The NYTimes on “Dancer Crush”: This Work Is About the Movers and Shakers
“The evening, organized by Carla Peterson and Annie-B Parson with the goal of redirecting attention from choreographers to dancers, provided responses in the form of eight standout soloists…”
SundayArts reviews “Dancer Crush”
“There are so many talented dancers in New York City that, sadly, it’s easy to take even the finest ones for granted. New York Live Arts speaks to this in a program called Dancer Crush, a showcase of some of the artists whose repeated appearances on New York stages over the years have made an indelible impression. Some of them dance the work of the big name choreographers to whose companies they belonged; others perform their own pieces. NYLA’s Carla Peterson and Annie-B Parsons of Big Dance Theater curated this amazing slate (through Oct 8).”
New York Live Arts presents Dancer Crush
NEW YORK LIVE ARTS
Leah Cox, Holley Farmer, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Jodi Melnick,
David Neumann, Brandi Norton, Heather Olson, Arturo Vidich,
Steven Reker and People Get Ready
October 5-8 at 7:30pm
New York, NY, September 19, 2011 – New York Live Arts presents Dancer Crush, a series of performances on October 5-8 at 7:30pm curated by New York Live Arts Artistic Director Carla Peterson with Annie-B Parson, lauded Co-Director of Big Dance Theater.
“Dance cannot exist without the dance design: choreography. But dance is the dancer.”
– Susan Sontag
Bill’s Blog: Now!
This is part of a series of monthly blog posts–penned by Bill T. Jones–designed to provide further insight into his creative process, inspirations and more.
“While everything changes, everything remains the same as well…”
As I entered the lobby of New York Live Arts on a recent hot July afternoon, I observed for the second time in a week a group of young people in animated conversation much like the one I had observed the day before. In the midst of this group was the Emmy-nominated actress, Uzo Aduba, known for her role as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren in the Netflix original television series Orange Is the New Black (2013–present). Uzo and I have been acquainted since I choreographed her in Will Power’s The Seven at New York Theater Workshop some years ago. Uzo enthusiastically introduced me to two of the young actors- Caleb Grandoit and Charlie Jackson, who had just participated in a master class she had led on the Live Arts’ stage for Opening Act’s yearly workshop.
Everyone was quite excited by a work Caleb had just shown that, in his words, chronicled the journey from slavery through the Civil Rights movement to our present moment of protest around issues of police brutality and racism.
At one point I asked Caleb if he was saying in his piece that things had changed and he answered that no, he didn’t think things were that different…
His answer was so stark that I do hope that we have a further opportunity to delve into what is meant by “things have not changed!”
The above encounter came in the wake of having just returned from the American Dance Festival (ADF) in Durham, NC, where, as always, questions of tradition, innovation and creativity are stirred up.
“Now… Now, Now, Now, Now! If you calm down you will find that all the work and details are in your body. Replace the mental chatter with something else.
Sometimes, I just say ‘Now’ to give myself something else to do so as not to give in to anxiety. Calm down and do the most with what you have!”
– Angie Hauser* teaching Intermediate Technique Class –ADF July2015
Now? Rather than fixating on Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company’s performance at the Durham Performing Arts Center that night, or allowing the paralysis of memory with all its ghosts and long ago events to shut out the present, I decided to go where the new dancers were. So I dropped into Angie Hauser’s intermediate technique class. The class spent the first 40 minutes on the floor. The participants were instructed to roll across the floor “as if each cell in your body was oriented down into the floor. Allow your body to be totally splayed as if growing tentacles for suction, pulling and pushing as one hungry body part is replaced by another fighting inertia.” The exercise encouraged a deeply inner-focused exploration.
This first sortie across the floor was belly down. They were then told to start another on their backs. “Everything is engaged!” Angie said as the class took on the aspect of one of those military training exercises designed to crawl under barbed wire.
“Figure it out as you go!”
