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"Dancer and the Dance" - essay by Susan Sontag


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From 1987:


The relation of dancer to choreographer is not just that of executant or performer to auteur – which, however creative, however inspired the performer, is still a subservient relation. Though a performer in this sense, too, the dancer is also more than a performer. There is a mystery of incarnation in dance that has no analogue in the other performing arts.


In my experience, no species of performing artist is as self-critical as a dancer. I have gone backstage many times to congratulate a friend or acquaintance who is an actor or a pianist or a singer on his or her superlative performance; invariably my praise is received without much demurral, with evident pleasure (my purpose, of course, is to give pleasure), and sometimes with relief. But each time I’ve congratulated a friend or acquaintance who is a dancer on a superb performance – and I include Baryshnikov – I’ve heard first a disconsolate litany of mistakes that were made: a beat was missed, a foot not pointed in the right way, there was a near-slippage in some intricate partnering manoeuvre. Never mind that perhaps not only I but everyone else failed to observe these mistakes. They were made. The dancer knew. Therefore the performance was not really good. Not good enough.


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