Alexandra

"What's Wrong With Modern Dance?"

42 posts in this topic

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

I already walked out on that one. Late 60s-early 70s. Murray Louis' company. He had gone to all men, shaved heads, Abe Lincoln chin-whiskers, except for Murray himself, who wore a full head of hair and extra-large muttonchops, no mustache. At the first intermission, I left. It was a throwback to Ted Shawn and his Men Dancers. Much stomping and sculptural poses à la Grecque, much "virility". Bring on "Kinetic Molpai"!

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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.
Thank you for helping to focus this article, which I had difficulty in understanding -- possibly because my experience is with modern recently has been narrow and generally pre-selected for 'classic-modern" (Taylor, Morris, Graham) and for the most successful and established versions, the kind that thend to have national tours.

Most of us tend to think first of all about "watching different things." It's much more difficult to focus on the way audiences actually perceive things -- the preconcepteions and patterns they bring to the theater --expectations as to technical skill and feats -- and the way that concepts like "new" and "old-hat" change from generation to generation.

I am at a loss to answer these questions (even for myself) when posed like that. To get us started, Leigh, how would you begin answering the question you posed?

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There are certain types of modern dance that are more about the movement and use of the body than the body itself. Graham technique (I never met the lady herself) is actually quite friendly to this concept (and the ballet world could stand to warm up to it a little itself, in some respects).

I would think that modern dance would have an easier time changing in response to its audience, for one thing because there is no one modern technique the way there is one ballet technique (essentially) with many styles. A modern choreographer could theoretically do whatever s/he wants with movement, add multimedia, &c. So why haven't they done something to attract an audience?

I think that perhaps the time has come for us to go back to narrative dance, at least for a while. With every popular book being turned into a movie, tv show, and/or musical, it seems as if stories are what people want. Once we've brought in an audience with a story as a pretext, they might find themselves enjoying the dance for itself, even without the plot.

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I think that perhaps the time has come for us to go back to narrative dance, at least for a while. With every popular book being turned into a movie, tv show, and/or musical, it seems as if stories are what people want. Once we've brought in an audience with a story as a pretext, they might find themselves enjoying the dance for itself, even without the plot.

Well, from the modern dance I've seen in the past 10 or so years, narrative is back, big time--along with "feelings." In Philly alone, we have two excellent dance/theater or physical theater companies: Headlong and Pig Iron. If their dances aren't "narrative" in the traditional sense, they are often concerned with stories. In less able hands, however, "narrative dance" often comes in the form of dances to songs--pop or otherwise--that mimetically act out the lyrics. A friend accompanied a group of young modern dance choreographers to see Merce last year. They barely knew who he was, and could see no value in his abstractions ("it was so cold," etc.). I don't think this is better.

Now I'm a lover of abstraction, so I might not be the best judge, but it seems that the work of Elizabeth Streb, Sara Rudner, Siobhan Daives (in the UK), Trisha Brown, and of course Mark Morris use abstraction in a way that's completely accessable. But that's just me.

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Like Anne Elk (Miss), I have a pet theory about this, which is that people are spooked by interpretation. People have a natural desire to "get it" and the idea that they might not is unpleasant. So with narrative dance, there is at least a plot and a synopsis. Swans and a lake? There it is. Whew.

Pure abstraction at least has some assurance that anything you see is a valid interpretation (but frankly, I think most people distrust being told that. I know to me that when a choreographer says that I think s/he's being lazy.)

This is personal, but the thing that drives me crazy is when the program says, "This dance is about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" and all I see onstage is three guys running around. That's becoming more of a problem in ballet now. Do others dislike it in modern dance - the failure to make a dance that matches its stated intention?

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I am with Hans; perhaps it is time to return to the craft of story telling. A man and a woman -- you have a story, as Balanchine believed. I know that this is true and have seen it on stage countless times. But it is not always true -- much depends on the choreography and the performance. The sleek, unconnected, affectless couples one sees in many conctemporary and modern pdd are movement without real "story."

Like Leigh, I am frustrated by choreographers who rely on the crutch of written text to explain to the audience what they should be seeing and feeling. In European lobbies, one can purchase very luxuriously produced booklets -- 10 or 15 euros a copy -- which will do your thinking, understanding, feeling, and even seeing for you. It's a costly substitute for being able to touch audiences directly by what you put on the stage.

Leigh, your earlier post suggested that the way the modern dance audience watches things has changed over time. I'm interested in this kind of process. What kind of changes have you observed? Why do you think this has occurred? And what are the implications?

[P.S. I love the folllowing. The actual theory - which took S-O-O-O long to express, sounds rather like the outline of ... a modern dance! Brooding solo to start (the thin part); hectic, crowded stage in the middle (the thick part); ending with a return to the solo dancer is left alone, either changed or not changed, by what he or she has experienced (another thin part).

