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Keeping a modern dance tradition alive


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 15 November 2001 - 12:07 PM

Modern dance is in just as much danger of being swallowed up by "dance" as is ballet, and the grand old modern dance troupes are suffering many of the same institutional ills as the grand old ballet companies.

Two things in this article by Anna Kisselgoff in today's Times struck me: First, the contrast between the "grand themes" of the modern dance pioneers and the tiny little ones of their successors -- and this fits into a historical pattern; the Giants of one generation often have a freezing effect on the next. And second, how to keep a dance company alive through the new works it needs, while keeping the spirit of the company, and its old works, alive. Modern dance has at least one burden ballet does not: technique is so specific and personal to the first, second and third generations, at least, that they're integral to the work. (In ballet, I would argue, STYLE may be integral to a Bournonville, Ashton or Balanchine ballet, but the basic technique, the codified steps, are the same.)

Without dwelling on whether or not Doug Varone is really truly Limon's successor, I thought the more general topics might make an interesting discussion.

As a choreographer, José Limón was an unabashed humanist. He found his grand themes in Shakespeare, the Bible, Eugene O'Neill, myth, history and in the great composers.

But after his death in 1972, the younger choreographers who created new works for his company tended to work on a smaller scale. The psychological as expressed in everyday personal relationships did not interest Limón: the choreographers who followed him lacked his universal scope, and most of their pieces were eventually dropped.

In Mr. Varone, however, the company has found a model: a major modern-dance experimentalist who directs his own company but who understands the technique and aesthetic of the Limón troupe as one of its alumni.

http://www.nytimes.c...nce/15LIMO.html

#2 liebs

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Posted 15 November 2001 - 02:31 PM

Interesting topic. I think that the choreographers that followed Limon, Graham, Humphrey, etc. were not only working with smaller themes but that in general they were much less interested in creating works with narrative or themes at all. Judson and post-modernism made narrative and emotion suspect and many choreographers such as Cunningham, Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs and Laura Dean were more interested in a kind of abstract choreographic formalism - movement for movement's sake.

There are certainly exceptions to this trend like Taylor whose works frequently seem to tell a story or at least convey an explicit mood or theme. Others who come to mind are David Gordon, Senta Driver, some of Doug Varone's work, Mark Dendy and some pieces by David Dorfman.

For me, some of Limon's work and Graham's as well looks dated. Perhaps because the dancers technique is more attenuated, thinned by their ballet training as they move further from the founder's physicality and because many of the dancers seem to lack conviction. They don't really believe in these people (Othello, Iago, Clytemnestra), so we don't either.

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 15 November 2001 - 02:48 PM

I agree, especially that "the dancers technique is more attenuated, thinned by their ballet training as they move further from the founder's physicality and because many of the dancers seem to lack conviction." I first saw the Taylor company as its second generation (the Nicholas Gunn, Carolyn Adams, Ruth Andrien) generation was at its peak, and thought the next generation (Kate Johnson, David Parsons) already too balletic. I want modern dance raw!

I've always been ambiguous on this question though, because, unlike ballet, which has its rules -- you have to work with them. You can bend them, twist them, etc., but there's a point where you push too much and it is no longer ballet, in the same way a chicken soup with too much beef and beef broth stops being chicken soup. But modern dance -- it's always been defined by the dancers, but the current generation. So while part of me cringes at the notion that an art form that became an art form specifically to be expressive -- that was its raison d'etre -- could become something else, I don't think I have the right to them them they can't be minimalists. (I remember when Lucinda Childs added a third step to her two step vocabulary. It was big news. Each new choreographer had to do an Isadora, go back to the beginning and invent a movement style.)

I think keeping alive works from one generation to the next is almost impossible, but it has been done. It's probably not fair to expect dancers who come of age in works with three steps in them, trained not to be too expressive, to be able to fill a Limon role.

#4 balletstar18

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Posted 19 April 2002 - 06:09 PM

Having experienced the auditions for these modern companies, they are more interested in the "technician" than the artist. They seem to be looking for the people that have the ballet training and tricks more so than what the original modern dancers looked like.


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