- Looking at Dancers, Buildings, and People in the Street
Danspace Project’s Platform series is an annual curatorial meditation on a theme. For 2015, the poet and critic Claudia La Rocco organized the platform Dancers, Buildings, and People in the Streets, named after poet-critic Edwin Denby’s essay and anthology of the same title. Denby is often credited with being one of the first critics to underline the connections between ballet and contemporary (then the Judson era) dance forms. Utilizing the nodal points of dance lineages in New York City—Balanchine ballet, Merce Cunningham, and Judson—and the Denby-infused concept of “critic as connector,” La Rocco assembled a group of twelve dance artists, pairing them up in “Dance Dialogues.” La Rocco was interested in manifesting two ongoing conversations she had been having with Danspace Project director Judy Hussie-Taylor, “one about how poetry and dance intersect, and one about the lack of meaningful engagement between artists from ballet and contemporary dance.”1 Mirroring La Rocco’s set up, I gathered a triptych of artists to observe and discuss the “Dance Dialogues” and how they reflected on the current environment of dance as they subjectively experience it. I followed the nodal points of the platform premise, but my representative assemblage of participants was more of a bendy architectural tricorne than a crystalline triangle: Anya Liftig is a body-based performance artist who originally trained in Balanchine ballet, Matthew Mohr is a choreographer, Burlesque performer, and former member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and Clarinda Mac Low is an interdisciplinary performance artist with a background in dance; her first performance experiences were with her father, Jackson Mac Low, and other members of New York’s avant-garde art scene of the 1970s. Instead of pairing off, we assembled en masse after the platform was over to discuss our thoughts on March 24, 2015.
All comments in italics are by Andrea Kleine.
As a nodal point, Judson is used as a sort of catch-all for everything quasi-contemporary. But what’s the fourth node? What’s really a contemporary movement? Or are we all so completely diversified that there’s not really one thing holding the contemporary community together? [End Page 65]
Well, there is one thing—somatic practice. That’s the one downtown thing that has seeped uptown. Ways of using alignment, awareness training, all that stuff. That is the one thing that went in that direction. My main question is, why do we need to have this conversation? We already had this conversation, didn’t we?
To me, that’s problematic from a curatorial point of view. Why are we talking about things that were written in the 1970s, forty years ago? What are the new things to connect? What are the new things to bring together? That, to me, felt naive. And I guess I would say antiquated too. We’re doing it forty years after the fact, or really we could go back another ten. So now we’ve got a fifty-year-old thing. And we’re still looking at white people, white bodies, dancing and talking about dance in a specific way.
There is still something juicy about having people with different dance focuses cross-pollinating, physically cross-pollinating as an action, that felt timely. It felt worthwhile.
I’m not sure I agree. I feel like that already happened. What are the connections that a critic makes now? Let’s have a new conversation. We’ve had this one. That’s what the conversation of Judson was. It was this conversation.
But to have them in a room physicalizing it, not a conversation, not a critical discussion, literally physical ballet people doing that movement, literally Judson somatic stuff doing ballet, to have a body-to-body conversation—that’s an exchange that felt timely and political.
Claudia’s instructions for the “Dance Dialogue” pairings were purposefully minimal. Her instigating question was an unfinished one, “What would happen if …?” This approach released the artists from creating finished products, yet they...