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 Post subject: Is Modern Dance Inaccessible?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 15, 2001 7:36 pm 
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Liz Schulze investigates in <A HREF="http://www.peak.sfu.ca" TARGET=_blank>The Peak</A><P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>What we consider to be traditional dance, namely ballet, is a lot easier to understand. A clear narrative structure, elaborate sets and costumes, and classical music - as well as ballet's firm establishment in our culture as a "fine" and respectable artform - also make it easier to promote. But, not surprisingly, the thought of going to a ballet is probably just as unappealing to most as the thought of going to a modern dance piece. Quite simply, dance, as an art form, is inaccessible. <P>What I don't fully understand is why. <P>Art is made accessible to an audience when they can relate to and understand it at some level. So why can't we understand or relate to movement?"<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><a href="http://www.peak.sfu.ca/the-peak/2000-1/issue2/moderndance.html" target="blank">more...</a><P>...and comes to some conclusions<BR> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>A few weeks ago, while desperately trying to write a review of a modern dance piece I had gone to see, I instead ended up writing an article on why modern dance is an inaccessible art form. However, I continue to question why that has to be. Imaginative, engaging and electric, I think that La La La breaks this terrible trend. <P>Granted, I know almost nothing about the technical aspects of dance. I couldn't even give you the name of one move from the entire 90-minute performance. But I think that in this case, it actually helped me to enjoy the performance more. Feeling comfortable in my ignorance, I just sat down to see what Montreal's most famous modern dance company had to offer."<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><a href="http://www.peak.sfu.ca/the-peak/2000-1/issue4/lalala.html" target="blank">more...</a><p>[This message has been edited by Marie (edited January 15, 2001).]


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 Post subject: Re: Is Modern Dance Inaccessible?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 15, 2001 9:13 pm 
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This whole discussion reminds me of an article I wrote (but didn't get published) called something like "How does Dance Achieve Meaning". The whole theme of the article was to draw parallels between symbolism and meaning in contemporary dance (I referred mainly to the work of mainstream moderns such as M. Graham, D. Humphrey, Wigman, but updated it to include P.Bausch)and symbolism from 20C psychological theorists such as Carl Jung, Freud, etc. All this long winded explanation really simply means is that contemporary dance seeks to go beyond the everyday, literal stories of ballet, and to a deeper, almost dream-like symbolism (like dreams, often seeming weird, bizarre, containing disparate elements thrown together)which can often evoke in us (audience) a more resonant or evocative experience. Martha Graham, in her journals, often referred to the "collective unconscious" of Carl Jung. <BR>Modern/contemporary often therefore, doesn't seem "accessible" because it's meanings are not "spelled out". It frees the audience to question or develop their own reactions to these symbols, images and often obscure ideas. This frequently makes audiences nervous, agitated or frustrated. We are, after all, the "pepsi generation" raised on television (most of us anyway), used to having hyper-reality thrown in our faces, 50+ channels to choose from. We are not accustomed to thinking too deeply, unless it's a job or school related thing. Am I wrong about this....Am I generalizing....? Could this explain the accessibilty issue with regards to modern/contemporary?


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 Post subject: Re: Is Modern Dance Inaccessible?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 15, 2001 10:00 pm 
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No, I don't think you're generalizing at all, Trina. This paragraph jumped out at me from the astrology review of Montreal's dance scene:<BR> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>"The message for them is they have to have a message. Just being conceptual won't cut it."<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><BR>I think this illustrates modern dance's need for clarity in the dream-like symbolism you describe. It's sort of like writing, where you work from (even Hunter S. Thompson has a thesis) a central idea. This is something that I find gets lost in some modern dance. <BR>Martha Graham was a smart cookie, she used symbols from Greek mythology--recognizable to most people--to investigate the abstract.<P>I think we can still make work that explores other-wordly/deeper concepts but they need focus in order to be read. There seems to be an audience that is looking for works that explore the abstract, weird, bizarre, etc., but unfortunately that audience exists in other arts forms, like film (ie. Trainspotting, Run Lola Run, etc.), or in text, visual arts, etc. Do you think that greater clarity could draw those people to contemporary dance or do you think that the body is the body and its ability to portray the abstract/bizarre and so on is unattainable with a performance realm?


