Through the Eyes of a Dancer
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: Wesleyan University Press
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Through the Eyes of a Dancer
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List of Illustrations
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First, thanks to Deborah Jowitt and Marcia B. Siegel, whose course in dance I appreciate all of my editors, starting with Richard Philp at Dance Maga-zine, who gave me my first opportunity to publish in 1973. Robb Baker pulled me in to the SoHo Weekly News and let me have free run of the downtown scene. On his (later my) “Concepts in Performance” page, I could define per-...
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My older brother Reed wrote poetry and would sometimes let me in on the questions he was pondering: What is a poem supposed to do? How is my poetry different from anyone else’s? His letters to me from college and medical school were funny, wise, full of wonder, and alive to paradox.My brother Tommy, only eighteen months older than I, wrote incessantly. ...
One Route from Ballet to Postmodern
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...from Reinventing Dance in the 1960s: Everything Was Possible, edited by Sally Banes with the assistance of Andrea Harris, University of Wisconsin Press, 2003On July 6, 1962, the day of the first performance of the members of Robert Dunn’s workshop at Judson Memorial Church, I performed with my ballet teacher on Cape Cod. Miss Fokine (Michel’s niece, Irine) took a group of stu-...
II. The Seventies
...down and write the damn thing. I’d stay up till four or five, fine because I didn’t want to write about my friends, who were mostly dancers. Nevertheless my “reviews” covered David Gordon, I pleased—at ten dollars a throw. I could define any event as a performance. My choices included a juggler who didn’t want to do ...
Barbara Lloyd (Dilley)
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Decades after I wrote this for Deborah Jowitt and Marcia Siegel’s writing course, Deborah asked me about the review I’d written on Barbara Lloyd (who was later known as Barbara Dilley) dancing nude. I had no memory of it and said, “I never saw Barbara Dilley naked.” But when I looked in my old files, there it was—a carbon copy, typed on two pages. I include it here because it’s a link to the communal, trippy sixties—which ...
Followable Dancing: Mary Overlie and David Gordon
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The unison between David Gordon and Valda Setterfield that I describe in the second half of this review floors me anew. In a way, it was the foundation for the next thirty- six years of their work together, though they haven’t actually danced with each other all that time. Their onstage partnership is very different now—his dancing ability has faded as his playwriting talents have risen; her dancing and speaking onstage have gotten even ...
People Improvisation: Grand Union
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This viewing of the Grand Union took place in the last year of that legendary improvi-sation group’s six- year life. Trisha Brown and Steve Paxton had already left to do their own work. I don’t think it lasted much beyond this date, but oh, what a group it was. Seeing the Grand Union at a gallery, loft, or student center was part of our lives in the downtown dance world. We discussed each sighting with each other endlessly. Any Grand ...
Consuming Determination: Lucinda Childs
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I am going to press shortly after seeing Lucinda perform Pastime, a solo she made at Judson Church in 1964, at Danspace as part of its Judson Now series. She climbed inside a little boat- like container, wrapping herself in a length of jersey à la Martha Graham, and slowly extended a leg out. Simple and stunning. Her intensity as a performer had Lucinda Childs is a riveting performer. This is not opinion: it is fact. I studied ...
Older Is Better
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It’s hard to believe that I wrote this when I was only twenty- nine.So many young dancers have breezed into town in the last few years that it seems like an invasion of the small, we’re- all- friends dance community in New York. For my own mental clearinghouse, I would love to be able to dis-count them all by deciding they’re talentless or pushy or tasteless. They’re ...
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Looking back on this moment of European presenters’ fascination with the American avant- garde, I realize that it’s gone the opposite direction recently: American presenters are now rushing to import the latest European artists. And I think that’s partly because of the seeds sown in Europe by American artists during this very period I talk about below.An interesting aside: After I brought this story to the sWn, the publisher, or maybe ...
Improvisation: The Man Who Gets Away with It—Radio Host James Irsay
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I was thinking about improvisation so much that I decided to write a series on it. I led off with a quote from Frances Alenikoff, a dancer/choreographer/writer who had made a solo for me a few years before. I decided to extend my definition of improvisation to In improvisation the moment is the crucible. A risky business. No time for second thoughts or rearrangements. You do it or it dies. Tools are an agile ...
Only an Illusion: On Street Performers
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A woman I met in Paris in 1972 had told me to keep an eye out for her ex- boyfriend, a street performer and tight- rope artist named Philippe Petit. I started seeing him in Greenwich Village soon after, and later learned of his death- defying hike between the Twin Towers. At the same time, New York was—and still is—rich with street performers. Here I chose three to focus on. (I was so enamored of buskers that twenty years later I ...
