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December 12, 2005

new dialogue


Over the last century – and it’s safe to say into this new one - contemporary dance has traveled from continent to continent, shifting its focal points of creativity and intensity. What we’ve got historically is a fluctuating cartography, says historian Laurence Louppe. In one port of call the flame extinguishes, in another it is rekindled. So where is the new horizon? A key to the puzzle of new sites of creativity, she infers, lies in the idea of the favorable environment, a place for creative activity, a site in which imaginations are in full metamorphosis. ‘The place’ gives rise to an ability to transform the states of the body and the states of perception.

So does U.S. still matter in dance terms? For the moment, it does. Someday, possibly soon, it won’t. The America of the world’s imagination, in dance terms, is New York. That’s where people outside the U.S. still understand that cultural control holds sway. And it remains a place where everybody would love to present their work.

Art is rarely created in a vacuum, tied as it is to social, political and cultural realities. Undeniably, over the last century, Americans invented new techniques and a new way of seeing dance. Today, under the Bush administration, the arts aren’t a crucial territory to explore. And I agree with Laurie: the absence of a social net that exists in Europe and Canada - with health insurance and an unemployment system that artists can take advantage of – is effecting its toll.

Sactimonious lecturing, certainly from someone outside the borders, won’t move the discussion very far. It’s true that in countries as far afield as the UK, Germany, France, and in my home country, Canada, arts budgets have shrunk or have remained constant. But I’d argue that governments in these countries continue to support artists, and understand the place alternative arts have within the culture. There’s a record to back up the rhetoric. The field of performance is developing and expanding as social and political boundaries are being explored.

If we look to Europe, race, region and nationalism are the issues of the day. The notion of community in Europe is changing, moving away from individual nation states, influenced by globalization and technological change, and as we’ve seen in recent current events, resulting in a cultural hybridization.

There’s a new generation of dance artists far removed from de Keersmaeker and Bausch - often a second and third generation of immigrants working in communities of culture and subculture – that’s trying to create networks and are forcing work to the surface. Communities are not mature. In places like Serbia and Poland, people are working in isolation, and there’s been a return by artists to their homelands to build communities.

No lingua franca, in artistic terms, seems to be taking hold in the new Europe. And just as there is a greater volume of activity spread over a huge geographic area, it is easy to think of the continent as a place of innovation and activity and a landscape of process. Perhaps Kourlas’s article, while jarring to some, aims to spark that kind of enriching and subversive dialogue in New York.

Posted by at December 12, 2005 6:37 PM


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