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 Post subject: Re: Is Modern Dance Inaccessible?
PostPosted: Tue Jan 16, 2001 10:44 am 
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Audience reaction to viewing the body in live dance is tricky. The body is so concrete a symbol, and everything is taking place in real time. Therefore, unlike film and other mediums you describe, it's difficult for the audience to think abstractly when they see the bodies doing things. They can't "separate" from it.<BR>I agree Marie that there's way too much vague, fuzzy and poorly constructed modern/contemporary dance out there. Is there more now, or is it just my imagination? (I've been going to see modern performances for well over 20 years now!!!--yikes). When I taught choreography I was really a stickler for clarity and structure. Not that you can't use improvisation or very loose structures, but at least know what the rules ARE, before you break them.<p>[This message has been edited by trina (edited January 16, 2001).]


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 Post subject: Re: Is Modern Dance Inaccessible?
PostPosted: Tue Jan 16, 2001 11:29 am 
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I enjoyed Marie's and trina's discussion and agree that somtimes the message isn't clear or easily grasped. I often feel better about a piece if the choreographer speaks before or after---perhaps guiding our interpretation; yet some actually welcome multiple interpretations or themes. Generally I try to enjoy the movement, music and staging as it occurs and the moral or message upon review, or a subsequent viewing. I have been an avid fan of dance performance for nearly 35 years---at least 22 years for modern---much of which I have come to enjoy more. I do get more selective as I age---actually shunning some companies or choreographers I don't enjoy.


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 Post subject: Re: Is Modern Dance Inaccessible?
PostPosted: Wed Jan 17, 2001 5:20 pm 
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Trina, I'm just throwing this out here but, do you think that if the body is a concrete symbol that it can't evolve in contemporary art? Is this why dance is so stygmatized in the contemporary art world? I often question whether making dance is even relevant anymore, but I keep at it because my gut tells me that there's something to it, I just can't figure it out yet.<P>I've only been going to see modern dance for about 6 or 7 years now so I don't know if it's more vague than it used to be--from what I can compare to video I have seen from the 80s I think some choreographers have deconstructed to the point of obscurity but others have become better versed in technical aspects of contemporary dance, giving it better clarity at least from a pure movement standpoint.<P>wroginski, I don't blame you for writing off stuff you don't like. That's something I have found very odd in dance--compared to other artistic disciplines like music--the idea that you should attend performances of things that don't entertain or interest you. Not that I don't think it's worth seeing someone's work at least once or twice, but sometimes I have seen shows of long-time choreographers that were not very inspiring and have wondered if the audience was actually made up of anyone other than the 3 f's: friends, family and free-bees.<BR> <BR><p>[This message has been edited by Marie (edited January 17, 2001).]


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 Post subject: Re: Is Modern Dance Inaccessible?
PostPosted: Thu Jan 18, 2001 10:47 pm 
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<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>For me, at least, modern dance is just about the movements themselves, and about watching the human body do things I couldn't do without years of training. (And, with the start of my Introduction to Contemporary Dance course, I am definitely gaining a better appreciation for the difficulty of what these dancers can do.) Dance is never inaccessible; instead, it just asks us to take a better look at the human body and its capabilities.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P>The writer of the article gets there in the end ie don't worry about a meaning just let it wash over you and then see what it evokes for you. One aspect of the Resolution! season is that the Director John Ashcroft is always around in the Intervals for people to talk to, as a number of those attending may be coming to modern dance for the first time. His basic message is to ask the people what it meant to them and then reassure them that theirs is a valid view.<P>I sometimes think of modern dance as as technique, but as part of the modernist aesthetic, there are those links to a string of ideas from early 20th C abstraction through to abstract expressionism and beyond. Bear in mind that the random processes that Merce introduces into the work inevitably detach it from narrative. Thus it is unsurprising that much modern dance is ambiguous or narrative free.<P>I heard last week about the N. American art philosophy trend whereby 'pure' modern dance like Cunningham has a higher status than narrative or emotion based dance. That is an unappealing view for me as works like Christopher Bruce's 'Ghost Dances' or the various explorations of relationships have as great a resonance as pure dance pieces. In terms of making modern dance more accessible, it is these latter works that can provide a way into the movement vocabulary which may then open the door to more abstract work.<P>It's interesting that the same writer was so impressed by 'Salt'. My impression at the London performances was that the non-dance audiences enjoyed it a lot, whereas the 'usual suspects' got tired after 20 minutes. I can remember being very impressed by La La La.... back in the 80s, albeit in shorter bursts than the 90 minute theatrical pieces. Thus, despite their lack of narrative thrust, they may be another way for new audiences to come to modern dance. Works such as these and groups like Momix are important in my view. Otherwise we will continue to have modern dance audiences, where, if you removed the dancers, dance students and dance administrators, ther'd be 6 people left in the thatre. And they are the performers' family and friends.


