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 Post subject: Re: Politics and Dance
PostPosted: Mon Dec 29, 2003 1:43 am 
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I hold the opinion that the dance, as a fine art, should not comment on "political issues or influence world events" any more than music as a fine art. If we are speaking of dance and music as a vehicle to express these issues or influence something else, then it is politics and not dance. In my view, dance has a much higher purpose than being subjected to being used as a weapon or political forum. Of course, it is done and has been done, but dance as fine art must not be watered down so much so that it can fit the mold of being able to be used for these purposes. In short, what passes for dance sometimes is an excuse to make a political statement. I do not enjoy this "kind of dance." :(


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 Post subject: Re: Politics and Dance
PostPosted: Mon Dec 29, 2003 1:59 am 
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Kaunis Sisu, do you object when a dance has great artistic value, as well as making a political/social statement, or do you feel that the two aims are mutually exclusive? I feel that Kurt Jooss's The Green Table serves both purposes.


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 Post subject: Re: Politics and Dance
PostPosted: Mon Dec 29, 2003 6:33 am 
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Location: New England
The idea of "fine art" is lot more political than one would think. The classical arts such as dance, architecture and sculpture were paid for by the wealthy aristocracy. These rulers would have their own musicians, their own dancers and their own architects to make their palaces and entertain them.

The content of the art that resulted served to reinforce these peoples' claim to power. Take the ballets, for example: you could tell the lead dancers because they were playing aristocrats; while the corps would play something more lowly like a bunch of peasants or a flock of swans. Again and again, the plots would reinforce the sense of aristocratic legitimacy as well. Look at any of the classical or romantic ballets, you will see that. They never depict, for example, the French Revolution, but they always without fail have political figures.

The same holds true for architecture, not surprisingly. Palaces were designed to be grand statements of the ruler's power, big and imposing.

As music: it was truly escapist. A "little night music" of Mozart's, for example. To the extent that music had deeper meaning, it was always religious meaning. J.S. Bach, for example. But Bach worked for the church, not the aristocracy. Mozart and Hayden worked for the aristocrats.

What I'm saying is that fine art has always had a political message, although in the past that message wasn't very searching. In the 20th century with the rising middle class, we've come to see artists of all sorts come to have a more daring political voice. It is now possible to criticize the ruling establishment and still exist as an artist because funding no longer comes from an absolute ruler. However, this freedom must always be fought for. Consider the constant voice in Congress to cut off national funding for the arts because they so often speak against a conservative social agenda.

In the Soviet Union, Shostakovish wrote a symphony about World War II. He had to toe the party line, although he almost certainly put in "hidden" messages of religious resistance as well. "Ms. Saigon" has a serious political message. Architecture today seeks just as often to reflect the disorientation of modern life as well as the power of the rulers.

And in the non-classical realm, political has always been de rigeur. Folk signers (Pete Seeger, Joan Baez) focus almost exclusively on issues of social change, having first galvanized around the Vietnam War. Since the 1960's, rock music has had a serious political or religious association as well. Simon and Garfunkle. The Beatles. Pink Floyd. U2. Kansas. The list is endless. And then there's rap and hip-hop...

You may not call popular music "fine art". But what are the crieteria used to judge it as not "fine"? Of course a lot of it is junk. But so was most of the music written in the time of Mozart and Beethoven, and most of the dance in the time of Petipa. Only the good stuff gets saved with time. We've already had enough time to figure out that the Beatles made some really great music that will last and last --- at least until I'm 64.

If ballet insists on being escapist --- or on reinforcing a 200-year-old political agenda of the ruling class --- then it will surely become even more irrelevant. Give me daring rock music any day before yet another escapist ballet of nymphs, fairies and kings.


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 Post subject: Re: Politics and Dance
PostPosted: Mon Dec 29, 2003 11:09 am 
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Location: Seattle, WA USA
Piping in with my two cents here and speaking about dance and art in general: I don't think that dance/visual arts has the power to change things or make political points per se. BUT, the interplay between dance/art as commentary on political and social issues,("The Green Table" by Kurt Joos, or "Guernica" by Picasso, as examples) the audience reaction to said work, and the conceptual dialogue that is created between artists and the public at large as a result, can create and/or mobilize political action. I am thinking about the all the public art projects (and modern dance works by Anna Sokolow and Helen Tamiris, to name two)created during the Depression in the US as a result of the WPA. Also such writers as John Steinbeck and Hemingway, throught such works as "The Grapes of Wrath" and "A Farewll to Arms" were able to advance a political "point of view". It would be difficult to quantify or assess empirically the influence of art. This would be an interesting idea for a book, or a dissertation, at least. ;)

<small>[ 29 December 2003, 12:12 PM: Message edited by: trina ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Politics and Dance
PostPosted: Mon Dec 29, 2003 11:46 am 
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Just a note, since it was raised earlier that scientists don't care about the ethical results of their actions. This may be true of some but is most definitely not true of all. Many scientists for example will not work on weapons systems because they oppose them. While it is true that science itself is about facts and not values, scientists do IMO have the obligation to assess the impact of what they do on the planet. I was approached to join a bioweapons project and I refused although I'm sure it was far more pay, prestige and benefits than what I currently do AND I was and am trying to find a better job.