The next traverse of the room started in a crouched sitting position. Angie demonstrated expertly one foot pushing along the floor in the desired direction as the entire body stayed engaged, roiling tentacle-like, clinging, repulsing. Each dancer was encouraged to evolve from the crouch to the back to the belly before returning to the opening position.
The accompanist, Adam Crawley, used a laptop to generate a heavy, beat-driven atmospheric cacophony that seemed, at first, at odds with the inner focus demanded by Angie, but perhaps actually encouraged it. Does this generation, constantly assaulted by sounds, images and stimulation, find its “still-point” in this way?
At this point Angie was saying something to the effect, “Getting from your knee to your soft belly is your problem to solve. Practice it over and over. Sometimes a pointed foot gets in the way of what you’re trying to do. Interrogate the use of your foot. Explore the palate of your feet. What does the moment call for?”
Angie’s style of teaching would not have been alien to those of us at the American Dance Asylum under the leadership of Lois Welk or Jill Becker. The American Dance Asylum was a collective of dancers and choreographers (aspiring!) that Arnie Zane and I were members of in Binghamton, NY, back in the 1970s. Some of us would sometimes parody “traditional” technical training that relied on existing forms (ballet, jazz, Graham, etc.). We adopted an attitude that resulted in a practice that insisted that technique is anything one does every day that provides one with the skill needed to perform one’s work. If your work demanded that you pick your nose, you should pick your nose every day and investigate nose picking as a practice!
Watching this class, which asked young dancers to go inside themselves first and to approach training as a highly internal and individualistic pursuit, I asked the question, “does the work performed inform the training or is it the opposite?” I don’t know who the young dancers were, so I am going out on a limb here, suggesting, “These are the children of an individuated, democratic, non-hierarchical ethos in pursuit of… What?”
“We hold these truths…”
Each era has its own set of assumptions, values and expectations that its “innovators” subscribe to. What is the art that comes from this era’s perceived truths? I recall with pleasure and mild uneasiness hearing legendary director of ADF, Charles Reinhart, say in an interview that of an era much besotted with Eastern philosophy, “There is too much Tai-chi onstage these days!”
One of our goals at New York Live Arts is to identify the most potent expressions and give them a platform.
Curiously enough, when Angie’s class stood up following its long floor session, it began a series of standing exercises: pliés, tendus, legs, feet, spine; exercises that would not have been alien to Doris Humphrey, Jose Limon or a young Merce Cunningham. Was this a choice of the teacher or was it a pragmatic requirement of the Festival that the young dancers should have the widest exposure, offering the best preparation for the “brave new world” and its burgeoning choreographing population in search of something deep, resonant and durable?
The next afternoon at ADF, I dropped in on an exciting panel entitled “Dancing on the African Continent”. The panelists were Gregory Maqoma (South African choreographer), Ivy Birch (moderator), Chuck Davis (Choreographer, founder of Dance Africa whom this year’s ADF was dedicated to), DD Kodolakina (dance critic from Togo). It was a lively, amicable exchange – warm and moving for several reasons.
Certain moments stand out:
- Chuck Davis, irrepressible as always, when making his framing comments commanded us all to our feet to find “the pulse, the rhythm” exhorting us to chant “Dancers united will bring peace to the world!”
- French speaking DD shared through his translator that he feels a bit isolated, as he is one of a handful of professional dance-writers working on the continent. He went on to say that he relished being at ADF as he could see many forms of dance there as opposed to the steady diet of French choreographers dominating the dance world in his country.
- However, it was Gregory Maqoma’s comments and the ensuing discussion around the notion of tradition that resonates most as I look back at the event. Gregory told us that because dance was such a part of his world growing up in South Africa it was barely understood as a profession! Growing up near a hostel for migrant workers from across Southern Africa, he was thrilled to see their display of traditional dances.
Gregory declared that he uses tradition to aggressively reframe and reference questions of power, history, identity and the future – all questions relevant to his countrymen. His ultimate purpose, however, is to bring joy!
- DD Kodolakina responded that Africa’s creators are questioning themselves about the future and the now. Dance in Africa is no longer traditional. He feels that African creators are preoccupied with getting their work “out of Africa” (in several senses of the word, I believe…). He feels they must, as a result, evolve, lest the very traditions we were discussing die.
