restricted access Part VI. Images in Action
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Members ofMeredith Monk's company, The House, in Monk's Education of the Girlchild. Photo: Peter Moore. @jince the early 1960s, a choreographic form has flourished which, though related to modern dance, differs both from the solemn narratives that were so popular among modern dancers ofthe 1940s and 1950s and from the abstractions favored by some of the rebels against those narratives. Like the abstractionists, the exponents ofthis form have little use for conventional plot structure. Yet they are concerned with more than form and design, for they seek to create kinetic images that are intensely dramatic, in the broadest sense of that word, and emotionally expresswe. These imagistic productions have tended to be of two basic kinds. Some-for instance, the dances of Phoebe Neville-have relied upon movement alonefor the creation ofeffects. These works descend in a direct line from the solos of such modern dance pioneers as Isadora Duncan and Mary Wigman. Other choreographers, however, ally movement with elaborate decor and, occasionally, spoken texts, and their offerings are often termed multimedia or mixed-media productions. The theatrical extravaganzas ofsuch otherwise dissimilar creators as Meredith Monk, Ping Chong, and Robert Wilson are works ofthis sort. Such productions have a tradition oftheir own, one extendingfrom the multimedia theatrical experiments of the Cubists and Futurists early in this century to the "Happenings" ofthe sixties. An American pioneer ofthe form was the San Francisco choreographer Anna Halprin, who, in the late fifties and early sixties (when she was known as Ann Halprin) developed a personal style of dramatic, yet nonliteral, dance-theatre that intrigued younger choreographers andprompted several New York dancers to journey west to study with her. During the years in which I lived in the Bay Area she was the region's most important, and controversial, choreographic innovator. 210 / Choreography Observed Occasionally in the arts certain related ideas can somehow seem to develop independently. Thus, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it became increasingly apparent to Americans that Germany had produced its own Neo-Expressionist Tanztheater, and comparable Expressionist styles (the most famous of which was known as Butoh) had sprung up in Japan. Imagistic dance-theatre has become a global phenomenon. Yet, like all artistic styles, it is not without its traps for the creatively unwary. The emphasis upon emotion can degenerate into hysteria. The dramatic rituals favored by some choreographers may lead them to stress the psychologically therapeutic aspects oftheir productions at the expense of theatricality (Halprin, for instance, increasingly devoted herself to communal rituals). And choreography may inadvertently be swamped by the other arts when media are mixed. Nevertheless, imagistic dancetheatre at its best is eloquent in its use of movement, and it can combine theatrical spectacle with high seriousness to offer both visionary fantasy and social commentary. PARADES AND CHANGES Otntil now, although she has influenced our own young avant-garde, Ann Halprin has been known to New York almost entirely through hearsay. Local dancers have gone to San Francisco, where she lives and teaches, to study with her. The Dancers' Workshop of San Francisco, which she directs, has toured Europe. But it had never visited New York before its performances on 21-22 April 1967 at Hunter College Playhouse . Consequently, these programs were eagerly awaited. For me, they also occasioned apprehension. As Ballet Today's San Francisco correspondent some years ago, I had admired many of Halprin's creations. But I had not seen her group in four years-which can be a crucially long time in the artistic development of a dance company. Would this company still be interesting? Images in Action / 211 Happily, it was. In New York the Dancers' Workshop offered Parades and Changes, a ninety-minute "total theatre" work presented without intermission . Itwas the productoffourcollaborators: director-choreographer Ann Halprin, composer Morton Subotnick, lighting designer Patric Hickey, and costumier Jo Landor. The setting was the theatre itself with all its stage machinery and technical equipment fully exposed. This equipment was ingeniously rearranged throughout the performance, but never in an effort to create naturalistic illusion. The work began when, to the sound of electronic music, eight dancers walked through the auditorium to the stage. They stood in a line, facing the audience, and slowly took off their clothes to the point of nudity, then put them back on again. The action was repeated. Two men unrolled strips of brown paper and wrapped themselves up in it until they formed an impressive frieze of bodies and paper. After all the strips had...


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