Hey! Jules Fieffer! Draw a comic strip of that!

A: The Theory, by A. Elk [Miss]. My theory is along the following lines...

C: [under breath]God!

A: ...All brontosauruses are thin at one end; much, much thicker in the

middle and then thin again at the far end. That is the theory that I

have and which is mine and what it is, too.

C: That's it, is it?

A: Right, Chris!

C: Well, Anne, this theory of yours seems to have hit the nail right on the

head.

A: ... and it's mine.

C: Thank you for coming along to the studio.

A: My pleasure, Chris.

:blink:

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Traiger asks how modern dance can keep its audiences (educate audiences) and keep the balance between being personal work, and reaching audiences.

My attitude is probably elitist and unrealistic, but I don't think one can do great art if one is concerned about popularity. I like my artists to be starving. Easy to say when I'm not an artist.

I'm curious to know what you think -- if you don't like modern dance, why?

My uneducated opinion is that because modern dance is less demanding than ballet, it doesn't "filter" mediocrity as well as ballet. There doesn't seem to be a consensus as to exactly where the boundary between ballet and modern dance lies, but I've seen performances of what I would consider to be modern dance that were moving and meaningful and I've also seen performances that were about as intellectually stimulating as a Christina Aguilera concert. Modern dance, IMHO, too often falls back on cliches.

I always roll my eyes when I read something about different dance forms developing to break free from the confines of ballet. To me, ballet is capable of expressing a greater range of emotions than other dance forms that I've seen.

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I would disagree -- politely -- with the notion that the modern dance is somehow more cliched than the classical ballet. Having sat through ABT's productions of Le Corsaire and Romeo and Juliet in recent years, I will argue to the death that the classical ballet can be every bit as inane as other dance forms -- and then some!

I want to get back to the notion of the audience vs. the artists in modern dance. I understand where people are coming from when they say that modern dance artists should not cater to lowest common denominator tastes in the hope of finding an audience. But I also think many current modern dance (and ballet) choreographers present work that is almost willfully obtuse. It's as if the notion of presenting work clearly and directly to an audience somehow makes them "less serious". So, you get the multi-page manifestos that have nothing to do with the people noodling around on stage, grim-looking costumes, dim lighting, somber expressions, etc.

The original modern dance practitioners -- Duncan, the Denishawn troupe, Graham, Humphrey-Weidman, Limon -- had very serious artistic objectives but they also were keen on finding an audience. Looking back, I think the big split from that way of thinking happened in the early-60s -- most clearly in Yvonne Rainer's famous (or infamous) "no" manifesto decrying all of the theatrical values found in the classical ballet AND the modern dance of Graham and Limon at that time. It seems to me that large portions of the modern dance world took Rainer's rallying cry too seriously to heart and, over the course of the last 40 years, have produced a body of work that is "serious" but, deprived of the kind of theatrical values that the average dancegoer looks to for cues, is ever and ever more unappealing to a general audience.

Sorry if this isn't making any sense -- I'm having a hard time putting this into words.

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The original modern dance practitioners -- Duncan, the Denishawn troupe, Graham, Humphrey-Weidman, Limon -- had very serious artistic objectives but they also were keen on finding an audience. Looking back, I think the big split from that way of thinking happened in the early-60s -- most clearly in Yvonne Rainier's famous (or infamous) "no" manifesto decrying all of the theatrical values found in the classical ballet AND the modern dance of Graham and Limon at that time. It seems to me that large portions of the modern dance world took Rainier's rallying cry too seriously to heart and, over the course of the last 40 years, have produced a body of work that is "serious" but, deprived of the kind of theatrical values that the average dancegoer looks to for cues, is ever and ever more unappealing to a general audience.

Sorry if this isn't making any sense -- I'm having a hard time putting this into words.

You make enormous sense, miliosr. It seems that we should be thinking beyond the single concept "modern dance." This kind of theater dance has evolved over time, obviously. What I pick up is the suggestion that Rainer and others of her type in the 60s brought about a serious repudiation of (and a secession from) manythe key values of mainstream modern dance -- saying "no" to goals and methods embraced by an earlier generation and creating something that could be looked at as a new genre. This is very helpful. Thank you.

:blink: Some of the most serious misunderstandings in history have come about when people begin to define certain important concepts -- "democracy," lets say, or "nation," or "the people," or, indeed, "culture" -- in radically different and sometimes contradictory ways -- but don't realize that they have done so. Much confusion can result from carelessness about the meaning of emotionaly charged words.

