News from the Edges

By Siegel, Marcia B. | The Hudson Review, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

News from the Edges


Siegel, Marcia B., The Hudson Review


News from the Edges

NEW DANCE IDEAS ARE PRETTY SCARCE FOR THOSE OF US without regular access to the combustible New York scene. There may not be a newdance culture as consolidated as the so-called postmodern dance of the 1960s and '70s, but then, the postmodern dance may not have been as consolidated as it appears in retrospect. Postmodernism dismantled the basics of theatrical dance at the time, but it also opened doors to popular culture, inter-arts alliances, and an aesthetics of the commonplace. Most of its main actors have migrated into film, opera, theater, teaching, and the therapeutic professions. Trisha Brown is the only star post-modern with an ongoing dance company. That evolution says as much about postmodernism's creative potential as it does about the tense economics of art in the twenty-first century.

Most artists would say economics is the name of the game, though. For dancers starting out, there seem to be only two ways to go: place yourself on the ladder to the big time, where you accept the burdens of marketing, fundraising, networking, and packaging yourself and your work toward mainstream visibility; or accept limited resources, work at your own pace, and live below the publicity radar. Not everyone who elects to climb is pandering to the public, and not everyone who works modestly is making creative breakthroughs. But small, friendly audiences don't necessarily crave challenge, and impressive new work does get sponsored by major presenters. The most important things I saw last summer arrived under the aegis of stable institutions-committed dance companies, far-sighted presenters, festivals and funders, or a combination of the above. In July, Concord Academy Summer Stages Dance brought several intriguing new faces to the Boston scene. Marking its tenth season, this small but expanding series of classes, workshops and performances is headed by the area's most progressive presenters, Richard Colton and Amy Spencer, who also run Concord Academy's dance program. In a slightly different format, the excerpted Karole Armitage work, In this dream that dogs me, went on to Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival later in the summer.

Karole Armitage is a case study in tenacity and ingenuity. Now in midcareer, she seems poised at last to make it as a mainstream avant-gardist. Armitage belongs to a generation of ambitious dancers who absorbed the dance revolution as disciples of the first postmoderns, choreographic individualists like Bill T. Jones, Stephen Petronio, Bebe Miller, and Susan Marshall. Armitage crashed onto the New York scene at the end of the 1980s after dancing with the Geneva Ballet and Merce Cunningham. For her notorious early work Drastic-Classicum she handed out earplugs to the audience in anticipation of Rhys Chatham's high-decibel score. After a few years and several decreasingly impressive but media-friendly punkish dances, she quit the New York economic labyrinth and found work with ballet and opera companies in Europe, where it was possible to get prestigious commissions and subsidies. In 2005 she returned to the States with a new company, Armitage Gonel Dance, and a less in-your-face repertory. Critics raved. The company immediately entered the touring derby.

In this dream that dogs me in Concord lived up to the acclaim it received from the New York critics. The five Gone! dancers were predictably wonderful and also, not so predictably, arresting as individuals. They fit the postmodernist ideal of diversity-racially, physically and temperamentally. Armitage's choreography brings out their differences but doesn't build narrative around them. Hers is a dance of almost pure affect. The dancers' interactions read as behavior, but the behavior doesn't add up to role-playing. There's an air of sexual attraction and resistance, but no one permanently attaches to anyone else. Everyone seems to have the potential to be either active or passive, pursuer or pursued, although the women usually seem to get what they want.

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