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Flash View, 2-10: Putting Sarah Back Together Again
A Message to Michelson from the Rest of Us Out Here in the Dark

A Letter from David White
Copyright 2005 David White

Paul (and Sarah),

It is always heartbreaking to see a dance artist felled by injury, no more than on the eve of a major seasonal event when the physical pain is compounded by the devastation of peaking emotions. Sarah Michelson's story, while certainly not a fall from grace (in any case, grace in dance is never very far from the edge or from being grounded), is nevertheless all too familiar. Senta Driver, another Type-A dance intellectual who forcefully stormed the dance community on her own conceptual terms, had an equivalent moment of truth (though not necessarily based on an immediate physical incident) some years back. Think back also to the early company failures of Lar Lubovitch and Twyla Tharp, and more recently Donald Byrd, among myriad others.

The compounded facts and illusions of success in our field are the most treacherous obstacles any artist faces. Ambition, aspiration, a whisper of praise, a breath of the zeitgeist, momentarily useful friends in some of the right places -- all layered upon an undeniable singularity of ideas and craft -- makes it nearly impossible to go home again -- at least without an often unpalatable public dram of humility.

It is a bit surreal, however, in the face of contemporary dance history, to think that creative life flames out at forty, for whatever mortal or metaphysical reason, when our most legendary figures were barely firing on all cylinders at that age. We talk a lot about the plight of mid-career artists, yet it is precisely in mid-career where the most memorable works and companies emerge from the existential gloom, fueled by a hard-won experience that no flava-fave ingenue could ever wield earlier on. I think of David Gordon, of Doug Elkins, of Bill T. Jones, of Molissa Fenley, of Susan Marshall, of Dana Reitz, of Susan Rethorst -- God, the list is endless and all over the aesthetic map.

This is your life, no doubt about it. It's dance and career and the yearning to be safe and secure, but it is your life that we pay attention to, why we buy the tickets, why some of us follow you from artistic place to artistic place, absorbing the work, listening to the self-affirming rants, following your one and only dramatic curve through all the weather you can generate.

In the end, as artist Robert Irwin writes, seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees. And perhaps each artist, at a particular moment, is prone to seeing the desired trappings of the job, and not the job itself -- to put the self at risk in the limelight in order to clearly demonstrate what's at stake for the rest of us out here in the dark.

Best to my New York friends,


David White is an arts producer and cultural development strategist, and the former executive director and producer of Dance Theater Workshop.

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