As for dance, it may just be a story. But in some cases politics is underlying (class differences in Giselle, for example) or even explicit: SF Ballet did a performance of The Invitation which shows the horrible impact of rape on a young girl. They did not show it as cute or sexy or male privilege and she did NOT fall in love with the rapist (all scenarios which I've seen in literature) but as a horror and violation intended to destroy her innocence and joyfulness.

Final analysis, all stories are written by humans and reflect their own life experiences and the societies they live in even when there is no explicit politics. A story written today would not hopefully depict girls sitting on the floor rocking their dolls while boys leap around the stage, but at the time The Nutcracker was first staged, and for some time after, that was how girls and boys were depicted and thought of.


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 Post subject: Re: Politics and Dance
PostPosted: Mon Dec 29, 2003 6:53 pm 
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Location: Philippines
I find the comment of citibob relevant, “The idea of "fine art" is lot more political than one would think.” “What I'm saying is that fine art has always had a political message, although in the past that message wasn't very searching.”

In a country with very few resources, its almost a crime not to be conscious of the politics surrounding one’s work. At least, be conscious of that choice you make, that becomes your responsibility as an artist.


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 Post subject: Re: Politics and Dance
PostPosted: Mon Dec 29, 2003 7:59 pm 
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Location: New England
Quote:
it was raised earlier that scientists don't care about the ethical results of their actions
I agree with crandc, the idea that no scientists care about ethical results is a broad generalization, and not true to boot. However, there will always be enough scientists who do not seem to care (or do not choose to investigate) that various nerfarious plots will continue.


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 Post subject: Re: Politics and Dance
PostPosted: Mon Dec 29, 2003 8:39 pm 
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Hi DJB, no, I do not object. And Citibob is correct in that fine art has served many masters and has been used for many purposes but in my opinion, if it is performed by half baked artists and is done in a weak way, then, in my view, it is not fine art but an imitation of what it could be or could express.


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 Post subject: Re: Politics and Dance
PostPosted: Mon Dec 29, 2003 10:46 pm 
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An interesting comment is at the end of this quote concerning art and politics: For the whole story, go to
http://www.mariinsky.ru/en/arch

Quote:
Oleg KHARCHENKO, Chief Architect of St Petersburg, member of the International Competition Organizing Committee: "The International Architectural Competition for the Second Stage of Mariinsky Theater is an unexampled event both for St Petersburg and Russia. It is symbolic that this creative competition takes place in the year of 300th anniversary of the Northern Capital of Russia. Founded as "a window to Europe", the city revitalizes its old tradition of openness towards talented world architecture. At the same time St Petersburg confirms that it is ready to follow the modern rules of the civilized world. And according to these rules an international competition is the optimal way to find a vivid image for a significant public structure. And this is true for the new building of the Mariinsky Theater in the Northern Capital.
Together with the leading Russian masters, international "stars" from the first top 20 world architects agreed to participate in this competition. Last time when a competition of similar representation was held in Russia was in 1931 when Le Corbusier took part in the competition for the Congress Palace in Moscow. The goal of today´s international architectural competition is not to implement some political aspirations, but to reach timeless objectives of developing one of the best theaters in the world that belongs to the world heritage".


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 Post subject: Re: Politics and Dance
PostPosted: Tue Dec 30, 2003 6:35 am 
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Location: New England
The last time we had a national competition, this is what we got in Boston:

http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Boston_City_Hall.html

Now we've spent 30 years trying to fix some of the worst flaws of the building. Someone once noticed it looks like Abe Lincoln's memorial upside-down (look at the back of a penny and compare). Maybe the problem was that the competition was national, not international.


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 Post subject: Re: Politics and Dance
PostPosted: Tue Dec 30, 2003 2:46 pm 
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Location: San Francisco
Getting back to what Citibob said:

Quote:
The idea of "fine art" is lot more political than one would think. The classical arts such as dance, architecture and sculpture were paid for by the wealthy aristocracy. These rulers would have their own musicians, their own dancers and their own architects to make their palaces and entertain them.
The fact that ballet, symphony and opera generally receive more funding (even from the government) than other styles of dance and music is a political statement, indicating that the tastes of the cultural descendants of the old European aristocracy are still considered the most valid.

