- A Long EmbraceDance, Art, History
The intertwined history of American art and dance is even more revealing, more visually complex, more culturally nuanced, and more interesting than has yet been acknowledged by historians of either dance or art.Sharyn R. Udall, Dance and American Art: A Long Embrace
It is a curious and still rather under-theorized phenomenon that dance, over the past decade, has become a crucial referent for thinking, making, and curating visual and performance based-art.André Lepecki, Dance
The critical convergence of dance, art, and history entertain varied sites of practice and inquiry. These branches circulated widely. Dance historiography sources documentary evidence from the visual archive: prints and illustrations, notation, film, video, or digital media. Imagery pouring forth into the modern era inflects both public consumption and artists’ intake of dancers and styles populating the ballet, music halls, theatres, cabarets, and modernist vocabularies. Decades of critical dance studies continue to reroute theories of embodiment and multidisciplinary perspectives. Garnering attention since the 1950s, body-based events have exploded in the twenty-first century with live art installations in galleries, exhibitions, and public spaces. As the above quotes from two recent books pronounce, the far-reaching interactions between visual art and dance activate critical points of contact in remaking the contemporary. The long embrace suggested in the title of Sharyn R. Udall’s admirable Dance and American Art and carried forward in the elegant anthology Dance accents the pervasive presence of dance cultures and choreographic influences in art vocabularies formerly and today. Udall, an art historian, sifts through the “recurrent power of images,” spotlighting an expansive “visual landscape” of dance animated by American artists over the nineteenth and early twentieth [End Page 112] centuries. Covering key issues in dance writing, making, and theory since the 1950s, Lepecki’s sourcebook is one of the latest installments of the Documents of Contemporary Art series co-published by London’s Whitechapel Gallery and MIT Press, a project aimed at curating the discursive international field that has come to articulate contemporary arts. From divergent angles, both books broaden awareness of dance’s insistence on recalibrating artistic terrain.
Significantly, the centrality of dance in past and present art scenes guides the overarching orientation of each book. Part of the allure of the Whitechapel/MIT series is providing guest editors a platform to address art forms, issues, concepts, or practices layering the global environment. This transnational partnership admits pluralism; it also foregrounds the changing context and influence of practitioners, critics, institutional networks, and programming pushing out boundaries and definitions of visual culture. Guest editor André Lepecki is interested in provoking critical attention and dispelling public misperceptions of dance as a flowing “visceral” art form. Dance probes the international scope affecting experimental climates of dance-making, dance writing, and dance history from the 1950s to the present. As he argues in the introduction to the volume, dance not only plays a “catalyzing role for the arts throughout the second half of the twentieth century,” but becomes an “inescapable force in the art scene of the past decades.” Rather than follow chronological sequence, the volume conceptualizes five sections, grouping choreographers, critics, and theorists in each part to express the inclusionary dimensions of dance. The framework considers dance as embodied practice, theoretical expression, political body, and experimental impetus. To that end, thematic contexts—ephemerality, corporeality, precariousness, scoring, and performativity—underscore an ongoing cultural critique in thinking and making dance.
Marking the tributaries of movement, space, sculpture, image, the painterly, and the structural, the historic material included in the first section of the anthology pivots off the “choreographic turn,” signaled by Merce Cunningham’s 1952 essay “Space, Time and Dance.” The diverse scope juxtaposes the climate of critical vocabularies investigating form and compositional processes. Anna Halprin’s recollection of Parades and Changes (1965–1967) highlights a break with Western dance modernism. Butoh founder Hijikata Tatsumi’s controversial Kinjiki (Forbidden Colours, 1959) reflects the challenges of confronting post–World War II trauma...