Reader Amy Reusch asks: aren’t all ballets by now-dead choreographers “covers”? Apollinaire answers.

Reader and dance videographer Amy Reusch sent me this comment last night in response to my call out to choreographers for a night of Dylan dance “covers.”
Regarding “covers,” I think that’s pretty much all we see in the ballet world when we watch the work of a dead choreographer. I mean, aren’t we seeing a cover when we watch “Swan Lake”? Is the Paris Opera’s “Jewels” close enough to the original not to be considered a cover? Perhaps. But “La Sylphide” is definitely Bournonville’s cover of Taglioni, right?
Apollinaire responds:
Yes! I think we could consider any piece of repertory that has survived its original cast a “cover.”
The advantage to the term is, it’s playful: “Cover” allows the current rendition of the dance some breathing room from the past and emphasizes the dancers’ interpretive powers. At the same time, the tag reminds us that all of this play started somewhere.
With 20th century repertory, that somewhere is usually well documented: there are specific steps to do. For older repertory, there’s a spirit to honor–though its exact nature is open to interpretation. Some interpretations, whatever the circumstances, will be wretched–file under “Dylan-Tharp musical.”
Amy writes:
I wouldn’t mind a Dylan Fest–like the Stravinsky Festival?– except I’m generally not fond of choreography to lyrics.
Apollinaire responds:
But, Amy! What about Balanchine’s ”Liebeslieder Waltzer” or “Who Cares?,” with Gershwin tunes shadowed by Gershwin lyrics? What about all those Mark Morris dances? For example: “New Love Song Waltzes,” to the same Brahms love songs as Balanchine’s “Liebeslieder”; “Gloria,” to Vivaldi’s praise song to God; the country-western romp “Going Away Party.”
You’re right, though: dances to song are hard to pull off, particularly in pop, with its intelligible and thus dominating lyrics. I’ve seen my share of fiascos.
Songs actually behave the same way as a lot of dances. More than telling a story, they set up a situation or lay down an emotional landscape. A dance to a song can do that too, but it needs to acknowledge the song’s occasion, or you get Twyla Tharp’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”
In “Like a Rolling Stone,” one of the two dozen songs in “The Times They Are,” the vengeful singer exults in the downfall of a hipster-princess who used to “Let other people/Get [her]/Kicks for [her].” Or, if you prefer, the singer really wants to know–because it’s his question, too– “How does it feel?/To be on your own/With no direction home/A complete unknown/Like a rolling stone.”
In any case, Tharp couldn’t care less. Her method is to select iconic images from each song and string them together into a single, dopey epic.
For “Like a Rolling Stone,” she extracts “rolling” and “stone” to set the dancers bouncing on black Pilates balls. It’s a two-fer. They’re both the rolling-stone hipster and “the jugglers and the clowns” doing tricks for–well, not for her because there isn’t any princess here, but for us, I guess, or for the circus ringmaster and his blue-eyed son (nudge, nudge) at the center of this nonsensical oedipal drama. In any case, the story has stopped mattering.
Tharp reminds me of a demented ninth grade English teacher. She hunts down every Symbol and sends it flying.
So, yeah, if the choreographer takes a dunderheaded approach, dance to song is a bad idea. Otherwise, the weave can be rich and satisfying.

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