Alexandra

"What's Wrong With Modern Dance?"

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Lisa Traiger just posted a very interesting piece in her danceviewtimes blog about modern dance -- and concert dance in general, at least that which is "edgy" or "trendy."

What's Wrong With Modern Dance?

NOTE: In the interests of thread readability, I deleted the quote originally posted -- the first paragraph of the article -- to encourage reading of the article :dunno: END NOTE

Traiger asks how modern dance can keep its audiences (educate audiences) and keep the balance between being personal work, and reaching audiences. I'm curious to know what you think -- if you don't like modern dance, why? Would you enjoy the pieces Traiger discusses? (Why or why not.) What is the path for new dance -- be it ballet or modern?

Edited by Alexandra
to delete a quote

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I don't know boo about classical ballet or modern dance. My impression having only seen a bit of both is that classical dance is more "grounded" in formalism and this makes it more comfortable to watch and more predictable. The formalism seems to lend itself to measuring a performance as well. How perfectly does she do her fouettes? But in contemporary we don't see these sorts of recognizable "things". Now this may be the point, because, it is about movement and freed from the constraints of formalism.

It's like modern architecture. We experience it and might be thrilled by the spaces, the textures,for sculptural form whatever but have no frame of reference to evaluate it except comparing it to "known" architecture style and formalism.

A modernist choreographer can certainly have a recognizable "signature", but it seems rather unlikely that this will become the basis of a larger body of work spanning many choreographers and much time, perhaps the way some movements in art (impressionism for example) have; enough to recognize the style. I see modern dance as more disorganized. And that may be a good thing in the sense that freedom is a good thing.

I do think it's hard to build audiences for modern dance and I think companies that mix it up is good thing.

As a genre I like ballet but tend to only like individual modern pieces and consider modern the "not ballet" of "serious dance" (excluding things like ballroom etc.). There is much interesting work done and do be done in modern dance.

What do I know? Nothing. This is a very provocative thread and I am looking forward to reading the comments.

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I don't want to take the time to read the entire article, but from the quote provided I would guess the reviewer primarily criticizes modern dance for not finding a larger audience; but I'd be willing to bet he/she does not recommend some brilliant new idea that will solve the problem!

Anyway, what problem? Here's a data point.....last week Pilobolus performed at the University of Washington in Seattle. They were here for 3 nites (Thurs, Fri, Sat). The venue, Meany Hall, seats about 1200. All 3 performances were totally sold out.

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All 3 [Pilobolus] performances were totally sold out.
Wow! Good for them!

Not sure I see Traiger's point. Both ballet and modern have more- and less-established, more- and less-renowned companies. The size of their audiences probably vary in proportion to the scope of their repute.

Tuesday night my friend marvelled at the dearth of empty seats for ABT's program featuring two pieces by Twyla Tharp. "Tharp sells," she observed. Thus, the staidest of US ballet companies appears to draw its biggest audiences when it presents a modern dance choreographer. We'll see how well they do with her new ballet, set to premiere on a mixed bill this spring at the Met, where mixed bill programs tend to draw sparse audiences.

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Tough question,easy answer:Modern/contemporary dance is boring and sad.

If you go and see a classical ballet you see a story,a scenery,somebody doing precise steps,an enjoyable ensemble(choreographical and not),you see technique,you see perfect bodies doing nice movements.

If you go and see something contemporary you see: no story or a too abstract and conceptual/intellectual one,you often don't see much scenery and often dancers are wearing rags and instead of being made beautiful and nice,they are made uglier;you don't see technique but "strange" steps,often made to go against the academical technique,so they look bad made or "crooked".Then you maybe hear very boring musics by Mozart,lasting half an hour,repetitive and there's often too much pathos and sufference.The whole thing becomes oppressive and dislikeable.

An example: Guillem doing Grand Pas Classique and Wet Woman.In the first piece you see her in all of her beauty,you have Aesthetics,you have great technique,beautiful combinations of steps...You have something nice for the eye on a happy music.In the second piece you have her,dressed in rags(more or less),with the hair up like a crazy,a mad expression on her face,a bad music and a bad ensemble of classical technique with monstruos movements of contortion and pain.The recipe to make a wonderful ballerina become horrible!Which one would you like to watch tonight?The top is "Sagre du Printemps"....top of boredom and oppressiveness.

The point is that everything boring and non academical is nowadays called contemporary.There's not a precise definition.Physical theatre is considered contemporary dance.How would you consider dancers running around the stage,throwing bricks in the air and doing kind of soldiers excercises?I'd consider them runners or athletes,not dancers.Who knows...

The problem coming out is also that there's too much phylosophy behind this type of dance.People do not even like talk shows on tv if they treat too serious topics.Imagine if a person going to the theatre wants to waste time doing phylosophy watching a dance piece!

I have to add that dancing a contemporary piece is more enjoyable than watching it.Then not every choreographer is the same: i like something by Bejart,Mats Ek and Kylian very much.But if i had to choose between watching a ballet of repertoire and a contemporary gala,I'd doubtless choose the first one.