Starting from Nothing: Michael Moschen
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I went to the Big Apple Circus looking for Philippe Petit and found Michael Moschen. I didn’t know anything about circus arts, so this piece became a hybrid that’s part review, part interview (in italics), and part profile. Today Moschen, who received a MacArthur “genius grant” in 1990, is widely considered a visionary artist who transformed juggling When juggler Michael Moschen walks into the center of the ring, you forget ...
Masters of Surprise: Baryshnikov and Astaire
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There is no way I could have guessed that Mikhail Baryshnikov would become more than a superstar ballet dancer. As artistic director of American Ballet Theatre, he led that magnificent company for a decade; he started his own adventurous modern dance company (White Oak Dance Project); and he created his own presenting space, Baryshni-kov Arts Center, in midtown. At this writing, he still performs internationally, either as a ...
Interview with Susan Sontag: On Writing, Art, Feminism, Life, and Death
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After reading Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation (both the essay and the book con-taining the essay), I couldn’t get enough of her. She became a role model as an artist, a critic, and a feminist. The occasion of this interview was the release of her book On Pho-tography. I met with her in her apartment near Columbia University, camouflaging my awe by acting casual and even, at times, almost rude. But she took it in stride and gave ...
Dumb Art: Beautiful but Not Too Bright
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As a Trisha Brown dancer and a writer/editor of the “Concepts in Performance” page, I was steeped in conceptual art. Possibly as a reaction, I began to take special pleasure in art that was somehow non- brainy, preverbal. I probably was also influenced by Sontag’s plea, in Against Interpretation, to look at the sensuous surface of a work rather than “excavating” or analyzing it. For a headline, I had suggested using the phrase “dumb but ...
III. The Eighties
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...1984. I loved teaching, but I used to joke that an instructor’s scholarly journal. Sally and I had edited each other’s work at life. I’d had a disastrous breakup with sculptor Don Judd (whom I had met at one of Trisha Brown’s galas) that plunged me into a yearlong depression. I forcibly pulled myself together to create new ...
Bausch, Brecht, and Sex: Kontakthof by Pina Bausch
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In the last couple of decades of Pina Bausch’s life, her work was full of pleasure, so it’s easy to forget how disturbing the earlier pieces were. This review certainly brings that back to me. I happened to be in Basel, performing my own solo in a gallery at the same time that Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch was there. This was in 1983, a year be-fore the company came to the United States to launch its long association with Brook-...
The Structure of Seduction
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In May of 1985 I was still wallowing in heartache over sculptor Don Judd, who had ended our relationship abruptly a few months before. I was a wreck . . . in a funk . . . wearing the same flannel shirt every day for a year. I tried to understand how I’d fallen so hard. Making pronouncements on the nature of obsession probably helped me to feel that I By this time the Village Voice had a column called “Performance,” similar to the ...
Book Review: The Intimate Act of Choreography
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Book review, Dance Research Journal 17, no. 2 & 18, no. 1 (1985–1986), I would never have given this book a second glance. But Sally Banes, who was the edi-tor of Dance Research Journal at the time, persuaded me to review it by saying I could use the book as a springboard to write about whatever it brought to mind. And what it brought to mind was teaching. I always loved teaching dance composition. I would de-...
The Holes in Tin Quiz—Notes on My Duet
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While working on Tin Quiz with the young dancer Donald Fleming in 1982 and ’83, part of the process was getting to know each other in the studio. I gradually realized how brilliantly spontaneous Donald could be—and I wanted to draw on that gift to make a duet. I remember too that Donald was the first person I heard mention AIDS. ...
Containing Differences in Time—My Choreographic Process
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Drama Review 29, no. 2 (T106), Summer 1985 (published by mit Press, nyU/Tisch School of the Arts)This was my only real attempt to describe my choreographic process, which was usually way more fraught than I let on here. Regarding the making of Standard Deviation, all I say here about my doubts is that I considered separating the two parts into two dif-ferent pieces. In actuality, I agonized over the decision for weeks. I was happy with the ...
Shoot for the Moon, but Don’t Aim Too Hard—On J. D. Salinger
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J. D. Salinger’s books have always been my favorites to read and reread. I decided to write him a letter in 1982, knowing full well of his reclusive nature. But like many of his readers, I felt I knew him—or knew Holden, or Buddy, or Zooey, or Phoebe. It was a pleasant shock to receive a letter in reply. At the time, I thought the reason for his warmth toward me was because I told him about my family, complete with suicidal ...
IV. The Nineties
...wrote “Beware the Egos of Critics” in 1991, I wanted to drive tries to clean the slate before the curtain goes up, each has a crashed into a wall, and fell to the floor, hitting his neck on him from the neck down for about a week; it then “resolved” Arts, and eight subway musicians. As I said earlier, I was becoming ...
