouldn't the Merce Cunningham Dance Company belong on it? (Hard to know where to stop---what about Trisha Brown? Mark Morris?)] As to the question of the past being a constraint---to consider the question,might we not ask: Does that apply in any other art? Do we really want to decontextualize choreographers, and why? Or is the notion that the "masters" somehow hold and attract audiences and funding that, in their absence, might trickle down? About that, I am dubious.

posted by Nancy Dalva | 12/13/05, 2:29 PM | permalink

re: making and marketing

First, as a young person in dance, I applaud the action taken here to at least start a conversation about something that has seemed, up till now, unspoken, and I thank you for that! Granted, I have not been in the dance world as long as others and can not recall the 1960s and 70s movements in dance, at least from personal experience, but I can offer the view from a young dancer living in the Tri-State area who upon her arrival, found the state of “the capital of the dance world” to be quite disappointing.

I do not think it pertinent to focus on NYC as the dance capital of the world or not, but more so to realize that no matter where (geographically) new, significant work is coming from, it will spur the next generation and help carve the road less traveled so long as it is truly new and significant.

The threshold we have reached as an art form, chock full of new works, but not necessarily significant ones, which seems to be the consensus voiced here, is to me the sum of the parts of the whole wherein each segment of the dance world is feeding into this stagnant state of being, and is equally contributing and equally responsible. We have already identified these parts: the Artist, the Audience, the Funders, the Critics. How does each of us play a role?

Let’s start with the Artist. The Artist is looking not only for the next chapter of self-expression, but also realistically, funding. The state of our Funders and the process of receiving money tell the Artist that they need coverage, they need to present a product that will be accepted by the masses, and therefore deemed worthy of supporting. Enter the Critic. The Critics act as the art form’s eyes and ears, and publishes their opinions representing the trends, the works, the masses, the artists worthy of a review, therefore in a sense navigating the Audience. The Audience, whether educated in the field or not, are then being told what to highlight and what to ignore, identifying for those government agencies and corporations which artists will be accepted by the masses. It is essentially, a vicious cycle. And so yes, the common thread, the general product, the state of the art form is repetitive and basically “stuck” and seems to be advancing slowly, if at all.

What seems to be happening little by little is newer, younger artists finding ways to present their work regardless of funding or what the masses have decided. But what needs to happen is a push forward towards something that will break this threshold. What if the Critics provided their platform and means to others and allowed new voices to publish what their eyes and ears have to report? What if artists find a way to present something other than what will be good on a grant application (i.e., finding funding from other sources that will not only support that which is widely accepted: a difficult feat, I realize). And what if Funders more regularly said yes to those artists that challenge us, and are not widely seen, therefore re-identifying for the Audience what constitutes dance as an art form?

These may all be idealistic and unrealistic, I know. But tell me I’m wrong. Tell me there is no vicious cycle, tell me there is another way, I beg you to tell me that this is not the state of the dance world.

posted by Winnie Wong | 12/13/05, 11:57 AM | permalink

re: That elusive spark

Wendy's comments were on point, but they left out one of the most influencial and yet invisible forces of that early stage of New York's emergence as the creative centerit was. The Henery Street Settlement and Alwin Nikolais and the Space. (I beleive he problaby also toured the world every bit as extensively as Dunham but this is not a competetion.)

Nik worked at the Settlement for many years and made its stage available to everyone. The number of performers and artists who first performed there is legendary and yet not catalogued to my knowledge. When he left the Settlement, he had another facility known at the time as "The Space", no longer supported by a governement community facility he still continued the work of making The Space open to all voices.

Nik once gave a speeck that was quite controversial as he stood before Dance/USA's conference looked at the crowd and announced he had brought the wrong speech. He looked to a room filled with managers but his speech was addressed to dancers. He spoke of traveleing the world and giving dancers full-time salaries with annual paid vacations. The wages weren't great,but the money was steady and consistant and if you could make do on it, you could make art.

That condition changed for him when the funding circles began to make choices based on criteria. The criteria meant the formation of corporations and newly minted managers and trustees. 25 years after the development of NYSCA and the NEA, he could no longer afford full-time wages and vacation benefits for the dancers, but the managers got them.... He challenges the artistst to take back their field.

The structure of funding the arts in America is necessary as it has bred the culture we all now live with, but it is not the foundtainhead of creative juices and it does not make better art. We need a more benevolent attitude toward funding rather than a directive one for artists to thrive again.

But I do not believe that we can manage our way to a new creative culture. Those come in Berlin, in Paris, in New York at times when the critical mass of artists convene and drink together and work togehter and push each other.

