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December 11, 2005

Moments & Economics


It's a complex question. New York had its moment, is still having a different kind of moment (there is in fact a LOT of exciting stuff here) and will have more moments. Other towns had/have/will have their moments, too, and Gia is right that there's a lot of life in Europe these days. Japan, too.
As for NY, economics is a big problem. Virigil Thomson once gave a two-word explanation for why there was an American expat scene in Paris in the 20's and 30's: "real estate," meaning cheap rents. Rents are not cheap in NY today. Also, there is a certain nostalgic provinciality about NY, and by no means focussed on presenters, as Gia seems ot imply. Critics, fans, the fabled "dance community": all seem to me a little too ready dismiss stuff as Eurotrash. Some Eurotrash is trash, but some of it is downright interesting, and we don't see enough of it. But it seems to me that the presenters are in fact opening up more and more to what's going on abroad: look at this fall's Dance Theater Workshop and Next Wave offerings. And it's easier to do that in "contemporary dance" than in ballet, since the troupes are less expensive to import.

Posted by at December 11, 2005 3:29 PM


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 at December 12, 2005 7:02 AM

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 at December 12, 2005 11:12 AM

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 at December 13, 2005 10:11 AM

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 at December 17, 2005 12:35 PM


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