Monthly Archives: August 2015

PUNC Amok

Could everybody please calm down about naming your company or your choreography? Sure, it’s fun to play around with the punctuation marks on your keyboard. But invented punctuation doesn’t guarantee inventive choreography. It’s just punctuation run amok.

For some people, the regular flow of upper and lower-case font doesn’t project the CONFIDENCE they feel about their enterprise. The solution? All CAPS. We’ve seen it in Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet and MOMIX. Now we’re seeing it in MYOKYO, iMEE, and T(H)RASH, not to mention FULL.STILL.HUNGRY.

Which gets us into another area of Punc Amok: dots gone wild. In the old days, you knew you reached the end of a sentence when you saw a period. Now these dots are scattered willy nilly. Observe Chu. This. , piece.piece, and Kara•Mi.

Marie Chouinard's piece with the complicated title

Marie Chouinard’s piece with the complicated title

Back to the wayward CAPITAL letters. It seems some people are using them as a design element. See the San Jose–based company sjDANCEco, the all-woman company ChEckiT!Dance; Lauri Stallings’ group in Atlanta, gloATL; and possibly the most perfectly patterned use of CAPS,

bODY_rEMIX/gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS, a 2005 piece by Marie Chouinard (or should I say, mARIE cHOUINARD)

 

Then there’s the opposite: those who insist they are too modest to use capital letters at all. Thus we have NYC choreographer luciana achugar, whose name is spelled “correctly” by presenters like New York Live Arts and Danspace but not by publications like The New York Times or Time Out New York that have to stick to style codes.

Some are pushing the envelope of those two vertical dots that are intended to introduce a particular example. I have to list these vertically or else it will upset my colon.

:pushing progress, a company/a workshop

MOVE: the company, in Vancouver

Lang: Music + Lang: Dance., a piece by Jessica Lang

Then there’s the breakthrough discovery of the double colon by Chafin Seymour for his seymour::dancecollective.

One company that’s had to eat its words, or non-words, is Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal. They thought it would be cool to abbreviate their name and put it in brackets. But apparently nobody recognized [bjm] as a dance company so they had to change the name back again.

Justin Peck's Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes, photo @Paul Kolnik

Justin Peck’s Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes, photo @Paul Kolnik

The latest zinger is the title ‘Rōdē,ō: Four Dance Episodes, Justin Peck’s premiere for NYCB last season. It sends writers and editors scurrying to find obscure marks on a keyboard or on the internet. Of course one could refer to the ballet like so: “Rodeo, with long marks on all the vowels, a single quote mark before the R, a comma after the E, and a colon after the O.” By that time, no reader would want to see this ballet, which is actually quite fabulous.

Deborah Jowitt called Peck’s title “diacritically enriched.” So…to feed my ongoing Punc Amok obsession, what’s YOUR favorite diacritically enriched title?

 

 

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“Dance Was Dead” in the 1980s — — Whaaat?!?

Did I read that right? The New York Times’ chief dance critic, Alastair Macaulay, talking about the decade when Balanchine, Tudor and Ashton died, wrote “Dance was dead.” I re-read those three words that appeared in the new online preview called “Dance This Week,” hoping I had mis-read it.

Actually, dance was bursting with life in the ’80s. Performances were bristling with creativity, guts, challenge, inventiveness, and passion. That decade gave us three enduring classics of postmodernism: Trisha Brown’s Set and Reset (1983); Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room (1986); and Bill T. Jones’ D-Man in the Waters (1989). These are momentous works that yield revelations every time we see them, but they came from scrappy environments—the loft spaces, gymnasiums, and churches of downtown Manhattan.

Stephen Petronio and Trisha Brown in Set and Reset, photo © Lois  Greenfield

Stephen Petronio and Trisha Brown in “Set and Reset,” photo © Lois Greenfield

At New York CIty Ballet, Jerome Robbins made the wondrous Glass Pieces in 1983 plus a bunch of other ballets that are still in the rep. He took a collection of his Broadway numbers and created Jerome Robbins Broadway, which won a Tony for best musical.