David's comments earlier were also interesting but he spoke to a world forum dance that is experiencial and wonderfully diverse. It is not a profession and it is not a means where the craft is developed beyond the immediacy of the individual practitioners. Creativity for its own sake as a profession is the great threatened force. Creativity as a commodity is the guideword of most enlightened corporations but their intended purpose corrupts the capacaity to create lasting beauty, or better yet, enlightened ideas. (I know this is getting quite preachy- enough - enough.)

posted by Andrew Bales | 12/13/05, 10:41 AM | permalink

re: Moments & Economics

John Rockwell's recollection of Virgil Thompson's comment on real estate rings true to thoughts I have had for years about New York. World politics changed New York in 1973 and 1977. I lived and worked there then and saw it happen.
Thankfully construction doesn't happen instantly so great work continued for many years after, but the direction shifted imediately. The oil embrago of 73, repeated in 77 repopulated Manhattan and later Brooklyn Heights with the affluent young. The gentrification of the city forced by the need to remain close to work changed the cost of living in new York.

When I moved to New York one could work a part-time job to earn the required minimum to pay rent, and there were amble lofts and buildings available to work in. The off-off Braodway scene was informal and very active. Dance and theatre happened in every niche. Young artists worked on thir craft, not their support mechanism.

We are a far cry from that now as two full-time jobs leave minimal living funds available and the young artists today must strive to find a few open hours a month and work through much more beaurocratic structures to find a place to perform than was once the case. The young cannot experiment on art to the same degree they could before gentrification. The great loss is that the centralized way of living and working together throughout the city made for vital connective tissues to form that made collaboration a living force in the creation of art. Today it often feels it is an imposed force, directed by funders seeking to see the most value for their creative investments.
Real estate did indeed change the development of art in New York. Not for the better, I am sorry to say.

posted by Andrew Bales | 12/13/05, 10:11 AM | permalink

re: making and marketing

I could spend hours thinking and writing about this, waxing philosophical, bringing Marxist theory into play, and even some new European philosophy. But I live in America, write about dance in New York City, and work with a dance company that is based in Brooklyn. So it IS the center of my world; and I'm not sitting in an Ivory Tower.

It's easy for a critic--who incidentally sits on the outside of the creative process, the funding process, the producting process, the organizational process--to define a historical moment, but it's inevitably wrong to do so while you're living in the moment.Leave history to the historians.

From my perspective, while there is plenty of BIG, display-based work going on, there IS also another wave of experimentation going on- and there are audiences for all of it. [I've always found it funny to hear this kind of critique from a self-professed balletophile. And, btw, what's wrong with entertainment?] I think of what Tere is doing, what Ann Liv is doing, what Miguel is doing, etc. If you don't like the institutions, either fund your own, or change the channel. But they ARE fulfilling their missions and supporting the work of American Artists.

Whom does the critic serve with this assessment? The artists? The audience?
If you want to criticize the institutions for not taking risks, why not start with their Artist Advisory Boards, who seem to be made up of the same select and closed group. That's never a recipe for innovation,only lineage of a kind.

Like parnters in a good marriage, you recognize things are not always going to be like the wedding day. Some seasons, some years are better than others, some worse.

So maybe Europe has the edge on us right now. Of course, modern dance is not singular in America's losses of leadership. Maybe it's all just part of the bigger picture. The pendulum may have swung over there for now, at least in the eyes of the community's designated arbiter of taste, but I have faith that it will swing back.{Perhaps if we stopped letting the discussion be about the critic instead of the work it might start!} Berlin deserves its renaissance, but it doesn't come at our expense. When we are ready to re-unify behind a positive ideal instead of defending against a negative one, perhaps the path to our rebirth will become evident.

posted by Brian McCormick | 12/13/05, 9:48 AM | permalink

re: That elusive spark

Wendy's comments are spot on...New York's "primacy" in the dance world was also a gateway through which dance could flourish in many places. As David White points out, much of this flourishing had to do with the support of the National Endowment for the Arts between the late 60's and the 80's when dance touring was heavily funded. During this period, many NY-based companies were dependent on touring income (including short and long-term residencies) for income to support creative periods in NY and elsewhere.

The national infrastructure has changed dramatically in the last 15+ years, as has the "necessity," for artists, of working from a NY base. More and more respected dance artists are finding homes in colleges and universities around the country, where they can continue their creative research and contribute to the building of the next generation of artists and dance leaders. More and more presenters are, as has been pointed out, looking to post-colonial, post-war, and border cultures for rich and challenging artistic voices and content.

In this global environment we have the opportunity to encourage and support multiple centers for artistic development, wherever they can flourish. I like David's reference to Fuller's dymaxion map as it suggests that we need to get past old paradigms and re-imagine our world.

posted by Bonnie Brooks | 12/13/05, 5:49 AM | permalink

re: That elusive spark

I'd like to build on what both Wendy and John have said. I agree with both and think they tie together. What's happening in New York may be the natural cycle in the aging and maturation of an artistic community. What NYC had early on was room. Room for another artist to add his or her voice. The community has enlarged, matured and most tellingly, saturated. In order to have resources for a new voice, an older one has to be displaced. The dance community sets up its own internal barriers - just like medieval guilds or modern trade unions even if not so overt - to regulate the flow. Breaking in becomes ever more difficult.