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I was forgetting the long walks on stage,very deep but just people walking,and moments of stillness created by deep looks between the dancers.Just looks.... :dunno:

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If you go and see something contemporary you see: no story or a too abstract and conceptual/intellectual one,you often don't see much scenery and often dancers are wearing rags and instead of being made beautiful and nice,they are made uglier;you don't see technique but "strange" steps,often made to go against the academical technique,so they look bad made or "crooked".

dancerboy,

I imagine very similar things were once said about The Ballet Russes and even Balanchine's ballets.

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I agree with the posters who wrote that all modern dance companies aren't suffering from a lack of viewers.

I've seen the Graham, Limon (several times) and Morris companies in recent years and all of them performed in front of full or near-full houses. I think the Ailey, Cunningham and Taylor troupes can all find an audience as well. The common denominator seems to me to be that the major moderns/postmoderns -- Ailey, Cunningham, Graham, Limon, Morris, Taylor and Tharp -- all have something that has stood the test of time and will continue to do so.

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Note for thread readability: I've deleted the quote in my first post after reading "I don't want to take the time to read the entire article, but from the quote provided..." in a post above :dunno: This happens every time we put up an article -- some only read the quote, which, in this case, was an opening paragraph, not a summary of the article.

Edited by Alexandra
clarity

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Re the article:

I've seen similar reactions by people at modern dance concerts (not pop, big name events like Pilobolus, but "loft dance," the "cutting edge" work). People who want to like it, who expect to like it, and who are puzzled/unmoved/almost angry. The modern side usually bashes the audience as stupid and/or uneducated, and the "what's to like?" side will say the work is deliberately inscrutable and/or inept. Is there a way for modern dance to reach its audience while still being true to its nature?

Regarding taste, in SanderO's post above (the second post in this thread), I think he gets to the heart of many ballet fans' problem with modern dance: they're often more interested ini the dancer than the dance, or, in any case, are ,pst interested in the steps and their execution.

Editing to add a response to what milosr wrote: I agree, too, that the big names (Limon, Graham) will always have an audience -- although perhaps not outside of New York these days; at least in Washington, attendance can be spotty), but it's the smaller/newer companies that consistently have trouble finding an audience. Some of their work IS puzzling or off-putting to some, perhaps because the choreographer is still groping to express him/herself, and perhaps because the work is so new. Another perhaps -- that there is, and always will be (?) a small, devoted audience that will want to puzzle things out, but that many who walk in to taste will walk away unsatisfied.

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Seems to me that a "bleeding edge" company/group has to have a certain distain for the audience in order to generate break-thru creativity. What is the audience after all (beyond being a source of funds)? Audiences are the status quo; they define current standards. To a large measure, you have to decide: please the audience, or break into new territory.

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I think that's a good point, and well-stated, Sandy. And perhaps the result of that is that you choose to break into new territory and not worry about the audience, then you have to be willing to accept that the audience may choose to go elsewhere. BUT if you're really doing something that's interesting, the audience will come, although it will build slowly.

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If you go and see something contemporary you see: no story or a too abstract and conceptual/intellectual one,you often don't see much scenery and often dancers are wearing rags and instead of being made beautiful and nice,they are made uglier;you don't see technique but "strange" steps,often made to go against the academical technique,so they look bad made or "crooked".

dancerboy,

I imagine very similar things were once said about The Ballet Russes and even Balanchine's ballets.

I'll give you an example.The last performance of "Le Parc" by Preljocaj here at Scala was a flop.The audience said they had seen no technique,that it was boring,there were too may walks on stage,that the music was also boring and that it was maybe too particular to be well understood and liked by the majority of the people....I was the only one who liked it and found it very enjoyable.And this was a soft contemporary piece,as it was anyway very neoclassical.Imagine what the audience would tell if they saw Sagre du Printemps for the first time in their lives.

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I imagine very similar things were once said about The Ballet Russes and even Balanchine's ballets.

Would you consider Balanchine as a contemporary choreographer?I'd not,if not for a time question.He's a modern-classical choreographer,but still classical.So far from being contemporary in the style!

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All 3 [Pilobolus] performances were totally sold out.
Tuesday night my friend marvelled at the dearth of empty seats for ABT's program featuring two pieces by Twyla Tharp. "Tharp sells," she observed.
I've seen the Graham, Limon (several times) and Morris companies in recent years and all of them performed in front of full or near-full houses. I think the Ailey, Cunningham and Taylor troupes can all find an audience as well.

This fits my own experience in recent years. And, as we've observed before, the audiences tend to be younger on average, with a higher proportion of males than at the ballet.

Look at the names listed above. Almost all are artists working at the highest level and deeply interested in integrating with the work of other serious artists (music, mise en scene, costume). In addition, Ailey, Taylor, Morris, and Tharp are familiar with ballet and have produced works that fit very well into a ballet company repertoire. Even Pilobolus connects to a level of visual wit and imagination at a very high level.

