What about a dramaturge? A yucky word but a fine idea

Among the many wonderful responses to Monday’s post about what choreographers might do to clarify their vision, dance critic Lori Ortiz of the Gay City News, the Performance Art Journal, Attitude, and other publications reminds us of the European practice of dramaturgy:

Hi everyone. I must pipe in to bring up one thing we are missing in our American dance, which is common in Europe: dramaturgy. Many here have never heard of a dramaturge, but I’m beginning to believe that dramaturgy gives European dance the polish and cohesiveness that distinguishes it. Case in point: “Oak Sacre” at Danspace Project (last week).

Apollinaire responds:
YES!! Though the word dramaturge may be offputting, the basic idea is great: an outside eye, and one specifically versed in drama.
I was urging a dramaturge or director for the big story ballets–an obvious place for extra dramatic consideration, if there ever was one– almost a year ago. ABT’s generally despised “The Sleeping Beauty,” premiering this past May, employed just such a person and was much mocked for it, but some of my favorite touches–underdeveloped, sure, but there they were!–were the result of his guidance.
And did you see the Amsterdam-based troupe Emio Greco PC at the Joyce last year, Lori?
That company has two heads– Greco and Pieter Scholten. Although Greco is trained in dance and Scholten in theater/directing, they’ve said it’s hard to tell where one man’s work begins and the other’s ends.
That, of course, is the issue with a choreographer bringing in help: for it to do any good, the adviser has to be in deep sympathy with the choreographer and at the same time able to offer the distance that the artist himself doesn’t have. Not easy to find such a match, but I’m not sure Americans are even looking.
Perhaps the structure of support makes it a more obvious model for Europeans: not only do they get more support (aka money), but companies tend to be allied with a theater, so the fact that dance is fundamentally a form of theater is always there before them.
In any case, Europeans seem much less attached to the idea of the Lone Artist beating against the tide (is that the shopworn metaphor I’m looking for?). Or maybe that’s just the way it seems from here.
Thanks for writing, Lori.

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