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:blush: Some of the most serious misunderstandings in history have come about when people begin to define certain important concepts -- "democracy," lets say, or "nation," or "the people," or, indeed, "culture" -- in radically different and sometimes contradictory ways -- but don't realize that they have done so. Much confusion can result from carelessness about the meaning of emotionaly charged words.

Amen, brother.

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I'm curious to know what you think -- if you don't like modern dance, why?

My uneducated opinion is that because modern dance is less demanding than ballet, it doesn't "filter" mediocrity as well as ballet.

I would caution against stating categorically that all modern dance is less demanding than ballet. Some of it is just as demanding, but in different ways--it depends on the technique.

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I'm curious to know what you think -- if you don't like modern dance, why?

My uneducated opinion is that because modern dance is less demanding than ballet, it doesn't "filter" mediocrity as well as ballet.

I would caution against stating categorically that all modern dance is less demanding than ballet. Some of it is just as demanding, but in different ways--it depends on the technique.

You are correct. I wasn't intending to claim that ballet is more difficult than all modern dance, but rather that the minimum standards are lower in modern dance; however, that probably wasn't clear in my post. And even this could be a reflection of the particular ballet companies that I've seen being more talented than the modern dance companies that I've seen rather than an overall truth (I've seen modern dance programs that I thought could have been done by a proficient amateur recruited out of a disco).

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My uneducated opinion is that because modern dance is less demanding than ballet, it doesn't "filter" mediocrity as well as ballet.

I would caution against stating categorically that all modern dance is less demanding than ballet. Some of it is just as demanding, but in different ways--it depends on the technique.

You are correct. I wasn't intending to claim that ballet is more difficult than all modern dance, but rather that the minimum standards are lower in modern dance; however, that probably wasn't clear in my post. And even this could be a reflection of the particular ballet companies that I've seen being more talented than the modern dance companies that I've seen rather than an overall truth (I've seen modern dance programs that I thought could have been done by a proficient amateur recruited out of a disco).

I'm going to come at this from a different angle. I think that in general, the standards for choreography are higher in modern than in contemporary ballet. We may not like these standards, or think their aims are misplaced, but hear me out. Most modern dancers with decent training at some point in their lives have to endure fairly rigorous training in the basics of dance composition. In addition, grant-makers tend to scrutinize modern dance makers more strictly than they do ballet choreogs, because sometimes in ballet, pedigree/lineage/training is enough to qualify a former member of ballet co. X to choreograph a dance. This happens far more infrequently in modern dance (where, to be sure, opportunities to create dances arise more often).

I think we've all carped about this to some degree ("who died and made HIM choreographer?"), and discussed the paucity of apprenticeship opportunities for ballet choreographers.

BTW I don't think the ballet powers-that-be do an especially good job at filtering mediocrity, in terms of choreographic content. The ABT's recent Beauty and PA Ballet's Dracula are proof enough of that.

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This comes from a relatively novice modern dance audience member, have seen years of ballet. I just returned from a contemporary show, and what I miss most in nearly every modern dance piece that I have seen so far is the non-use of amplitude or "air" around the dancers. The choreography has been so "grounded", it is as if they have ignored any space above their heads! Plus, all the constant intertwining, close physical contact between dancers and dancers and the floor is almost clastrophobic at times, makes me yearn for a decent jump or flight of body in motion up, up and away!

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I would have to say that I do like some modern dance. But, VERY little of it. Most of the reasons I don't like most of it are the same reasons that I don't like most of what I see in modern art and most of what I hear in modern music composition.

The music, dance and art that I do like in the "modern" genre usually are clearly defined in technique, structure, and meaning. Just because a dance or a piece of music or a piece of art has meaning for the artist, it only has meaning and quality for me if the elements of technique and structure are there and the meaning is obvious to me. If the meaning isn't obvious, this may show that the artist's ability to get meaning across is not fully developed, and in my eyes, then, the art is of a lesser quality than an artistic piece that I can get meaning out of.

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I had to come back here to this dormant thread to add to this GREAT Mel-after-Kirstein quote the other one from Simon via the MCB forum, as they seem to be quite a match.. :FIREdevil:

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.

...the obligatory gynaecological crotch splitting camel-toe extensions...

Ha..! :lol: (Still looking for a third one... :whistling: )

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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!

Balanchine is definitely a modern-classical choreographer, as were Nijinsky and Fokine who come out of the Ballet Russes.

As a dance academic and college graduate with my degree in Dance-Arts Administration, I spent some time exploring this issue of classical vs. modern dance. Truthfully, as an artist and as one who enjoys dance, there is beauty in both forms. In today's state of dance, modern has to be respected and loved just as much as classical because these days, people are expecting greatness, versatility and artistic freedom when they either watch or participate in any dance production.

I believe that there is nothing wrong with modern dance. There is great freedom in it and isn't everything being created today considered "contemporary"?

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