Maybe the distinction that means the most to audiences is not the old modern-versus-classical. Maybe it's dance that elevates versus dance that merely stimulates the senses.

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Tharp is also having a bit of an artistic revival with ballet companies: in addition to In the Upper Room, which, like its equivalent in opera, Iphigenia in Tauris, seems/seemed to be everywhere in the last couple of years, she is doing a new piece for Miami City Ballet, and a new piece for Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Edited to add: in RM Campbell's review of PNB's In the Upper Room, he writes:

Although some critics have given "In the Upper Room" only grudging admiration, often trying to dismiss it simultaneously, audiences love it. It is a dance suite that takes full advantage of the speed and virtuosity of ballet dancers. There is a lot to see in the work, as it tears about the stage in all directions with myriad entrances and exits. But it can be hard to take in one gulp.

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I imagine very similar things were once said about The Ballet Russes and even Balanchine's ballets.

Would you consider Balanchine as a contemporary choreographer?I'd not,if not for a time question.He's a modern-classical choreographer,but still classical.So far from being contemporary in the style!

Dancerboy, Balanchine's work might look "contemporary" (in its time) but he's a ballet choreographer by training and vocabulary. He's generally called "neoclassical" (as is the very different Frederick Ashton).

I think your comments on "Le Parc" put the problem very well. Some like it, others feel exactly as you described (boring, too much walking, etc.)

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The closer a modern ensemble comes to Lincoln Kirstein's description of "fat women with dirty feet", the more likely I am to dislike what they do.

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I wonder if the move away from narrative dance in modern dance in the early 1960s has resulted in a dead end for modern/postmodern/contemporary dance. I understand why the Judsonites rebelled against the historical/literary dance of Graham and Limon but sometimes I question whether a non-narrative dance shorn of "plot" is something that the casual dancegoer (as compared to the hardcore viewers on this board) can relate to. (Obviously, mine is a minority position since it goes against the whole critical grain of the last 40 years which posits that abstraction in dance is the way forward.)

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The closer a modern ensemble comes to Lincoln Kirstein's description of "fat women with dirty feet", the more likely I am to dislike what they do.

Amen. Mel, i admire your straight to the point posts , so please, keep them coming! I'm with you 100 % on this one.

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The closer a modern ensemble comes to Lincoln Kirstein's description of "fat women with dirty feet", the more likely I am to dislike what they do.

Actually, I had hoped that was one of Mel's little jokes. There's so much more to modern dance than that. As Kirstein, who brought in Martha Graham to work with NYCB, well knew.

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Well, it was a bit of a joke, but it's also true, from my point of view. Martha WAS cleanly, she wasn't overweight, and there were men in her company. When I see a company that's all women, and of a certain embonpoint, and their feet ARE dirty, I leave.

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And what if they're all men with shaved heads and pierced nostrils? Will that automatically clear out another segment of the audience? Point being, are we really judging companies by such externals? Sorry, but I can't take that seriously. I'm sure some people do think that way -- there are some who can't stand to see women on point or men in tights, too.

What milosr wrote struck a chord:

I wonder if the move away from narrative dance in modern dance in the early 1960s has resulted in a dead end for modern/postmodern/contemporary dance. I understand why the Judsonites rebelled against the historical/literary dance of Graham and Limon but sometimes I question whether a non-narrative dance shorn of "plot" is something that the casual dancegoer (as compared to the hardcore viewers on this board) can relate to. (Obviously, mine is a minority position since it goes against the whole critical grain of the last 40 years which posits that abstraction in dance is the way forward.)

Is this a problem in avant-garde art generally (painting, music)? Tom Wolfe used to lecture on this: that the artist abandons his audience at his peril. There is an audience for work that is genuinely cutting-edge, albeit small (and very dedicated). But is it enough? Martha and her sisters wanted the biggest audience possible, because their art was about an Idea. I've had conversations recently with presenters of modern dance who truly believe if only people knew about the concerts of avant-garde work, they would come and be delighted. The villain is the press that only covers uptown, mainstream, "bourgeois", middle-brow art.

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Getting back to Traiger's article, do people feel that modern dance has changed, or that the audience watching it has changed? I'm inclined more towards the latter - not the demographics, but in the 70-80 years that modern dance has been in America, the audience has now been influenced by television, movies and the Internet. They watch things differently.

How do people feel modern dance (and ballet, for that matter) has or hasn't adapted to this - and do you want them to?

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And what if they're all men with shaved heads and pierced nostrils?

Then i wouldn't think they would be honoring the "everything is pretty in ballet" old wise saying...Pierced nostrils..in ballet...? NO,NO! Shaved Siegfrieds...? Give me a powerful reason, (medical, i would say), in a powerful dancer, and i'll agree. Otherwise, NO,NO! Tatoos?, we have a thread on those, and the poll speaks by itself...

are we really judging companies by such externals?

Don't we do it all the time...?,I mean, Isn't almost everything on ballet about external messages to the visual sense...?

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