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"What's Wrong With Modern Dance?"


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#16 Helene

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Posted 03 November 2007 - 07:01 AM

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.



#17 Alexandra

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Posted 03 November 2007 - 07:32 AM

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.)

#18 Mel Johnson

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Posted 03 November 2007 - 07:32 AM

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.

#19 miliosr

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Posted 04 November 2007 - 02:57 PM

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.)

#20 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 04 November 2007 - 04:22 PM

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.

#21 Alexandra

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Posted 04 November 2007 - 06:40 PM

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.

#22 Mel Johnson

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Posted 04 November 2007 - 07:51 PM

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.

#23 Alexandra

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Posted 04 November 2007 - 09:40 PM

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.

#24 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 04 November 2007 - 10:07 PM

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?

#25 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 04 November 2007 - 10:32 PM

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...?

#26 Mel Johnson

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Posted 05 November 2007 - 02:40 AM

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 la Grecque, much "virility". Bring on "Kinetic Molpai"!

#27 bart

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Posted 05 November 2007 - 04:05 AM

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?

#28 Hans

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Posted 05 November 2007 - 04:20 AM

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.

#29 Ray

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Posted 05 November 2007 - 04:39 AM

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.

#30 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 05 November 2007 - 06:23 AM

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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