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Flash Report, 7-21: Brain
Blowing the Cobwebs out of Critical Fannies
By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2000 Chris Dohse
"I'm in Washington, so
I have to give you the truth."
-- Robert L. Lynch, CEO
of Americans for the Arts, in his keynote address to Dancing in
the Millennium, July 20, 2000.
WASHINGTON -- The weather
has been uncharacteristically cool these past few days, for D.C.
in July. I can remember many hotter summers here, having lived in
the Baltimore-Washington hub from 1986 to 1996. It's been impossible
to keep memories from those years from coloring my experience of
this conference. Particularly while watching the dances on the Kennedy
Center's Millennium Stage Wednesday afternoon, part of a week-long
celebration of local choreographers, I faced recollections of Reagan-era
trickle-down -- a gay culture buttoned down tighter than a crab's
ass, a dance community I then found largely unimaginative and unwelcoming.
I eventually became part of a miniature boom of emerging performance
artists, what I like to call the Mid-Atlantic Basement and Garage
Circuit. Sadly, many of the individuals from those days have died
or moved away. As I hobnob through the olla podrida offered by Dancing
in the Millennium's conferees, I also reconnect with my surviving
Baltimore/DC dance colleagues, mixing business and pleasure.
(During the short program
Wednesday, the Pola Nirenska Memorial Award, named for a matriarch
of D.C. modern dance, was given to local pedagogues Mary Day and
Melvin Deal, neither of whom were present. Carmen de Lavallade popped
up to add encouragement. The inauguration of the Metro D.C. Dance
Awards, fashioned after NYC's Bessies, was announced.)
To give an accurate impression
of attending this thing, it is useful to analyze the biographies
of its participants. For instance, looking through the first hundred
names in the program, listed alphabetically, I find that 51 of them
teach or administrate at colleges or universities. Nineteen have
written books. Sixteen hold PhDs and seventeen are male. Certain
nametags bristle with academic celebrity. It seems like everyone
knows everyone but you, and just how much you don't know about them
or the field soon becomes readily apparent.
Presenting a paper to
this crowd takes gumption. They fall on the slightest misrepresentation
or inaccuracy like a cloud of vultures. They quote each other, quibble
over citations, challenge all shades of gray. It seems popular to
refer to dance as a language or code. The ghost of Balanchine hovers
prominently. One strategy is to place a specificity or codicil of
the historic canon within a larger arena of thought. Another is
to take a general topic and dissect its toenails.
The two papers closest
to my own field of scholarly inquiry from these first two overstuffed
days have been Gay Morris's "The Theory of Pierre Bourdieu as an
Aid in Dance Historical Research" and Carol-Lynne Moore's "Capturing
the Dynamic Body-in-Motion: From Leonardo to Laban." Morris negotiated
the complicated terrain of Bourdieu's social theory with clarity,
emphasizing its relevance to dance research. She also related a
spicy anecdote of a legendary dispute in the pages of Dance Magazine
between Walter Sorell, Doris Hering and David Vaughn over the works
of Graham and Horst. Yummy, lip-smacking history. Moore traced Laban's
abilities as a visual artist into his theory of choreutics, suggesting
possible corollaries between Jugendstil and der Blaue Reiter and
Theosophy and Henri Bergson. This kind of lateral, comparative,
interdisciplinary grasp of history that looks beyond the dance bubble
gives my brain a hard-on.
Coinages of terms I've
overheard and can't wait to steal: Mark Morris called a "ham," the
Western Avant-Garde called "marketable radicalism." Favorite citations:
"... progressive-school whiz kids trying to get in step with the
avant-garde..." -- Arlene Croce (man can she turn a phrase); "...criticism
is 50% torment, 50% thrill ..." -- Alan M. Kriegsman.
Speaking of whiz kids
and wunderkinds, Alan Murdock, an MFA candidate at the University
of Iowa, provided the simply marvelous sound of cobwebs being blown
out of fannies with his "Criticism Deficit: The Misapplication of
Modernism and Post-Modernism in American Dance." Reminded me of
marginalia penciled on a paper I wrote while in the Performance
Studies program at NYU: "This is not analysis, it's scorn!" But
what a healthy, necessary prodding was Murdock's, and an incisive
one, interrogating formalist critical concerns and Pomo plurality.
People, places, things
and ideas casually or not so casually discussed, in sessions or
out of them, culled from my notes: Tudor, Kilian, Purcell, Langer,
Stravinsky, Wigman, Muybridge, Rodin, Habermas, Greenberg, Kirstein,
Cunningham, tea tree oil, psychological narrative, symbolic capital,
cultural fusion, over-simplification, apology for anthropology,
a region called identity.
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