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 Post subject: Re: Is Modern Dance Inaccessible?
PostPosted: Fri Jan 19, 2001 7:52 am 
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Marie..I didn't quite understand the first sentence of your last post..."the body as a concrete symbol evolving in contemporary art". Could you expound a bit?..I THINK I know what you mean.,.....but not completely sure. <BR>Stuart..I agree with your approach of letting the choreography "wash over you" before make judgements, or assessing meaning. Also agree about the statement of abstract modern being more "in vogue" than mainstream or narrative modern. <BR>I think we're at a funny place right now in dance; we (society) need live performance art, ie dance, more than ever. With the advent of cyberspace, video, etc. we are becoming more isolated (physically) from each other, so live performance is a unique chance to "connect" on a number of levels---but yet we have to work harder and harder to find and draw our audiences into the theatre....Here in Seattle, for example, there's so much competition for audiences. A zillion small theatre and dance companies, numerous sports teams, music venues, etc. A presenter has to be very imaginative to "find" their audience.


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 Post subject: Re: Is Modern Dance Inaccessible?
PostPosted: Sun Jan 21, 2001 10:28 am 
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By a concrete symbol I was trying to say, in a roundabout way, that we basically know what the body can do, what its movement potential is, i.e., you can do higher jumps or more turns, etc., or just reduce it to pedestrian movement (as we see in the post-modernist movement) but after that...??? How do does dance continue to develop in the sense of contemporary art if dance is bound to it's inflexible human form? I know you can adapt it through the use of technology, but in the performance context, is it relevant as an expression of contemporary text and ideas? (Btw, I think it is, it's just something that I'm trying to nail down in less abstract jargon.)<P><p>[This message has been edited by Marie (edited January 21, 2001).]


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 Post subject: Re: Is Modern Dance Inaccessible?
PostPosted: Wed Jan 24, 2001 4:11 pm 
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<P>Although, searching for symbols, such as those identified with Freud or Jung for example, offers its own rewards that 'search', in my opinion, legislates rather than describes what we see in a dance. Additionally, it seems too limiting, to burden the stream of a dance with rough symbols and their portentous meanings. In a sense, that dance then shares the unhappy fate of the beetle in Wittgenstein's box; it drops out of the picture and becomes unnecessary as a reference, as a bearer of meaning and our pleasure. On the other hand, at least for me, the pleasures of dance viewing indeed flow, gush, or cascade out of the details often obscured, dismissed, or distorted by such non-aesthetic critical views based on Freud, Marx, and Jessie Helms. The accessibility of any dance work depends; it seems to me, on choreographic craft, including the choice and ordering of movement and the mating of that with the stated literary concept - if present, with the music, etc. However and just as importantly, the accessibility of a dance also depends on the critical reparatory of the viewer and that viewer's effort at applying them. <BR>


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 Post subject: Re: Is Modern Dance Inaccessible?
PostPosted: Wed Jan 24, 2001 5:28 pm 
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Freud, Marx and Jessie Helms, lol! Image<BR>If dance is partially dependant on the "critical reparatory" of the viewer and people generally relate and respond to "rough symbols" (i.e. they won't go see contemporary dance but they will go to sporting events) then isn't contemporary dance a dying art form? How can choreographic craft alone bridge that chasm? Is that why ballet succeeds, at least in its recognizability within the public milieu?<p>[This message has been edited by Marie (edited January 24, 2001).]


