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Just say NO?


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#1 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 11 June 2001 - 09:57 PM

'member this?

No to spectacle, no to virtuosity, no to transformations and magic
and make-believe, no to the glamour and transcendency of the star image...?


It's from Yvonne Rainer's 1965 manifesto that formed some of the precepts of the Judson Church movement.

I find myself rapidly and blissfully saying 'YES' to all of the above, but that's not why I posted the quote.

For Rainer at that moment, discovering her beliefs about dance was paradoxically not about saying 'yes' and keeping herself open but about saying 'no'. As counterintuitive as it sounds, I'd like to come to its defense.

It makes no sense to enter into the study or appreciation of dance with a closed mind. But there also comes a time for a dancer or an artist needs to decide what their vision of dance is. And often, that means paring certain things out, or even actively deciding you are against certain things.

What are my NOs?

NO to sensation over content.
NO to dishonest choreography that aims for the comfort zone.
NO to choreography for pointe work by people who don't understand the pointe shoe.
NO to ballet choreography by people who don't like ballet.
NO to dances that ought to be essays.
NO to using ballet as the embodiment of hell rather than heaven.

Yes, there are choreographers on my NO list too (and NO, I'm not mentioning their names.) But there are people's work I've given up trying to like, for the above reasons. It's been tremendously liberating.

So. . .was there ever a time when, in order to grow as a dancer, artist, or audience member, to discover what it is about dance that you loved, you felt you had to "Just say No"?

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 12 June 2001 - 12:40 PM

I don't think I have any categorical "Noes" Every time I formulate one, I'll see a performance that shatters it, or at least expands it.

Although this isn't a NO list, it's at least a "No until you convince me otherwise" list:

1. NO to thoughtlessness or perfunctoriness -- in staging or choreography or dancing.

2. NO to smoothing out small steps, linking steps, making everything look all alike.

3. NO to sensationalism (I'll just copy in Bournonville's choreographic credo and say YES to all of it. "Novelty soon grows tiresome but the beautiful endures.")

4. NO to faux classicism. (Ballets that look like ballets but, once you strip them of their costumes and take off the pointe shoes, they're not.)

5. NO to vagueness -- in steps, style, miming. I'm not quite sure how to phrase this for choreography, but it's a cousin of Leigh's "no ballets that should be essays." No generalized writhing around; I need to know what hell you're in, or remembering.

And of course, NO to wrist flicking :)

Leigh, when I was in a graduate dance department (where I didn't stay to finish a degree) in 1978 I took an aesthetics course, and one of the things we had to do was draft an aesthetic statement. I typed out The No Manifesto and then put "Yes to all of the above" :)

#3 cargill

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Posted 12 June 2001 - 01:50 PM

I would say a big NO to second guessing the audience--either the choreographer/designer/director believes in what he is doing or he doesn't, and if he doesn't redesigning/rechoreographing/choosing a repertoire for "today's audience" will seem shallow.

#4 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 12 June 2001 - 03:01 PM

I wanted to mention my agreement with Alexandra, NO to unbreakable rules!

All the same, what was most fascinating to me wasn't enumerating what I was rejecting, but that I was rejecting things at all and that it felt as necessary for growth as embracing things.

Has anyone else ever felt they needed to weed stuff out in order to grow?

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 12 June 2001 - 04:21 PM

Originally posted by Leigh Witchel:

Has anyone else ever felt they needed to weed stuff out in order to grow?



I don't think so. At least when I was trying to train myself to see more clearly, I don't remember doing that. But I did do something similar to what you mentioned when I first started studying Danish ballet. It was all so different from what I was used to, and since I was reading about it in English, I was mostly reading people who were judging it by non-Danish standards. For about two years, I only watched Danish ballet (trips there -- I was working then :) -- or Danish videos, until I had developed "Danish eyes." Meaning I could look at their performances, or photos, and it looked "right" to me -- not the ONLY way to dance, but a totally acceptable way to dance. When that was set, then I could go back to looking at other things. (That was one reason I didn't write for the Post for two years.) I realize that's a rather esoteric experience.....but you asked :)

#6 Drew

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Posted 12 June 2001 - 07:25 PM

Leigh Witchel -- I have found it necessary to say "no" to certain things in order to develop or embrace others, in some cases even things that in the abstract or in other contexts I might admire or find interesting...but in my life this has not really been a crucial part of my dance going. Though certainly as I came to like certain things, I found myself liking or caring about others less.

I can't help but wonder if an act, like this, of clearing the ground (something more than 'I don't care for'...or 'not my cup of tea,' but NO) may be more necessary, at times, for someone who is creating or producing something -- e.g. a choreographer -- than for an interested observer or even maybe (?) a critic. In my case, the NO (one of them anyway) was in the service of getting a dissertation written. I look back on it now as partly a pragmatic decision, but at the time I didn't only think of myself as being pragmatic; I did have a touch -- only a touch -- of the absolutist. And that touch did actually benefit the work (in my opinion of course :)).

[ 06-12-2001: Message edited by: Drew ]

#7 LMCtech

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Posted 14 June 2001 - 06:56 PM

I have used "no" to set guidelines for myself as a costumer of dance:

NO to costumes that are uncomfortable to the point of undanceable.

NO to black leotards and unitards. They are the easy way out.

No to unnecessary costume changes.

These have made me a better costumer. And I think my clients apprecite it.

#8 BalletNut

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Posted 15 June 2001 - 03:32 PM

Here's my NO list:

1. NO to over-casting one dancer at the expense of others.
2. NO to ad hominem attacks from reviewers that have more to do with personal bias against dancers and choreographers than with the actual performance. (but YES to reviewers who aren't afraid to voice dissatisfaction with a particular ballet or performance!)
3. NO to treating story ballets like they are soap operas instead of works of art.
4. NO to misrepresenting ballet in an effort to attract a younger, more hip audience.
5. NO to expecting every single new choreographer to be the next Ashton or Balanchine, and discounting them completely when they don't measure up. Yes, we all want to see another choreographic genius breathe new life into ballet, but it is quite a lot for a fledgling choreographer to have to live up to!

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 15 June 2001 - 03:35 PM

I love your soap opera one :)

I wanted to comment that I agree it's unfair to expect fledgling choreographers to be on the level of Ashton or Balanchine; but the 50-year-olds are fair game :)

#10 Nanatchka

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Posted 25 June 2001 - 12:47 PM

Just say no when contemplating:

1. Having dancers circle in a downspot, gathering in tighter and tighter, and in conclusion lifting up a single central dancer to the light.

2. Choreographing to a Ralph Vaughn Williams piece called "Lark Ascending."

3. Restaging Spartacus, or any ballet with shields.

4. Happy hooker scenes.

5. Having people look up at the sky or out into the wings as if somethng ominous were up or out there.

6.Unless staging Midsummer Night's Dream, say no to animal heads (such as sheep, which I have actually seen).

7. Novelty.

8. No more Hamlets. I don't care what kind of novel thoughts you have about the tutor, or Gertrude.

9. No weird or strikingly originalconcepts for Von Rothbart, and further, no giant Big Bird Suits. He is not a giant chicken. He is not a lizard. He should appear as a dignified and malevolent person, or evil wizard.


10. Tricks in ballet. Anything where the whole ballet is intended to stop while people applaud. Anything where the preparation reminds one of the Olympics.


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