restricted access Part I. Thinking about Choreography
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ONE Cynthia Haroey, Mikhail Baryshnilrov, arul members ofthe American Ballet Theatre in Swan Lake. Photo: MIRA. ~ horeography keeps slipping away. Once a dance has started, it cannot be stopped or slowed down; once a dance has ended, it is hard to summon back. Many dances have not been notated or filmed, and suroive only in the memories oftheir interpreters, and memories, ofcourse, are fallible. And since notation systems can seem abstruse, there are people in the dance world who prefer to leave their mastery entirely to specialists. Given its elusiveness, choreography is often hard to think about-and to talk about, as well. Yet it deseroes serious discussion,for it is the stuffof which dances are made. Even the most brilliant dancers must have something to dance before they can dazzle. Because there exists nothing in dance as universally accepted as, say, the play script or the musical score, the textual problems ofchoreography can be quite differentfrom those ofdrama or music. The very nature ofthe choreographic text is itself a major problem, and dancegoers and dance producers divide into severalfactions on this issue. For instance, there are those who believe that the steps ofa dance work must always be preseroed. On the other hand, there are those who countenance changes in steps, provided that the theatrical effects ofthose steps remain unaltered by the substitutions . Still others assume that steps can be changed at will to suit the whim ofthe dancer-that choreography is essentially an excuse to show offthe dancer. And many other points ofview also exist. Whatever steps specific works may contain and however much or little they may be alteredfrom performance to performance, all dances are revelations in space and time. Just what they reveal depends upon the taste and aesthetic inclinations of individual choreographers. Many dances are simply studies in pattern and energy. However, choreographers, through movement, may also seek to present ideas, depict dramatic characters, or 4 / Choreography Obseroed elicit specific emotional responses from the viewer. It could be said that every dance is a little world all its own. At times, such little worlds may be ofinterest solelyfor their own sake. At other times, however, they can seroe as microcosms ofthe great world in which we live. CONFESSIONS OF A CHOREOGRAPHY-WATCHER ~ et me confess: I am a choreography-watcher. Although I love many things about dance, I go to dance performances primarily because I want to see fine choreography. Of course, I like seeing fine dancers , too. Yet it is choreography that interests me most. This may seem an extreme view. It is also, I admit, a deliberately exaggerated one, a critical stance adopted to help make clear how and why this book of reviews has been put together. Yet I have a hunch that many dancegoers are basically either choreography-watchers or dancerwatchers . To classify spectators in this fashion is neither to proclaim one category necessarily superior to the other nor to suggest that dancegoers cannot alter their interests, sometimes from performance to performance , sometimes even from work to work during the course of a single performance. Nevertheless, I still think it possible to say that-at least on some occasions-audiences at dance performances may be made up of choreography-watchers and dancer-watchers. When fans flock to see certain internationally acclaimed artists-some even following such stars as Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov on cross-country tours-they are being dancer-watchers. So are the balletomanes who regularly attend the international competitions for young dancers in such places as Moscow; Varna, Bulgaria; and Jackson, Mississippi. In contrast, the scores of dancegoers from many countries who journeyed to Copenhagen in 1979 to attend a festival by the Royal Danish Ballet did so not only to admire the charms of the Danish Thinking about Choreography / 5 dancers: most were there because the festival was devoted to the works of a single historically important, and much beloved, choreographer, August Bournonville. Other choreography-watchers are those who seek out productions of unusual or rarely revived works by American regional companies. Historical precedents exist for both categories. When the novelist Stendhal compared the early-nineteenth-century choreographer Salvatore Vigano to Shakespeare, he was being a fervent choreographywatcher , whereas the flowery tributes written by the poet and critic Theophile Gautier to the ballerinas of the Romantic era are aesthetic love letters from a dancer-watcher. One thing that makes choreography fascinating to contemplate for its own sake-apart from the merits of the specific performers who may...


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