The Joffrey Ballet was mounting works from Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Their revival of Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring by way of Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer was earthshattering; it triggered much debate.

It was the decade when William Forsythe blossomed in Germany, essentially redefining ballet and spawning scores of young choreographers.

"In the Upper Room" with Pennsylvania Ballet, photo by Candice De Tore

“In the Upper Room” with Pennsylvania Ballet, photo by Candice De Tore

In 1982 Cora Cahan and Eliot Feld established The Joyce Theater, which has presented a different dance company almost every week since then. Brooklyn Academy of Music started its Next Wave Festival, bringing in Pina Bausch regularly since 1984, filling the house with audiences from all walks of life.

The ’80s was when African American dance artists realized they could extend beyond the Ailey mold. People like Bill T. Jones, Ralph Lemon, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Garth Fagan, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and Bebe Miller created searing and/or subtle works that sometimes delved into cultural identity.

Other choreographers who emerged in the ’80s were Stephen Petronio, Ohad Naharin, Mark Dendy, Elizabeth Streb, Pat Graney, and Dancenoise. Dancenoise! Their recent reunion show at the Whitney Museum was so brilliantly uproarious that it could make anyone pine for the ’80s. It was a great decade for feisty women choreographers.

Merce Cunningham began experimenting with video in works like Channels/Inserts and Points in Space while continuing to make remarkable works for the stage. (I loved Pictures and Fabrications.)

Cunningham and Trisha Brown toured Europe, stimulating a vibrant scene in several countries. In England Richard Alston and badboy Michael Clark ignited a whole scene; in France Philippe Deconflé and Maguy Marin and many more were blasting forth with their own style of dance-making.

Dance was everywhere. Site-specific performances brought dance to people in parks, on bridges and at Grand Central Station via dance artists like Stephan Koplowitz and Joanna Haigood.

Sure, a lot of great ballet dancers retired. But we continued to swoon over superstars like Gelsey Kirkland, Martine Van Hamel, and Julio Bocca at ABT; Darci Kistler and Kyra Nichols at NYCB. Sylvie Guillem, with her extreme technique, was ascending to a new level of celebrity in Europe. In the Soviet Union, one of the most supreme/serene/sexy ballerinas of all time, Altynai Asylmuratova, was with the Mariinsky and guesting with ABT.

Yes, Balanchine died in 1983, but Miami City Ballet was formed in 1985 with Edward Villella as director, and Helgi Tomasson took over San Francisco Ballet the same year. Francia Russell was setting Balanchine ballets on Pacific Northwest Ballet, as was Arthur Mitchell on Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Yes, Frederick Ashton died in the ’80s, but he hadn’t made anything of note for quite a while. His signature works date from much earlier: Cinderella in 1948, La Fille mal gardee in 1960, The Dream in 1964, Monotones in 1965, and Enigma Variations in 1968. For Tudor too, it had been a long time since he choreographed his most enduring works: Lilac Garden (1936), Pillar of Fire (1937), and The Leaves Are Fading (1975).

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in "D-Man in the Waters," photo by Paul B. Goode

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in “D-Man in the Waters,” photo by Paul B. Goode

The ’80s was the decade that catapulted street dance onto the concert stage. Toni Basil brought Don Campbell’s Lockers and the Electric Bugaloos to The Kitchen, usually reserved for experimental dance and video. And Michael Jackson’s Thriller—hello!—was released in 1983. Everyone wanted to dance like MJ.

In 1985, tap dancer Gregory Hines hunkered down alongside of Baryshnikov in the blockbuster movie White Nights. Hines was a mentor to child prodigy Savion Glover, who, in 1989 starred in Black and Blue, a kind of precursor to Bring in da Noise Bring in da Funk.

I know that journalists like to make bold statements. But to claim that dance was dead in such a dynamic decade, even as an aside, undermines our understanding of how dance came to be what it is today. Whether one feels enlivened by any particular strain of dance is a personal matter. But dance as an art form is unstoppable. In many parts of the world, it continues to unfold in all its kaleidoscopic beauty and diversity.

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