Beware the Egos of Critics
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This tirade was part of a series initiated by Voice theater editor Ross Wetzsteon called “Crritic!” In his opening salvo, Ross said he chose that title because that word, spelled this way, had been the ultimate insult—one notch beyond “Cretin!”—uttered by Estra-gon in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. He went on to talk about the growing un-ease between critics and artists. It was the first time I saw anyone say in print that the ...
Trisha Brown on Tour
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I had written an advance article on Trisha Brown for the New York Times Arts & Leisure section that was ultimately “killed.” The assignment fell between two editors who didn’t communicate clearly with each other. That was the first time I approached Arts & Leisure (well before John Rockwell was its editor). They had accepted the pitch and made the as-signment with a warning: “Ask Trisha the hard questions.” I guess they weren’t hard ...
American Dance Guild Concert Review
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American Dance: The Official Publication of the American Dance Guild 40, no. 4 (Summer 1996)For a few years I produced radio programs for WBAI, the Pacifica, listener- supported community radio station in New York City. Usually I interviewed artists, but I also occa-sionally wrote reviews and read them over the air—not my favorite way to do radio. This particular review later saw print in the American Dance Guild’s newsletter. The theme of ...
Love Is the Crooked Thing: Paris Opéra Ballet
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When I started writing for the Voice again, I wanted to challenge myself to write ballet reviews. I guess I was still smarting from what Doris Hering had said about my writing years before. I was grateful to Elizabeth Zimmer, who was editing the dance reviews at the Voice, for trusting me enough to let me cover this age- old, purely classical company—The Paris Opéra Ballet sets itself the double challenge of upholding its 335- ...
Book Review: Jill Johnston’s Marmalade Me Reissued
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In the late sixties I occasionally read Jill Johnston in the Village Voice. Though I appre-ciated her out- there imagination, her writing seemed incoherent to me. It wasn’t until I read the first edition of her collection, Marmalade Me, that I was captivated. She made no attempt at “objectivity” in her observations, but rather reveled in her subjectivity. You always knew her state of mind. As a dance writer, she gave license to be wild. I couldn’t ...
Looking Back on the “Embodiment of Ecstasy”—Sara Rudner
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This feature story, written in advance of an anniversary event I was part of, had the big-gest real- life impact of anything I’ve ever written. A musician named Christopher von Baeyer, who had been Sara Rudner’s sweetheart in college, read it in his Sunday New York Times in Seattle and decided then and there to recontact Sara. Thus their love af-fair blossomed after a thirty- four- year hiatus. They have been living together ever since, ...
The Power of Stripping Down to Nothingness—The Butoh Diaspora
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The growing presence of butoh in all its intensity and strangeness has enriched the inter-national dance scene. Watching one of these performance was like being inside a dream that could turn into a nightmare at any moment. I decided to go on a search for what was “authentic” butoh and why its slow- motion imagery packed such a punch. I needed to hear an array of voices. This piece also asks questions that come up when any cul-...
The New Russia: Sasha Pepelyaev’s Kinetic Theatre
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When I started visiting the Soviet Union in the eighties, I happily sated my curiosity about the land of pure ballet. But I saw no modern dance. Someone explained to me that this form of “free expression” did not exist there. It was considered too American and therefore corrupt. You weren’t even allowed to utter the words “modern dance.” Even Isadora Duncan–style dancing, which had been carried on there continuously through-...
V. From 2000 to 2004
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...becoming an editor—or a critic or even a choreographer. During the four years in that position, I continued to contribute to the New York Times while also writing for Dance Magazine. I enjoyed longer pieces because I could delve into a subject in depth and incorporate chief, perceiving an undercurrent of distrust, even though she was ...
Seeing Balanchine, Watching Whelan
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On my first visit to New York City Ballet as a critic, I hit the jackpot with Wendy Whelan. She had a kinetic sizzle that transcended the conventional pretty- girl ballet aesthetic. It made me sit up, pay attention, and learn her name. At the same time, I reacted against the triple dose of Balanchine and vowed never to attend an all- Balanchine program again. (I do, however, enjoy the work in smaller doses, and I rush to see Serenade, Prodi-...
Merce at Martha@Mother—Richard Move
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The popularity of Richard Move’s nightclub act revealed the need—indeed the craving—that many of us had to relive, or maybe revise, the Martha Graham experience. I started studying at the Graham school at fifteen and was a scholarship student there my first year out of college. I’d moved on from my fascination with “Martha” long ago, but being at Dance Magazine brought me back to an awareness of that powerful persona....
Moving, Joyfully and Carefully, into Old Age
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With this story, I uncovered a treasure trove of mind/body wisdom. Asking dancers how they dealt with the aging body was far more interesting—and entertaining—than con-sulting medical professionals. It also helped me to remember why I still identified as a dancer, even though I was in the midst of transitioning from being a dancer who writes a little to an editor/writer who dances a little. This is when I realized that I still see like ...
