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Flash Report, 7-25:
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
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.
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
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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