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Flash View, 10-12: Existential Crisis
Is This a Community of Careers, or Ideas?

By David Parker
Copyright 2000 David Parker

Verona, Italy, November 1999: I am choreographing a work for the Verona Ballet. It is grey and rainy in northern Italy in November and I skid on the wet pink marble sidewalk on the way to rehearsal. I sneeze. I'm choreographing an hour-and-a-half long ballet for 45 dancers. I thought I was going to be doing the dance numbers for a dance-oriented musical called "Dylan Dog." I was wrong. The director wants the whole thing danced and he would like me to be responsible for choreographing almost the entire score. So now I'm doing an hour-and-a-half ballet. I have two weeks left and 50 minutes of music to fill with vibrant, hilarious, virtuoso dancing for classically trained dancers who find my idiom alien and bruising. Jeffrey Kazin, who is the star of the show and one of my own beloved dancers in New York, suggests we go AWOL. Kathryn Tufano, the other of my beloved dancers, who is assisting me, is going to have to take rehearsals with the corps that I can't attend because I'm choreographing pas de deux in another studio at the same time. How did I get here? Do I want to be here? Would I really rather leave? Is it possible for me to finish this "ballet"? If I finish it will it be any good? What will public humiliation on an opera-house scale be like?

I find myself asking these and similar questions with increasing frequency in recent years. That's why I'm writing this column. I could have chosen to write reviews of dance performances. But would I be any good at that? I'm really only interested in dance work which offers answers or rebuttals to my own aesthetic pursuits. Thus, I wouldn't be very fair to the artists I reviewed. Also, many of the artists I'd be in the position of reviewing might end up dancing for me, sharing a show with me, evaluating a grant I write (we're all on the same panels, after all) or sitting next to me at a concert. I don't want to be a critic and if I did, I wouldn't always want to write nice things so I wouldn't offend someone. A column seems to be the thing.

I was in Verona for six weeks. Every morning, I would awaken in a tangled state of confusion, anxiety, homesickness and dread and I would turn on my laptop and read The New York Times and The Dance Insider Online. This ritual became an exercise in reconnecting myself to an imaginary dance community in New York; one that I fervently hoped was going to forgive me if I didn't finish this ballet or, better, wouldn't even know. During this time I came across a review of my recent concert at Dance Theater Workshop, one I'd done immediately before leaving for Italy. It was written by Paul Ben-Itzak and it made me feel understood. I doubt I can communicate how much this meant to me at the time. Most of the dancers in the Verona Ballet spoke English haltingly, if at all. The director of the company would have greatly preferred it if I were choreographing "Coppelia." She spoke no English. The director of the show I was doing often didn't understand that I might have some trouble providing 50 minutes of quality choreography in two weeks. He spoke more English than I would have liked. But Paul Ben-Itzak spoke English and understood.

I did finish the ballet, I did take an opening night bow on the 18th century opera house stage and no vegetables were thrown.

So why, then, do all those questions still linger? Do I want to be doing this? I found an answer of sorts. Later in the season a friend of mine who is a choreographer discovered that she had cancer and she told me when I visited her in the hospital that she'd been realizing how much her work matters to her. She said she wanted to be recognized as a contributor to this community of ideas that is the downtown dance world. Something inside me lurched. I realized I'd almost lost hope that we belonged to a community of ideas. I had begun to feel as though we were in a community of careers instead. Dance Insider is a community of ideas. I'm honored to be a contributor.

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