An Improbable Pair on a Quest into the Past—Baryshnikov and Rainer
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To me this was a miraculous coming together of two vastly different worlds—two worlds that I had inhabited at different times in my life. Although Mikhail Baryshnikov had worked with modern dancers from Martha Graham to Alvin Ailey to David Gordon, I couldn’t imagine him cottoning to feminist firebrand Yvonne Rainer. Nor could I imag-ine that she would relish a commission from a ballet dancer. But in some ways they were ...
Katherine Dunham: One-Woman Revolution
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As a teenager I had loved Katherine Dunham’s autobiography, A Touch of Innocence, for its eloquent writing before I knew anything about her as a dancer. I remembered that she grew up so poor she had to wear cardboard shoes. I never saw her dance onstage, but my mother told me what a beautiful, sensual dancer she had been—which you can easily glean from YouTube clips. For this interview, one of the Dunham technique teach-...
Martha Clarke: Between Terror and Desire
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Not since my interview with Susan Sontag twenty- three years earlier did I have the sen-sation that every sentence my subject uttered was worth repeating. Martha Clarke was keenly in tune with her own psyche, and her fertile imagination spilled over in every di-Nobody knows what to call Martha Clarke’s work. Is it dance? Is it theater? Is it music with images? Is it performance art? Critics try to define it; audi-...
Misha’s New Passion: Judson Dance Theater
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As it turned out, Mikhail Baryshnikov’s collaboration with Yvonne Rainer (see “An Im-probable Pair on a Quest into the Past,” Section V) was a prelude to a larger project. Misha’s Past Forward tour was similar to the Bennington College Judson Project I had organized twenty years earlier in that both drew on the seminal Judson period of the early sixties. My interest was ignited while working with Trisha Brown and seeing the ...
Living with AIDS: Six Dancers Share Their Stories
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When I joined the editorial team of Dance Magazine, I was asked, What is the issue we are not covering? My immediate answer was AIDS. The disease had ravaged the dance community, yet not much had been written about it in the magazine. I was devastated when my friend Harry Sheppard died in 1992, and that was just one death of thousands. Working on this story immersed me in the sadness and anxiety we all felt. But it was ...
Irina Loves Maxim—ABT’s Russian Couple
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I’ve always found that Russians, if they are not completely dour, have a sharp sense of humor. So it was with Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky, two of the most classically trained ballet dancers in New York. This profile was the first section of a five- couple story for our Valentine issue with the headline “Irina Loves Maxim . . . and other real- life pas de deux.” I tried to keep their charming, Russian- accented English and witty ...
Twyla Tharp: Still Pushing the Boundaries
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This cover story came at a time of transition in Twyla Tharp’s work. When I watched her rehearsal, it seemed like she was reaching a peak of a certain genre of dancing to music—or, shall I say, another peak, since In the Upper Room (1986) had certainly been a peak. She was a master of “pure dance,” and this was clear at the photo shoot, where she improvised for three hours straight, without even a sip of water. Soon after this inter-...
The Struggle of the Black Artist to Dance Freely
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In the late nineties I sometimes had lunch with Joe Nash, the revered historian of blacks in dance. We both worked at the “God Box,” the Interchurch Center building at 120th Street and Riverside Drive. I was stationed at Physicians for Social Responsibility, he at the National Council of Churches. We would see each other in the basement cafeteria and talk about various black choreographers. He had danced with Pearl Primus (whose ...
A Dance Turns Darker, Its Maker More American—Patricia Hoffbauer
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When I asked Patricia Hoffbauer to dance with me in 1991, I had no idea she would de-velop into such an outrageous performance artist. She managed to combine an almost slapstick humor with a scholar’s erudition. Her duets with George Sanchez poked deli-cious fun at the budding fields of performance theory and cultural identity studies. In addition to the cultural aspects that came up, the value of this story is what Patricia says ...
Paying Heed to the Mysteries of Trisha Brown
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As I look this piece over, I think of the last time I performed Trisha’s work, in January 2012. It wasn’t on a stage, but in an art gallery for a benefit to raise money for the Trisha Brown Dance Company archives. As part of the event, which doubled as her seventy- fifth birthday party, five of us alumnae—all women in our sixties—lined up to do her “Span-ish Dance.” This is the iconic four- minute dance to Bob Dylan singing Gordon Lightfoot’s ...
East (Coast) Meets West (Coast): Eiko & Koma Collaborate with Anna Halprin
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This October issue of Dance Magazine came out just before September 11. That morn-ing I was supposed to go to a meeting at the New School. Although both World Trade towers had already been hit and I had seen the footage on television, I stupidly thought the meeting might still go on. So I packed three copies of the issue to give to colleagues and took the subway downtown. I got out at the 14th Street stop to head toward the ...
