10. The Frozen Standard of Yesterday: Reactions in Dance Today

Pardon my absence, I’ve been sick plus had my University’s opening dance season PLUS I’m writing cover letters and resumes like a madwoman… It’s been busy, but here is my musing I wanted to tackle last week.


 

If there’s a handful of intelligent female writers I admire the most in dance, it would be: Deborah Jowitt, Joan Acocella, Arlene Croce, and Wendy Perron. In this musing we have Perron, in all her personal and direct honest glory, talking about the dance world.

I picked this article, Homans and Taylor: Going Backwards?, to compliment an older article from the Seattle Times announcing Peter Boal’s decision to put-down PNB’s Maurice Sendak/Kent Stowell’s Nutcracker by next year and replace it with George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker.

The issue at hand: some people in power are freezing ballet to the standards of yesterday while unacknowledged others are expanding like the universe with new unique creations. Those creations often go undervalued in favor for, say, Balanchine ballets, aka the universal cream of the crop. Why is there a retraction or disassociation by iconic ballet and modern dance leaders in the face of the new contemporary explorations of today?

It seems to me that both Homans and Taylor want to stop time. Clearly when she wrote the notorious last chapter of her book Apollo’s Angels (posted as “Is Ballet Over?”  in The New Republic in 2010), she was mourning the loss of Balanchine. Her book judges all of current ballet against that frozen standard. But it’s a different time now and we’re seeing an explosion of vibrant experimentation from Crystal Pite, Helen Pickett, Akram Khan, and many more.

I will mention again that I come from the followers of Hawkins, learning from professors who have trained directly with Erick Hawkins and his closest friends. His fundamentals echo in my body thanks to my dance training at Texas State University, and it has also started to vibrate my mind open to what is history and what is the future of dance. Words like impact, preservation, and transcending strike me with this kind of issue.

Because, let’s face it, Hawkins is not the first nor second or third or fourth modern dance pioneer that gets mentioned in conversations about dance today, I must explain my undergraduate dance training A LOT. I get multiple “Who?” “Why?” and “Weird!” comments when I discuss what it is we do at Texas State and who it is we “follow.” Even from key modern dance movers and makers, Hawkins training and the Hawkins Dance Company are not on the same level as what Graham and Taylor companies are today. And I agree, Hawkins today could stand for change and adjustments, maybe for this immediate company a technology face-lift on the Web?

My motto I came up with when I was a junior is, ‘Look at Hawkins for not just the past, but in how we can make the future’ because, really, any of the serious dance performance and choreography majors from Texas State, with their Hawkins background, will be able to thrive in their established  healthy sphere while dancing many other forms and styles. How many dancers can boast that kind of safe mental and physical diversity? And this is what makes this one modern technique/fundamental/style of the past relevant for the future and part of dance today.

But on a larger scale, this is what dance is facing when we have leaders who refuse to budge and don’t marry the past and future with the present (leaders as in people who are influential and generally known inside and outside of the dance world). Homans is one example, as Perron points out. The Center for Ballet and the Arts… how excruciatingly hopeful but wrapped around isolating ice. I want this center to work and thrive, but it will never amount to anything with the attitude that Ballet, with a capital ‘B’, is set apart and first from all of “the Arts.”

The description of the Homan’s Center for Ballet and the Arts makes it clear that it will elevate ballet, albeit in collaboration with the other arts, as the form of dance worthy of serious study in the university.

While it’s necessary and wonderful to preserve existing art forms, it seems to me like these two initiatives are going backwards, holding on to a time that is past.

Does one center in NYC set up by a Balanchine worshiper (Miss Homans) for the privileged NYU few (cause I doubt it’ll cater to low-income students from lesser known universities across the U.S.) really mean to “save” ballet from death? What is missing here is the acknowledgement that there are so many choreographers and students who are ACTIVELY doing this! In universities, in professional companies, in the streets and studios of the world. The workers and thinkers of dance are already there, in the present! Today!

I have one such name, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. (SEE FEATURED PHOTO) I’ll do an entire video review on one of her thrilling ballets later, but know this, she is in the same vibrating earth as Wayne McGregor, Akram Khan, and all other associated contemporary ballet choreographers. She is making ballet for today with her training from yesterday, and not wasting time exhausting the importance of one dance form or dance icon over the other.

The future of ballet shouldn’t be frozen in time with Balanchine, or Ashton, or Petipa! Yet, here we are, living in a world “still mourning the loss of Balanchine.” As a dancer, I would hate to be entirely and solely trained in the Balanchine “technique,” but I do admire those trained dancers, and I have strong personal aesthetic connections to Balanchine ballets and history. That said, I don’t condone this generations’ Mr. B favoritism in major ballet companies across the globe. It’s childish and naive and detrimental to the future of ballet; while at the same time, if it were to disappear, it would be disastrous and unfortunate for the historic importance of ballet.

PNB’s 1983 version of the Nutcracker is, on a personal note, the first ballet I ever saw (on TV, UPN, channel 20, during the winter break of my second grade year to be exact). So, of course I do want it to be annually performed for other young people to see and adore. Hibernating this ballet in favor for the money-inducing Mr. B version is an insult.

I respect Boal SO much for all that he has helped maintain and created for PNB, but this is not a positive in his career. Just because Balanchine is “such a reassuring and comforting name,” does not mean that the genius combination of Sendak and Stowell is any less important. They both need to be performed in different companies; they both need to survive.

And more artistic and interesting versions of the Nutcracker need to be produced for companies to house. Ben Stevenson’s The Nutcracker is one such more recently created ballet that I get to enjoy thanks to Houston Ballet adopting it over the Balanchine version or a lackluster revised “after Petipa” addition.

Is it really only about money and rising the revenue for Nov-Dec showings of the Nutcracker? No.

Is The Center for Ballet and the Arts going to discover the key to saving ballet with and for those assumed other arts? No.

I wish dance could and would join the past and the future together for the chances of creations in dance today. And to acknowledge those who are doing this RIGHT NOW. We’ll get there, in time.


For the two articles I mention:

http://seattletimes.com/html/thearts/2022886565_pnbseasonannouncementxml.html

http://wendyperron.com/going-backwards/

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