And then there was Bjorn’s and my first visit to Fire Island. “Your first time?!!!” People said with disbelief. “How is that possible?” I had never given it much thought, but I suppose it was because my identification with Gay culture has always been a wary one. I was of the belief that one should be suspicious of any tradition that came with prescribed rituals and geography. Arnie Zane and I declared we were not interested in living in any “ghetto” be it religious, racial, sexual or artistic.
Following the crush of passengers disembarking the ferry at The Pines, I was bombarded with feelings and questions. Why was I so filled with excitement and anticipation? Was it the hoards of buff, shirtless gods and their admirers, the beauty of the place, the promise of unbridled pleasure, of security, of inclusion?
It could have been simply that here was an institution, a tradition, that was built on the need for safe-haven and that I was coming “home” just as wider acceptance of “expanded sexualities and genders” could be making it all irrelevant…
You like movies: Check Finding Vivian Maier on Showtime!
*Angie Hauser is a Bessie award winning dancer and choreographer. Her dancing life is marked by two long-time collaborations – she has created dances with Bebe Miller since 2000 and with Chris Aiken since 2003. These collaborations have yielded years of making, performing, and thinking about dance with a family of brilliant dancers, musicians, writers and artists. Hauser is deeply influenced by Miller and Aiken, as well as other collaborators, who currently include Jennifer Nugent, Darrell Jones, Paul Matteson, Omar Carrum and Claudia Lavista and musician Mike Vargas. She is an Assistant Professor at Smith College.
Notes from Exceptional Behavior in East Village Dance: Spotlight on Yvonne Meier’s The Shining
By Doran George
The Shining is a great opportunity to put scholarship and artistic practice in public dialog. New York East Village Dance is a large focus of my doctoral research and I have found that my project has catalyzed fruitful exchange with artists in the process of articulating recent dance history. I am defining the East Dance Scene as artists who participated in changes in choreographic strategy that began to occur in late 1970s and early 1980s, and also by venues and organizations that housed their work, which sprang up during that era including St. Marks Church, PS 122, and Movement Research. The definition of any community, artistic or otherwise, is always rife with problems because whatever terms you use, there are always exceptions. However my reasons for definition are to make my idea of the term explicit, and to suggest that the East Village scene made a particular contribution in the late 20th century.
I am researching and writing about approaches to training and choreography that had enormous impact on me as dancer and an artist. I met Jennifer and Amy in the early 1990s at a school in the Netherlands called the European Dance Development Center, for which the primary faculty were guest teachers from the US, and a large proportion of those came the East Village dance scene. Amy and I were students and Jennifer was a teacher who visited the school along with people like, Ishmael Houston Jones, Yvonne Meier, Jennifer Miller, Mimi Goese, and Stephanie Skura. I was drawn to the way their work seemed to have political potency and yet they did not communicate explicit or transparent messages. Their dance practices seemed to offer space within the idea of social identity through prizing open the way that I could imagine race, gender and sexuality.
I am very excited that this community has begun to reconstruct works from the 1980s and 1990s, because it gives us a rare opportunity to reflect upon practice that could otherwise have disappeared. Unlike more conventional choreography much East Village dance did not become repertory, but it had an important impact upon the development of the field, and wrangled with social issues at a time of enormous cultural conflict within U.S. history. Yvonne Meier’s performance The Shining depended upon and emblematized an approach to dancing that emerged in the East Village dance scene, which is characterized in part by an approach to choreography that is difficult to reconstruct.
The 1980s and 1990s
As a scholar I became interested in the way that the social and political mores of the 1980s and 1990s were embodied by East Village dance even while it was critical of the conservative ideas. Reagan pursued an aggressively individualist rhetoric that was echoed in most Western economies. The collective bargaining power of the unions was crushed, and attacks were made upon the welfare state. Fulfillment was promised through the radical pursuit of self-interest, and it was argued that freedom and individual potential had been stifled by the demands of attending to common social need.