The more people need to protect their own turf, and in the NYC of 2005, that's a constant need, the more calcified the arts community will become.

posted by Leigh Witchel | 12/12/05, 8:44 PM | permalink

re: Looking for A Critical Mass

Perhaps dance was developing in other places all along, and New York was not always the centre of the form. I am drawn particularly to Mary Wigman, Laban, Nijinsky, and others for their non-American roots which have nourished dance artists in other places for decades now, and have begun to bear interesting fruit, like Pina Bausch, Saburo Teshigawara, Holy Body Tattoo, and others with no connection to New York.

posted by gerry | 12/12/05, 5:54 PM | permalink

re: Is the shifting center the result of financial realities?

I wrote something in the International Arts Manager magazine in Feburary about dance in France. They opened a 20 million dollar National Dance Center just to have space to create new work. The government also pays for 19 National Choreographic Centers around France with names like Preljocaj, Marin, Deschamps, Monnier, and Carolyn Carson, just appointed at Roubaix. There is a hugh emphasis on contemporary work and the Paris Opera ballet is thriving, as are several other traditional companies. With this kind of government support, the results put France at the forefront.

posted by Frank Cadenhead | 12/12/05, 3:02 PM | permalink

re: A Positive Development

I have been writing, and others have been commenting, about this topic on my blog for some time now. If its OK, I'm going to quote myself:
"Dance is an international, interconnected world. There are French, Japanese, Australian, Israeli, Dutch, Indian, Columbian choreographers all over New York. I’ve personally danced for all those nationalites. They go back and forth between New York and their home countries, with stopovers in third, fourth, and fifth countries to teach, perform, and/or choreograph."
I originally wrote this because I really had a hard time understanding why anyone was discussing dance and its innovation in terms of geography. I assumed Europe is as varied in nationality as New York, and if we're all traveling back and forth then how could we even begin to pinpoint a locus of influence. Upon reflection, perhaps this is a defense of New York. New York, this one city, may have more nationalities from more continents running through it than any other one city in the world. And when there is wonderful art being created somewhere else, we manage to bring a sample of it here. But maybe I'm wrong and someone will pull out immigration and vistor statistics that prove that there are other cities that have just as many, if not more, nationalities in it. I think, ultimately, that geography is really the wrong discussion altogether. Perhaps a discussion on how to engage non-dance audiences in coming to see dance or how to elevate the profile of modern dance in the popular culture would be more useful. Just a thought from a New York dancer.

posted by Rachel Feinerman | 12/12/05, 1:38 PM | permalink

re: Is the shifting center the result of financial realities?

I first worked for 30+ years as a scientits. I ALWAYS was paid a living age, whether or not my science was good or bad. For the last 15 years I have worked as a dancer/choreographer. I was NEVER paid a living wage....and I worked harder, and like to think much of what I did was 'good'.
I now realize that in the USA science is seen as work, and people are paid for it. Art is in general seen as a choice, aka hobby, and one is left on their own to figure out how to live.

Until that perception changes we will not see what we regard as adequate funding for the arts. Changing that begins with our own self perceptions about the value of our art and ourselves. E.G., if you actually do it for free or less that it costs, it really is a hobby.

posted by Don Atwood | 12/12/05, 12:58 PM | permalink

re: Moments & Economics

Despite an undernourished budget, in May the San Francisco International Arts Festvial was able to put European dance companies on its roster because of the connections created by so many medium-sized local companies who have established beach heads in Europe where they regularly perform and teach. At one time they might have moved to New York. Perhaps the fact that they didn't is an indication that New York has lost some of its cache for, at least, for some mid-career artists.

posted by rita felciano | 12/12/05, 11:12 AM | permalink

re: Moments & Economics

Money is certainly a huge factor. Not just the cost of putting on a show in New York once the show is ready to go but . . . the cost of living in this town. Taking class here. Renting a space in which to try out new ideas. (Writers can take their pencil, paper, & imagination just about anywhere. Choreographers need space—and dancers—to realize their work.)

As we know, in Europe, contemporary dance as well as classical gets substantial economic support from the government. Not so in the US of A. The purse keepers have other fish to fry.

Granted, poverty didn’t daunt Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, and a few others we can name. Were there—are there—choreographers of equivalent genius who remain nameless to us because they simply didn’t have the stamina to endure the cruel prevailing conditions?

Another question: If generous funding is essential, why hasn’t Europe yet produced dance makers of Martha/Merce caliber?

Yes, money is a key factor, but other issues are at work as well. I’d like to hear what the choreographers themselves, established & otherwise, have to say about this.

posted by Tobi Tobias | 12/12/05, 7:02 AM | permalink

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