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December 16, 2005

A waaaaaaay too long final posting.


I am definitely an advocate for experimentation and for the use of dance as a way of processing contemporary culture. Obviously, this effects my point of view. I am also an advocate for art as an area of existence that doesn’t have to be held up to the moral requirements that society maintains for an overall, non-chaotic, functionality. Indeed it should pound against these. From that point of view I think that layers of difficulty arise in the field. I feel that a contemporary American dance, one that exists outside of the codes of rationalism that run our lives, has been burdened with policy. The first surprise I came across as a younger dance maker was the community outreach issue to which I responded "What?" Am I a bad person if I don’t explain what I am doing to the audience? Next was the cultural identity question to which I responded "What?" Then there was the collaboration imperative to which I responded "What the f….?" And next the multi-media issue to which I responded "What the mother f…?"
At a certain point the American dance artist had to become a social worker, prove his or her lack of racism through a Benetton allocation of humans in the work, collaborate with a major artist to validate the work, and place various video monitors about the space.

I was very inspired in my twenties by the work of filmmakers Pier Paolo Pasolini , Rainer Werner Fassbinder, choreographer Jan Fabre and other artists who seriously questioned the ways that human beings decided to co-exist , attempting to undermine the reductive sign systems adopted to accomplish this. I wonder if Pasolini had to do a creative workshop for children when he released SALO , for example. I was inspired by how Jan Fabre’s chancy elision with misogyny or facism made one actually feel the seeds of these tendencies in ones own body constituting a potent , sub-linguistic theater. The artists I was looking at were not subjected to moral assessments to prove their worth. In fact the bravery of their moral investigations transformed the works into poetry. The imposition of all these criteria did something to contemporary dance in the United States. One felt that this was a new container to work inside. Sadly, its biggest problem was that information appliqued onto dance buried the force of actual choreographic information–information that is systemic not symbolic. Thematic information became more important than its mode of delivery.

I think this was a huge developmental blow to the American dance artist. In that vacuum, the European choreographers opened up to philosophy and conceptualism, while we were being forced into issues of identification. Presently many dance artists, young and old are looking directly at the question "What can choreography be?" They are doing this in countries and cities worldwide.

But here we go again. I have definitely heard the "Well ,we can’t have too many New Yorkers for this grant round"
The dilution continues. I am already slapped on the table for funding with regional ballet companies, tap dancers , artists looking at their cultural identity by placing its signifiers onto movement and now people who don’t live in New York.
Please do not misread what I am saying!
All of these items can comprise excellence in art-making , but they are erroneously used in contrast to each other to assess their worthiness for funding.
As sensitive as this discussion is I must state that 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. I travel all over the United States all the time and I am actively engaged with many artists from outside of New York. But the potentially deleterious results of this article and this discussion for New York artists are enormous. I do not think where you are from should in any way be a component of funding allocation. I have a very difficult time when older, form-pushing artists, who have committed themselves to this art do not receive funding because someone else who is 25 gets its by virtue of the city he/she lives in. This is where policy making and art implode on each other and the work suffers.
In addition, panelists on grant-making committees who are not from New York, should have credentials beyond their not from New York status.

I love Anouk’s assessment of the European /United States strain of this discussion. Gia writes in her article " In Europe, innovation flows like water from one country to the next." But is it all innovation? I feel that indeed there are great works coming out of Europe, but at the same time it needs to be acknowledged that many artists there are answering local questions of trend that can be very provincial. This "dialogue through making" precludes what could lead to more singular investigations. The state of the art as subject matter, with ideas about shaking the audience from "complacency" as an explicit goal is not as important, in my opinion, as the real subversion that can happen through a detachment from meaning. Three weeks ago, I saw a recent work by Christian Rizzo , and it was brilliant. It was brilliant for me because it went so deeply into its own nature, pulling me there and asking me to re-see, re-think, re-assess. It did not insist that I re-asses the "relevance of the proscenium" or other re-workings of the conventions of the theater. It subtly asked me to rewire my internal mechanisms for experiencing the relativity of things in a horizontal way.
No protagonist, either character-based or thematic, emerges.
Christian is French, the power of his work was Rizzo-ian.

In response to John Rockwell’s penultimate posting, "you’d think…" , I think these are some good ideas. I want to point out in fairness that Wally Cardona and myself were included last month in the International Festival of Dance in Cannes , curated by Yourgos Loukos , who ,thankfully, isn’t focused on the artist’s country of origin.

In response to John's last posting, I am not so sure that I would assess the history of music as you do, so it is difficult to compare it to dance. If you read all of my posting, I do state that I am speaking vehemently out of a sense of imbalance. So , the layer of information that a "Moving Out" imposes on to dance in general is a problem for me directly related to this sense of imbalance. Its predominance at the level of visibility could seriously obfuscate the goals of much contemporary work for a potential dance viewer. (don’t even get me started on Susan Stroman’s co-opting of the word experimental with that ordeal she created years back) I would absolutely love to see and would stand up for a dance show on Broadway that was successful on dance terms–one that was actually inventive and stood outside of the politics of mass consumption.

And also your "Beware, the mindset that dismisses one or the other" is incorrectly pointed and a touch too parental. I am saying that categories need be clearly delineated – I am not saying that experimentation and entertainment are mutually exclusive.
That is an unwelcome layer you are adding.

I would like to thank Gia for all her provocations, as well as her support of this form. As difficult as these
issue-related articles have been for some, they have enlivened this national scene immeasurably and are definitely creating some dialogue between artists, between artists and presenters and between critics and artists. I hope that the audience can be witness to these discussions as well in the future.

Lets keep the dialogue flowing.
Sorry about all the commas.
I am a comma-ner.
Happy Holidays.

Posted by at December 16, 2005 11:19 AM


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 at December 16, 2005 12:14 PM

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 at December 16, 2005 1:20 PM


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