Dancers who had been part of collective projects in the 1970s exploited the entrepreneurial possibilities of the new era using “idiosyncratic choreography,” as an artistic signature to compete for opportunities. However East Village artists also pushed against commercial imperatives using the emphasis on individuality, and they contested the viciously conservative cultural agenda that attended Reaganomics. They exaggerated the 1980s idea of self-interest to a point where it could no longer be considered economically viable. Furthermore as attacks were made on reproductive rights, and proper medical attention was denied to people dying of Aids, the singular practices of East Village artists purposefully embodied the social identities that were being marginalized. Jesse Helms used Movement Research Performance Journal #3 on gender as an example of why Federal Funds must be cut from artistic projects. His choice of a publication from East Village Dance demonstrates that artists participated in discussions about what constitutes appropriate social mores.
The Shining achieved East Village mythic status because it relied upon the strong sense of individuality nurtured by the milieu, which engaged in a complex negotiation of politics. While the conservative right was not happy with what downtown dancers were doing, neither was the liberal left. Many of the artists who performed in Meier’s work resisted political propriety as they refused to discipline their representations of marginalized bodies into a socially acceptable claim for rights. For example Houston Jones’s vision of non-heterosexual bodies was found lacking by commentators who sought singularly positive images of gay sexuality. Furthermore, while he was foregrounding the lack of visibility of African American artists in the East Village scene, Houston-Jones also used the experimental context to stage critique of what he considered an official African-American aesthetic or politic within institutionalized modern dance. Huston-Jones brought his choreographing of complex and ambiguous politics to his performance in The Shining. Similarly Annie Iobst’s performance of femininity in the work transgressed protocol on both the left and right. Her character had already been crafted, actually in other work she made with Meier, and most of the cast brought their idiosyncratic practices to The Shining. Political correctness was a set of rules through which the liberal left achieved comfortable sociability in the late 20th century. The Shining exemplified an East Village ethic dedicated to the disruption of political correctness as much as it resisted conservative values.
Contemporary Risks with Audience
One of the reasons that The Shining is such an important work is because of the risks that it took with audience. Yvonne refused to embody a commercially viable model of choreography in her staging of strident individuality. The audience for The Shining were not allowed to ‘consume’ the artistic products of the performers but instead were required to participate in the work as a kind of community. More than achieve institutional success with their work, some of the artists who developed highly individual approaches in the 80s and 90s generated a social milieu in the East Village. The Shining manifested principles that were evident in practices, which supported the cultivation of a communal body of exploration and transgression. Open Movement started in the late 1970s and was neither a performance nor a class, but rather a space in which artists interacted through dance and voice, building a radical culture of expression.
Along with many of the performers in The Shining, Yvonne participated in Open Movement from its very beginnings and she was also instrumental in the introduction to the East Village of Authentic Movement. Practitioners work against judgment of their dance practice in Authentic Movement, resisting their concern about what looks attractive or how they think they should move. In Yvonne’s classes, dancers would engage in behavior that was unusual in everyday life and dance class, and was often reminiscent of cinematic representations of insane asylums. They would press parts of their body into each other, make non-musical sounds of varying pitch and volume, as well repeat actions with relentless obsessive repetition. Practitioners also witnessed each other in activity that appeared inappropriately sexual, aggressive, depressed, afraid or bored. The regular contravention of expressive and interpersonal protocols forged a sociality that transgressed the social mores of the era, and it was this kind of culture that the audience for The Shining were invited to embody along with the performers.
Breaking the fourth wall, and involving audience in a piece of theatre, has subsequently been used in ways that have different social poignancy toThe Shining, and sometimes in ways that do not push against dominant values. Some shows have now achieved commercial success in New York by capitalizing upon the excitement of participation as a selling point. Yet even while it has become more common to position the audience as something other than passive spectators, choreographers have nevertheless continued to find critical tractions in different ways of engaging an audience. This has included working with the social values that are relevant to local contexts beyond the East Village scene.