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