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 Post subject: Re: Is Modern Dance Inaccessible?
PostPosted: Thu Jan 25, 2001 12:17 pm 
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SE, you hit the nail on the head--meaning and legibility often are pre-determined by the imagination of the viewer. Having said that, do we need to pander to the "lowest common denominator"? Every visual art form does not need to modelled on pop-culture icons--television commercials, slick advertising and sports hooopla. The artist must go wherever his imagination leads him/her, communicate with an audience on whatever level seems appropraite to them and hope for the best. I DO agree that in modern there is often a dearth of craft and editing, or as the great modern dance pioneer Doris Humphrey said in her book "The Art of Making Dances"----"all dances are too long". But ballet has it's own foibles...all too often, (in my opinion) a poor ballet, story line or "foggy" contemporary ballet libretto is covered up with beautiful arabesques, split leaps and double tours, for no apparent reason, other than they look "nice" or they have dancers who can do those things. As Martha Graham, once said, when asked about the different "styles" of dance: "There is only two types of dance, good dance and bad dance".


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 Post subject: Re: Is Modern Dance Inaccessible?
PostPosted: Thu Jan 25, 2001 1:28 pm 
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Welcome SE Arnold to the board - good to have you with us.<P>I hesitate to speak in this forum because I am so very ignorant of modern dance. However, (she went bravely on) as I sit and glance through the above posts, it seems to me that the modern dancers are decrying the state of modern dance, while the ballet dancers decry the state of the ballet. <P>Could it be that dance - most all dance - just always seems to struggle - for lack of audience or funds or appreciation - <P>We seem to always be lamenting lack of good choreography - or in the case of ballet - standards - or imagination. Perhaps that is our place in life to never quite be happy and yet the art form we all espouse is such a delightful one. <p>[This message has been edited by Basheva (edited January 25, 2001).]


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 Post subject: Re: Is Modern Dance Inaccessible?
PostPosted: Thu Jan 25, 2001 6:01 pm 
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Good points Basheva, there are a lot of similarities between ballet and contemporary dance in terms of audience development and funding.<P>However, I think that if you show someone a picture of a woman in a tutu and pointe shoes and ask someone on the street "what does this person do for a living and could you demonstrate?" they would answer "ballerina" and do the usual thing where they stand in some kind of half-demi releve with their hands on their heads simulating a crown or something (I never could figure out why the general public thinks dancers are trying to poke themselves in the head like insane birds). If you show a picture of a person in a unitard or some other kind of dancewear in barefeet or street shoes, the average person on the street may guess 'dancer' but would have a hard time telling you what they do or giving any kind of demonstration. That doesn't mean that ballet is faring any better in terms of audience or funding, I just think it's more recognizable as a dance form.<P>Trina, I don't think dance has to pander to what's commercially popular but if we just "hope for the best" then are we justified in asking the general public to suport what we do? Or is it appropriate for dance to only exist within a tiny milieu of people who appreciate it? The reason I'm asking is dance is a performance art, created for public space. We don't make it with the intention of performing it in our living rooms. So is modern dance inaccessible?<p>[This message has been edited by Marie (edited January 25, 2001).]


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 Post subject: Re: Is Modern Dance Inaccessible?
PostPosted: Fri Jan 26, 2001 10:48 am 
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Marie--I think accessbility takes time..both for any individual choreographer and for a culture at large. Example:There's the story of Martha Graham, as a very young performer, had a family friend come backstage to visit her after viewing her show (this took place in the l920's and l930's) Anyway, this friend said "Martha, that was just dreadful. How long do you intend to keep doing this"?. To which Martha replied, "as long as someone will come watch it". Well, as we can now appreciate, we're GLAD Martha kept doing what she was doing, because her work, and the acceptance of her work, changed and evolved radically during the course of her own lifetime. By the end of her life, big ballet stars like Fonteyn, Nureyev and Baryshnikov were performing her work. Cultural icons like Halston and Liza Minelli became her friends, supporters and collaborators. First Lady Betty Ford (at that time), a former Graham student, was also a major supporter and benefactor. Graham was lucky in that she lived long enough to see all this happen. Not all of us will be/are that lucky. I think my bottom line point is that last year's controversy may be these year's "mainstream" choreography. What is second-rate will fall away over time anyway.


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