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December 13, 2005

making and marketing


The problems with dance and its slow demise are not geographical. New York long ago became a marketplace as opposed to a creative center. The problem–everywhere–is the dizzying imbalance between marketing and making and it will rear its head in Europe as well. I love artists from Europe and from the United States. I love big huge art and very tiny art. The desire to locate a particular capital of dance holds little interest for me as a maker. Talk of power centers is antithetical to the reasons one goes into dance as a life. One enters deeply into a willful state of marginalization the moment one commits to a mute, non-narrative form, one that leaves no product and is not (in the best hands) a translation of anything. It exists, by its nature , outside of the systems of capitalism foisted upon it in futile attempts to "market" it. Artists must fight to avoid being pulled into the land of the explanatory. In both Europe and America there are certain criteria one must answer , centered around the validation of dance through
"understandable" terms. The present European penchant for dramaturgical assistance and lofty philosophical sources is not unlike the need here to have the much loved "multi media" or the importance of "collaboration" rule your making. It is a way of saying the form needs to be validated through pre-existing outside information. So whether you are doing this by co-opting the music of a master to enhance your work or using Lacanian thought to source from, you are answering a mandate and you are deeply invested in representation. Trying to make dances that represent ideas in their specificity is like saying "Here, hold this wind " Audiences feel this. The chasm between the explanatory, aggrandizing marketing of these works and the works themselves fosters disinterest.

Ever since the Schnabel- ization of dance brought forth by The Next Wave Festival, the way we measure success or "winning" is size oriented. (Nigel’s list of artists is telling- it does not include anyone who works outside of that modality.) The simple fact that many European artists are rehearsing in large spaces happens to coincide with the size of theaters whose notoriety offers a sense of being on top. We need to create small venues and market them as important ,not as "off-kilter" or "idiosyncratic" or "off-center". The purpose of experimentation is to get to viable works that are a response to the contemporary moment , not to be labeled experimental. Many of the artists who are invested in this are not being seen. In America the hidden mandates in grant applications and touring sources congratulate those who will respond to and re-aim their work accordingly. Artists need to speak up about this.
And although it is an enormously difficult proposition, someone needs to find a way to sell the lack of sale-ability which makes dance so essential on earth.

Posted by at December 13, 2005 6:12 AM


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 at December 13, 2005 9:48 AM

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 at December 13, 2005 11:57 AM

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 at December 14, 2005 2:11 PM


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