Bill T. Jones Searches for Beauty, and a New Home
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Well, he found a new home, but it’s not in Harlem as he had envisioned. In 2011 Bill T. Jones merged his company with the venerable presenter of contemporary dance in Chel-sea, Dance Theater Workshop, to form New York Live Arts. One of the factors that made this possible is that Jones had pulled in a pile of money from two Broadway shows: Spring Awakening, which he choreographed, and Fela!, which he co- conceived and di-...
Snip, Snip: Dance, Too, Needs Editing
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After years of anxiety when starting to choreograph, I learned to just doodle or noodle to get any kind of movement going, and then I’d have something to play around with and reshape. It’s in the editing stage when the piece tells me where it wants to go. From the other side, as an audience member, it’s sometimes frustrating to see where or how a piece could have been edited to save itself. Choreographers neglect editing at their peril....
Batsheva Dance Company: Naharin’s Virus
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For the first Batsheva appearance in New York since Ohad Naharin took over twelve years before, they brought a piece that showed all the strangeness and emotional power he’s capable of. Although I had loved his Sinking of the Titanic (which he made in 1990 when he was still in New York) for its beautifully sad vision, the production of Naharin’s Virus seemed to renounce the beautiful and replace it with an almost twisted vision. ...
Kirov Classics Hit and Miss
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Although it was the Bolshoi’s fierce abandon that made me fall in love with Russian bal-let, the Kirov captured my imagination with its ethereal port de bras. Perhaps because of my high expectations, I came down hard on the company in this review. On the other hand, ballet critics respect Marius Petipa so much that I kind of enjoyed pointing out the boring aspects of this supposedly authentic Bayadère. Note: This was at the height ...
Way Up High, Soaring, Floating, Diving, Dancing—Joanna Haigood
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I had found Joanna Haigood’s Invisible Wings at Jacob’s Pillow in 1998 absolutely haunting. Her own performance as a runaway slave, her transformation of the Pillow landscape, and her aerial work to represent both folklore and freedom transported the audience back to another time. The piece was epic in its embodiment of how black cul-ture turned suffering into hope. In her ability to integrate art, history, and social con-...
Russia Makes Room for Contemporary Dance
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As I mentioned in my review of Sasha Pepelyaev (“The New Russia” in “The Nineties”), I was interested in the new dance scene in Russia. I heard about Lisa First, the mover and shaker from Minneapolis who organized exchanges with Russia, and got myself in-vited to her festival. There I saw that Pepelyaev was the tip of the iceberg. Modern and postmodern dance had taken root all over Russia. This was exciting not only because ...
Wendy Whelan: The Edgy Ballerina
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Wendy Whelan transformed ballet into something new for me, something utterly contem-porary (see “Seeing Balanchine, Watching Whelan,” in Section V). I felt charged up to try to describe her dancing for this cover story. The other editors at Dance Magazine—they were in the California office and probably had never seen Whelan dance—deemed my descriptions too effusive, so they scaled back my praise. I resented it, but what could I ...
Tere O’Connor Dance
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Tere O’Connor’s work ricochets between chaotic and geometric, absurd and natural, robotic and raunchy. Frozen Mommy, premiered at the Kitchen last year and brought back by popular demand, crystallized the rhythms of am-In a bare performance space, the five dancers engage in a stylized version of familiar—or familial—interactions. Accompanied by silence interrupted ...
Lori Belilove and the Isadora Duncan Dance Company
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When my mother taught “interpretive” dance in our basement (from 1952 to ’55), she would sometimes give us the “Isadora skip” across the floor. You skip on the left leg with the right knee coming forward while you round your back, and then you skip on the right leg as you arch your back and the left leg swings behind you. The closing and opening of the chest propels you across the floor with a certain power. I felt like I was flying. So I ...
Susan Marshall & Company
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Enchanting. Whimsical. Magical. It’s hard to say why Susan Marshall’s latest work is so satisfying. A string of gently surreal vignettes, Cloudless reveals a sexy imagination and a bemusement about human connection. Stripped of the elaborate costume and set elements Marshall has used in recent years, Cloudless makes clever use of the occasional chair, table, and ladder, as well ...
Stan Won’t Dance
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Like the movie Brokeback Mountain, the British group Stan Won’t Dance brings the danger of gay love to center stage. The place is a smoky gay pub in London, and the movement idiom is rough- edged Contact Improvisa-tion with sinister overtones. Choreographed by Rob Tannion and Liam Steel (both are former dancers with DV8 Physical Theatre who got together and ...
Urban Bush Women
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Jawole Willa Jo Zollar goes to extremes of emotion that most choreogra-phers never get near. This concert (one of two programs) brought on a sharp, Investigating the life and work of Pearl Primus has been fertile terri-tory for Zollar and Urban Bush Women. The first half of the program, Walk-ing with Pearl . . . Africa Diaries (2004) represented Primus’s exploration of ...
Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People
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Nietzsche called that very rare person who can handle uncertainty an “über-mensch.” In the same vein, or so its seems, Gutierrez is calling his group the “powerful people.” They are the ones, in Nietzsche’s words, who “dance on the edge of the abyss,” who do not depend on what’s known or familiar. This In Retrospective Exhibitionist, Gutierrez strips the layers of artifice to re-...
American Ballet Theatre
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The night that Julio Bocca gave his farewell performance, the Metropoli-tan Opera House turned into a stadium of yelling, cheering fans who threw things at the stage—oranges and flags—even from the highest side balco-nies. Each principal dancer who had partnered him, from Cynthia Gregory to Julie Kent, showered him with kisses and flowers. Confetti glittered, and ...
Book Review: Feelings Are Facts: A Life, by Yvonne Rainer
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For generations of dancers, Yvonne Rainer is an avant- garde icon. In the six-ties she was a moving force behind Judson Dance Theater, the incubator of postmodern dance. With an Olympian stubbornness, she was hell- bent on making her rough- hewn, “difficult” dances. She was a feminist and antiwar activist who spoke her mind. Even now, thirty years after she turned to film-...
New York City Ballet: Winter Season 2007
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My original first sentence of this review was “American Ballet Theatre has the men, but New York City Ballet has the women.” At that time ABT famously had the most spectacu-lar contingent of male dancers on the planet—Herman Cornejo, Ethan Stiefel, Angel Corella, Jose Manuel Carreño, and on and on. (All but Cornejo have retired from ABT.) I wanted to make the case for NYCB’s women being that good. But my fellow editors ...
Enchanted by Cuba
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Havana is a city where, when you tell a taxi driver to take you to the theater to see a ballet, he (or she) asks, “Who is dancing tonight?” Tickets for the biannual International Ballet Festival of Havana are sold out weeks in ad-vance. The audience, a mix of all economic classes, bursts into applause when their favorites appear. There’s yelling and clapping even before the ...
A Brave, Illuminating, Terrific New Book—Carolyn Brown on Cunningham and Cage
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For anyone who has devoted herself to a choreographer and still wonders For anyone who has been puzzled by Merce Cunningham and John Cage’s For anyone who wants to understand how modern dance morphed into Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham (Knopf, 2007), by sublime dancer Carolyn Brown, will give you hours of pleasure, de-...
New York City Ballet: Winter Season 2008
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The big news this season was Mauro Bigonzetti’s world premiere Oltremare (Beyond the sea). It transformed the stage at New York State Theater into a dark place, full of uncertainty yet rich with emotion. Gone were the upright, clean, pure bodies with sparkling tutus or sleek leotards. In their place was a band of fourteen immigrants wearing muted, Fellini- esque layers of cloth-...
New Works Festival: San Francisco Ballet
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This festival of ten world premieres, celebrating sFB’s seventy- fifth anni-versary, put its faith in contemporary ballet. Almost all the works had live music (hallelujah!) and elegant sets. I would wager that six of them will have The three pieces that were about sheer movement and music also hap-pened to be the three that I would travel great distances to see again: Jorma ...
Akram Khan’s Bahok
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Akram Khan embodies a contemporary global perspective that has changed the dance landscape in England and beyond. Bahok, like his previous pieces, transformed culture clashes into art. His work is very physical, not at all theoretical. In Bahok, it was the light moments, the humorous miscommunications, that revealed how deeply we are all connected. I’ve done three public interviews with Khan (the one after this performance, ...
Flamenco Master in Silence: Was Israel Galván Improvising?
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On a terrace in front of the Hispanic Society of America up in Washington Heights, Israel Galván walked out to dance on a small platform. Dressed in black, he started by clapping his hands in that special flamenco way (pal-mas), feeling the rhythm well up inside him. This usually happens when the dancer and musicians are setting up their rhythms together. But Galván was ...
Trey McIntyre Project
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Trey Mclntyre is doing something right. Anchored in strong craft, his dances invite the audience to enjoy his mix of classical ballet, playful movement in-vention, and down- home humor. His music choices are full of pleasure and we walk out smiling. A great start for his newly full- time company, based in Surrender, a world premiere, shows a slightly lost girl (Chanel DaSilva) ...
Pacific Northwest Ballet: All Tharp
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Not every brilliant choreographer can be tapped for three ballets that, when put together, yield a varied, satisfying evening. Upping the ante in PnB’s “All Tharp” program was the fact that two of the three ballets were world pre-The two new works are radically different from each other: Opus 111 is su-premely musical, whereas Afternoon Ball is character driven. The first opens ...
