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Flash Report, 7-25: Millennium Too
What I Did on My Vacation for the Last 100 Years

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2000 Chris Dohse

WASHINGTON -- So... a "wrap-up" of the Dancing in the Millennium conference? One presenter got a little tongue-tied during her presentation and said something that sounded like, "Blah blah blech blech blep blep blep." An eloquent summary to be sure.

Like Tehreema (See Flash Report, 7-24: Dance that Talk!) and Sandra (Flash Report 2, 7-25: Up the Stairway to Heaven Without a Critic), I missed a few panels I'd hoped to attend due to conflicts within time slots. And I share their frustration that so few presenters used elements of the performative. The few papers that were "performed" rather than "delivered" included Thomas Schallman's "The Development of German Modern Dance Since Rudolf von Laban" -- he began with a short performance of some actual choreography -- and Brenda Dixon Gottschild's "Dance Criticism at the Crossroads" -- her vocal "delivery" neared the form of choreo-poem. Sandra Aberkalns hiked up her skirt and arabesqued Forsythe in the aisle; Giannandrea Poesio's locution and mime added authenticity and chiaroscuro to his recreation of Cecchetti.

I realized during Gottschild's brilliant rumination on dance seen through several lenses simultaneously -- dancer, dance-maker, teacher, historian, and critic -- how the Dance Academe's professionals might be separated into two tribes: those who approach their scholarship from the corporeal memory of doing it and/or making it, and those curious others, the "dance-lovers." I'm not suggesting that one team is better-equipped than the other, but I see clearly how my own experience colors my perceptions irrevocably, and perhaps not always for the best. I admit it: the dancer in me suffers occasional envy when I see gorgeous performers, while my choreographer-within similarly covets my neighbor's best works, even while the scholar in me categorizes, situates within nomenclature, evaluates. Then the three of us sit down to type, rub-a-dub-dub.

Gottschild said she watches dance from the inside out and from the outside in. She elegantly reminded her audience that dance criticism is a response to its primary source, not the work itself, although our culture privileges the written word over the live and adores artifacts. She called dance writing "choreography for the page." She said that criticism's origin should be humility, that a critic's role is to "understand, not to judge," to "listen to" the work we see, "not just talk about it." Next time I feel a spasm of arrogance coming on, I hope to return to her words.

Unsurprisingly, occasional emotional responses flared up during a few Q&A periods, always about languaging and race. For instance, on Wednesday, a participant of apparently European descent objected to the term "Africanist" and compared it to the "Orientalism" of Empire, while on Friday, an apparently African-American participant used the word "Africanist" without hesitation. Then there were the contentious harpies, the recurring questioners, the demanding factualists, the giddily enamored.

Claudia Gitelman, in her "From Bauhaus to Playhouse: Tracing the Aesthetic of Alwin Nikolais," revealed an important omission in the commonly acknowledged canon of American Dance. Gitelman suggested that Nikolais's images, like those of Butoh, can be linked to the atom bomb as much as to the uber-marionettes of von Kleist or Schlemmer. She queried why Nikolais is generally considered to be at the "margins of the discourse on Modernism." This question can be extended to throw light on our entire lineage. Why are certain minds enthroned as their generation's masters, their decade's Tharp or Morris or Taylor, while others are forgotten? Popular culture's consumption of goods, communication of ideas and transformation into history certainly bears study. History's "losers," perhaps even more than its "winners," define the fabric of the real.

The conference provided an opportunity to renew professional relationships and forge new ones. I saw teachers from my undergraduate years, colleagues from the years I directed "Toothmother" in Baltimore, fellow students from grad school. The schmooze and hustle potential during each 15-minute break edged on the manic. I blew the horn of this web site at every turn, and advocated dotcom writing in general. Are we boldly going into the new century? Injecting the irreverence, the subjectivity and the immediacy associated with webzines into a form rutted into its love affair with the old? I must say it gave me great pleasure to hear that someone agreed with my review of Wim Vandekeybus. (See Flash Review, 7-12: Let Me Off the Vandekey-Bus!)

Some presenters were unexpected sources of enthusiasm or insight (Susan Bindig connecting Watteau's fetes galantes paintings, which I'd never seen before [damn that Interdisciplinary Studies degree!] to Romantic Ballet), while others were as dull as you sort of dreaded they would be (names withheld to protect the innocent). I learned some new words; I added some titles to my must-read list. I formed new hero-worships on the loquaciously-gifted.

But God I hate Washington, DC! It reminds me more of a theme park than a City; "Capitol-Land!" One of the highlights of this vacation was leaving it, sitting next to Wendy Perron and Sandra Genter on the Amtrak, sharing experiences. I even identified a topic for a paper I might present at the next Society of Dance History Scholars annual: "The Influence of Theophile Gautier's Hashish Use and Dandyism on the Libretto of 'Giselle.'

Now here I sit in my NYC apartment, the type of place Ann Magnuson called an "East Village scumhole with a Honeymooners view of a brick wall out the window," collecting my thoughts as the asshole upstairs stomps his usual boots-full-of-bowling-balls. I think I'll pop my newly acquired videotape of Nureyev dancing Nijinsky into the VCR and let sweet dreams of sugar plums dance in my head.

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