<small>[ 30 December 2003, 03:47 PM: Message edited by: djb ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Politics and Dance
PostPosted: Tue Dec 30, 2003 3:09 pm 
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Location: new york city
I am going to agree with everyone, especially citibob, and say that art is political regardless of what it is coming out of, insofar as it is (re)enforcing an idea of "what is seeable" and what art is and interacting with all kinds of norms and values that we have surrounding what dance is and what it creates.

There are obviously more political works and less political works. But many times, I've heard people say things like "classical ballet isn't political, it's just PRETTY AND I LIKE IT BECAUSE IT'S PRETTY" and I feel like that's somewhat short-sighted. Even the most classical ballet is discussing norms (the aristocracy, etc, etc); even more than the content is the form, also politically loaded -- what bodies are allowed on stage? Who is doing what on stage and how are different people relating? These are all political messages insofar as they relate to how we see the world and what we consider appropriate for the stage. In this way, I consider them political.

Saying that some dance is "just beautiful, not political" is ignoring the fact that even considerations of aesthetic issues are politically charged and more socially influenced than I think we are trained to admit.

-A


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 Post subject: Re: Politics and Dance
PostPosted: Wed Dec 31, 2003 12:17 pm 
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Location: Where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars
There are so many "good" and real reasons to leave a country like Cuba, which is the size of New York City, whether you're an engineer, a dancer or a machinist. For one thing, you may just want to live somewhere else in the world; for another, you may want to dance with a different company or work in a different environment. Maybe you dream of making lots of money and living in relative luxury compared to the majority of people on the globe. Maybe your family lives here or in Spain, and you miss them. Maybe you are tired of living in an economy constantly struggling against the stranglehold embargo that the country you might immigrate to is callously imposing on your tiny country. Maybe once you've immigrated, you're suddenly so "grateful" for the opportunity to pay $6 a box for four different brands of 35 varieties of cereal made of non-Cuban sugar, air and a tiny amount of wheat or oats, that you're willing to pretend that the government of your adopted nation doesn't go around slaughtering entire populations in countries it seeks to add to its roster of cronies or lackeys to make this choice of "cereal" possible. Maybe you're willing to forget what Cuba did to help such oppressed, exploited and suffering nations as Angola, Mozambique or South Africa, by consciously choosing to send doctors and teachers there instead of, say, manufacturing Barbie dolls or gameboys. Or, maybe, just maybe, like Carlos Acosta, when journalists sniff you out for "admissions" of loathing for Cuba by suggesting that you'd rather be in the USA, you say, "Hell no, I LIKE Cuba and intend to return there some day."

Regarding the debt dancers who leave may or may not feel that they owe, remember, it is not like here. If my child had been a girl instead of a boy here in the USA, she would have had no ballet education because we couldn't have afforded to keep her in pointe shoes AND pay tuition. In Cuba, every child there has a chance at a dance education--not by competing with others of their disadvantaged position for a handful of scholarships--but by virtue of the priority a dance education assumes for EVERY child. Concretely, that translates into working people in Cuba going without certain luxuries that upper middle class people here have two and three of, and throw away and replace on a whim--so that a sizeable portion of the collective wealth they produce can be apportioned to a first class dance education. That's not a debt to Fidel Castro or Alicia Alonso, personally, although there is certainly every reason for that, as well. That's a debt to those who don't disdain to harvest sugar when it's their turn, as I have heard Cuban dancers here complain that they "had" to do. What a small giveback that is for an opportunity that most young people in this country will never have under capitalism.

Art and politics are inseparable social phenomena, and not "stand alone" products of our human evolution. That doesn't mean dance has to be political to be worthwhile, nor that it isn't worthwhile if it happens to be political. We have to use all the same criteria we usually apply--but ideology mustn't overtake any of them--nor, on the other (even) hand, necessarily be excluded.

<small>[ 31 December 2003, 03:54 PM: Message edited by: Toba Singer ]</small>

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 Post subject: Re: Politics and Dance
PostPosted: Wed Dec 31, 2003 12:55 pm 
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Quote:
...I knew that when I wrote these words, the discussion would be moved, as seems to be customary when the politics don't fall into the "acceptable" parameters of liberal discourse.
I think that's an unfair statement.


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 Post subject: Re: Politics and Dance
PostPosted: Wed Dec 31, 2003 2:23 pm 
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Location: Where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars
I'm not so sure it's unfair, given the number of times it has happened, but it is secondary to the main discussion here and that's why I was busy editing it, as you were busy responding to it. :p

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