Boston Ballet: Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes Centennial Celebration
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The year 2009 saw many ballet companies paying tribute to the Ballets Russes, which was launched by Serge Diaghilev in 1909. But it was only this program at Boston Bal-let that led me to an epiphany about the mystique of the legendary company: It was all about forbidden desire. Yes, the period was famous for the interdisciplinary collabo-rations that Diaghilev masterminded. But what pulled the audience in was the sense ...
Spoleto Festival (Festival dei 2Mondi)
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Alessandra Ferri, new director of dance at Spoleto’s interdisciplinary Festi-val of Two Worlds, organized three programs of international significance. One program, Choreography Today, gathered works by three of the hottest ballet choreographers alive: Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Wheeldon, and Wayne McGregor. Another presented Pina Bausch’s company, Tanztheater ...
The Forsythe Company: Decreation
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In Decreation, the performers each find a fertile center of madness within themselves. From the first moments, when Dana Caspersen yanks herself by the collar while reciting both sides of a conversation from poet Anne Carson’s “Decreation,” to the last, when one dancer sits atop a table while others lunge at her, the characters careen toward insanity or violence....
Twyla’s New Musical Flies, But
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What a ride Come Fly with Me is! It’s great to see Twyla Tharp return to Frank Sinatra; she gives his songs such zing. The women are luscious, totally in charge of their sexuality. This piece, which just opened at the Alliance The-atre in Atlanta, is midway between Nine Sinatra Songs and Movin’ Out in terms of narrative. Instead of a series of duets as in the former, Fly keeps ...
International Exposure—The Tel Aviv Festival
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This festival of bracing Israeli dance spanning twenty- seven choreogra-phers (I caught only eleven) concluded with Israel’s crowning glory, Bat-sheva Dance Company. Other exciting pieces included Barak Marshall’s Rooster and Inbal Pinto’s Trout. (It was a week for animals.) There were also an intense effort to unify Jews and Arabs through dance from Arkadi Zaides, ...
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A mysterious, cataclysmic piece, Tempest: Without Body descended on the audience like an apocalypse. Starting in dimness with noise so loud that you felt your seat vibrate (sound composition by Russel Walder, Marc Chester-man, and Ponifasio), the piece features a huge, thick, textured wall that hangs in the upper reaches of the stage space. As the dimness and loudness ...
Necessary Weather (revival)—Dana Reitz and Sara Rudner
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An oasis of calm, light, and exquisite simplicity, Necessary Weather is an ex-traordinary 1994 collaboration between two dancers and a lighting master. Although Dana Reitz came up with the concept, Jennifer Tipton’s lights and A beautiful restraint guided all decisions. As in a Japanese tea ceremony, each action is completed before the next action begins. You can lavish your ...
Why Don’t Women Make Dances Like That Any More?
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Like a bat out of hell, each woman bounded across the space with leap/runs, hands in fists, face set in determination. The all- female ensemble of Sketches from “Chronicle” (1936), led powerfully by Jennifer DePalo, worked up to a fever pitch, infusing the spare geometry of Graham’s choreography with energy and resolve. I couldn’t really glean the difference between what the ...
Blogging about the Process of Choreography—Ugh!
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I have to admit that when I wrote this, I wasn’t remembering that I myself had written about my creative process (“Containing Differences in Time,” in “The Eighties.”) Now, of course, that irony is not lost on me. However, as I tried to make clear in the posting, which turned out to be inflammatory (see postscript), I was objecting not to the after- the- fact account, but to the on- the- ground, of- the- moment blogging that assumes people ...
The Times They Are A-Changin’
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In our second Race Issue (the first was in 2005), we set ourselves this simple question: How diverse is the up- and- coming generation? This soon splin-tered into other questions: What opportunities are available to young dancers of color? How are students engaging with cultures other than their In talking to artistic directors, educators, and performers about this un-...
Biennale de la Danse de Lyon
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Where else does a dance festival overtake an entire city? With forty compa-nies spread out over thirty- four venues (plus three outdoor sites), this year’s Biennale de la Danse was the main event in France’s second largest city. It attracted ninety- five thousand spectators, young and old (not counting the even larger number that showed up for the parade that opens the festival). ...
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Ralph Lemon’s piece was so resistant to the expectations of performance—and yet so powerful—that I found myself writing in the form of Yvonne Rainer’s famous No Mani-festo (see “An Improbable Pair on a Quest into the Past,” Section V).No to turning crying into laughing; no to ending the piece with an amazing unforgettable flourish; no to starting with wonderful, appealing dancing; no ...
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Peak Performances, Alexander Kasser Theater, Montclair State University This piece blew me away. The only way I could think to describe the impact was to use three adjectives followed by periods. Looking over my past reviews, I discovered, with chagrin, that I had employed the same device four years earlier in my review of Susan Marshall’s Cloudless (in “From 2004 to 2007”). I hereby vow never to use it again....
