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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
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
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!
From: Samir Bitar
Subject: Gia Kourlas's NYC article
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
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
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,
E-mail your list of Companies We Need Never See Again, and other
rants and raves, to email@example.com.
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