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Flash Response, 9-14: Gialogy
Dance is Dead! Long Live Dance!; (Safe)Dance/NYC

Letters from Andrew Simonet & Samir Bitar
Copyright 2005 Andrew Simonet & Samir Bitar

Editor's Note: Last week, I criticized Gia Kourlas's recent NY Times screed on the US dance scene. Subsequently, in the Dance Insider e-mail, I scolded certain out-of-town dancers and presenters for opportunistic gloating about the supposed dethroning of NYC as the capital of dance, a red herring floated by Kourlas. The following letter from Andrew Simonet, co-director of Philadelphia-based Headlong Dance Theater and a Dance Insider critic, responds to Kourlas's column. The succeeding note, from NY dancer Samir Bitar, echoes what the writer perceives as Kourlas's criticism of Dance/NYC, a self-appointed spokesbody for Dance in NYC. -- Paul Ben-Itzak

Yo Yo M. Ben-Itzak,

Sorry if you're tired of this.... I wanted to write just a quick note to defend the gist of Gia. (Your e-mail told of the silly "capital" debates, which interest me not at all. NYC as the capital of American dance is obvious and indisputable; the rise of other important cities is also obvious and indisputable. I much agree with you that too much egotistical chatter goes into that boring boring boring zzzzzzzz debate.)

My main affection for her article is that Gia indicts some of the decadence, the conservatism, and the silly dance-as-entertainment ethos that is so pervasive as to be invisible in America (not just in New York).

"More troubling are the choreographers who seem willing to trade intellectual and creative rigor for a four-day season at a respectable theater," Gia writes. YES YES -- this is truer than true. And speaking as a choreographer who is tempted to do this, it's fucking painful. There are no strong voices redefining the dance career ladder, so everybody thinks: I gotta get a gig at the____, I gotta tour to big theaters. And the price of admission to those things seems to be a willingness to recite what is already known, to mix backward ideas of virtuosity with just enough artiness to distinguish it from Vegas.

"For many audience members dance remains a form meant solely to entertain, and that mentality trickles down to artists who, whether they know it or not, regard risk and experimentation as impediments to fulfilling the potential (as ambiguous as it is) of their careers." YES YES YES. My company is often called, both positively and negatively, "accessible." But we always remind ourselves that what audiences REALLY want (from us at least) is not entertainment. That's available in countless other, cheaper, better, easier formats. What people actually want from us is more open, more strange, more unknown. Fundamentally, something more simple. Entertainment distracts the attention; art focuses it, no?

"But the disaster that everyone secretly thinks about and is afraid to utter out loud -- that dance will shrivel up and die if anyone writes or says anything terrible about it -- is just not going to happen. " Hell, yeah. Why does so much dance journalism and discourse (the DI excluded and God fucking bless it) sound like PR? Let's call a plie a plie, and list the Companies We Never Need To See Again. Let's attack cheesy showing off and sexualization as the reactionary, destructive political forces that they are. Surely no other discipline would tolerate the dorky preening and jazz class pseudofierceness that gets passed off as passion in the dance world. And don't worry about Destroying Dance.... As the DI has shown, livening up the conversation makes the discipline stronger. So God bless Gia for livening things up. Just cuz she writes for the Times, we can't force her to carry the cross of rescuing/upholding/defending the fiefdom of dance. On the contrary, she should constantly be calling all of us on our bullshit.

And now, my difference of opinion with Gia's article.

"40 years have passed since the Judson Dance movement. It's time for the next evolution, and the more shocking the better." The nostalgia for the revolutions of Judson HOLDS US BACK! There will not be a next "shocking" development in concert dance BECAUSE THOSE BATTLES HAVE BEEN FOUGHT AND WON. The longing for righteousness, for the good old days when choreographers could make Important Statements (at least within the art form) by simply challenging the boundaries of the form -- this longing IS ITSELF a force restraining the next steps, the relevance, the USEFULNESS of contemporary dance.

Maybe I'm reading a bit into Gia here, so I'll take this up with all artists, critics, and presenters who crave Controversy, The Next Next Thing, Innovation, Shock. Today's choreographers have essentially no external restrictions on their materials, subjects, or creative strategies. We do not choreograph battles with the dance status quo. Instead, we use our amazing inherited toolbox (thank you Bill T., Steve, Deborah, Yvonne, Merce, Martha, Isadora, Mary) to Say Something. But the kicker is, a choreographer must have something to say, a point of view, not just on dance but also on the world. And as it turns out, that's relatively rare. Rare everywhere, not just in modern dance. Pretty sad, yes. But it doesn't make me long for the formalist battles of the last century. It makes me want to make shit. I mean dances. I mean useful dances.

So let's not wait for the next giddy Judson Revolution (itself a bit of a Sally Banes PhD thesis invention). Give thanks for the battlers that have freed us to make our work. And then let's make OUR work.

Dance rocks. People do it all the time and they love it. Nobody goes to a party and makes sculpture -- they fuckin' dance. Have you seen crumping/clowning? Jeeeeezus, what a testament to the mad foolish beauty of dancing. That's the source I focus on, rather than Modern Dance Classes at Bennington College. People need to dance. Dance is useful.

La danse est morte! Vive la danse!

Andrew Simonet

From: Samir Bitar
To: ryesselman@dancenyc.org
Subject: Gia Kourlas's NYC article
Cc: paul@danceinsider.com

Good Day,

Knowing that you've read the September 6 NY Times article I'll get straight to the point. I'd like to echo the hard-to-swallow, but in my view dead-on sentiments Ms. Kourlas conveyed in her article. I have e-mailed Dance/NYC twice: July 19, 2005 and June 2004, both times with word of an upcoming dance event that showed dance in a varied environment (featuring interplay between street and stage) and non-traditional in it's choreography (spontaneous). I never heard a word from Dance/NYC. I assumed it was because the organization was too busy to respond but would post it, but no posting was ever made. Later, I assumed it was because my name is not known, the dancers names were not known or perhaps there was some dishonor or lack of respect associated with Chashama, (the presenter). Whatever Dance/NYC's reason for not posting either dance event I soon forgot about it and moved on. Then I came across the Times article and began to understand the Dance/USA organization (the umbrella for Dance/NYC) in a new light.

I am a member of your e-mail list and have watched your listings and postings over the last year. I have discovered that your announcements, your listings and your history notes certainly list safe dance and only those most recognizable names and organizations on America's dance scene. It seems the direction of your website consistently programs content about dance that is known, safe and proven. If I am wrong please dispel for me this general understanding of your site, for I and Ms. Kourlas aren't the only ones talking of the general bluntness of the Dance/NYC website and image. Dance that doesn't (cater) to popular accolades is worthwhile.

It would be very democratic of your Dance/USA to give highlights and access to those dancemakers who are in the laboratory mixing formulas that produce future classics just as easily as stinkbombs.

Thank you for your time,

Samir Bitar

E-mail your list of Companies We Need Never See Again, and other rants and raves, to paul@danceinsider.com.

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