Politeness: Is It Crucial to the Future of Ballet?
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Jennifer Homans’s Apollo’s Angels caused a stir when the last chapter, “The Masters Are Dead and Gone,” was posted by the New Republic online. This was the conclusion to a 500- page book that claimed to detail the history of ballet. A former student at the School of American Ballet, Homans is an exemplary member of the Church of Balan-chine. She is not alone in thinking that ballet died along with him. Although her writing ...
National Ballet of Canada
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With this triple bill, the National Ballet of Canada plunged headlong into ultra- contemporary weirdness in ballet and came up triumphant. They are the first company outside of the Royal Ballet to dance Wayne McGregor’s as-tonishing Chroma. In this landmark work, the glare of lights seems to push the dancers into extreme territory, crooking the wrists, splaying the legs, and ...
Is Appropriation the Same as Stealing and Why Is It Happening More Now?
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I took offense to Sarah Michelson’s obvious appropriation of In the Upper Room, Twyla Tharp’s 1986 masterwork, but it seemed that no one else did. Perhaps appropriation is just an accepted part of the culture now. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. After I posted this blog I learned about choreographers who “borrow” in a more transparent way than Watching Sarah Michelson’s piece Devotion at The Kitchen, I was getting ...
Is There a Blackout on Black Swan’s Dancing?
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Aside from the horrific portrayal of a ballet dancer gone mad (Natalie Portman) in Dar-ren Aronofsky’s popular movie Black Swan, I was again bothered by the lack of credit given. In this case, Sarah Lane, a beautiful soloist at American Ballet Theatre, served as a double for Portman: In the more technical dance scenes, Lane’s pirouettes and pointe Do people really believe that it takes only one year to make a ballerina? We ...
Putting the Black Swan Blackout in Context
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After reading my previous blog, a mutual friend contacted me and put me in touch with Sarah Lane. This is what I posted after that talk. It generated a furor online, both for and against Sarah, and for and against Portman. Some entertainment websites picked it up and escalated the controversy, claiming that Portman would not have won the Oscar if the judges had known how little of the dancing she’d done. The general commotion led to ...
Can a Floor Give You Spiritual Energy? Ask Jared Grimes
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A surge of energy went through the crowd the moment Jared took the mike and vamped to the beat of his own voice. What a natural—as a dancer, as a Wednesday night Jared held a special edition of his monthly Broadway Underground variety show at BB King Blues Club. This time he ran a com-petition called Run the Night that included tap, hip- hop, modern, and more. ...
Eiko & Koma: The Unnatural Side of Communing with Nature
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Eiko’s face floats, partially submerged in the water, like a bright moon glid-ing across a dark sky. She is a doomed Ophelia who is rescued by Koma. The driftwood that mysteriously sails toward them is their survival raft, but it These images are part of a timeless dreamscape in Water, the version of River that Eiko & Koma have made for Lincoln Center Out of Doors. There ...
Merce’s Other Legacy
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Yesterday I witnessed the very last night of Merce on Earth. I mean the last Legacy Tour date at the Park Avenue Armory. But I’m not going to talk about the event because plenty of dance writers have and will. Sure it was nice to see the dancers and guess what piece they were excerpting. And it was awe-some to see/hear how the live horn music (by Takehisa Kosugi or John King ...
A Debate on Snark
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This post—and the panel discussion it was based on—garnered support from many dancers. Not surprisingly, a couple dance critics voiced their displeasure. I guess I got what I deserved. On the other hand, Robert Johnson, whom I take issue with here, re-When writing this, I wasn’t thinking of my 1991 screed about critics (“Beware the Egos Okay, I’m rolling up my sleeves. Robert Johnson and I were polite with each ...
The Joffrey Ballet
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With this bold triple bill, the Joffrey reclaims its place as the edgy Ameri-can ballet company. No, it’s not Robert Joffrey’s sexy, trippy Astarte of 1967. It’s not Tharp’s visionary hybrid Deuce Coupe of 1973. And it’s not the com-pany’s brilliant 1987 reconstruction of Nijinsky’s riot- inducing Rite of Spring Instead, this is a gathering of three of the best choreographic minds of ...
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What follows was a spoken story for From the Horse’s Mouth in February 2010. I have been part of this roving framework several times since its inception in 1998. Master-minded by Tina Croll and Jamie Cunningham, the dance involves thirty or so performers. One at a time, they talk for a minute and a half while others dance in an improvised structure. This particular edition was held at the 92nd Street Y, and we were encouraged ...
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...“One Route from Ballet to Postmodern” originally appeared in Reinventing Dance in the 1960s: Everything Was Possible, edited by Sally Banes with the assistance of Andrea Harris. Copyright 2003 by the Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Reprinted by permission of the University All chapters that previously appeared in the New York Times are ...
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Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2013