I’ve been away. I’m back. But I’m also VERY busy. I’m graduating in May, but I have a short amount of time to extend to this blog. My current mantra is: I have my entire future to write reviews, previews, and critiques; I only have these last few months to dedicate my writing 100% to research and academic essays/my thesis. Let’s begin, shall we.
Along with ever-annoying talk about the death of dance, there will always be talk about how the classics of dance are doomed. In this musing, I want to address this “doomed state” in classical modern dance alone. My main thoughts do focus on Hawkins fundamentals and the EHDC, but I’m learning that everything in dance has a common connection to the greater problem. (I won’t even go into what that greater problem might be; that’s left to my undergrad thesis!)
What do the American companies of Graham, Hawkins, Ailey, Morris, Taylor, and Limon have in common? They have to deal with an audience that dedicates more passion to an entertainment icon, like Maddie Zielger, than historical preservation, presentation, and promotion of classical modern dance.
Yes, a Morris dancer graces the cover of Dance Magazine this month in all her posed, Morris-flow classical beauty, and, yes, MGDC just started their season at the Joyce with more buzz and hype than many years of the past. But the damage has been done to classical modern dance and we, as dancers, must rise to the occasion. Unfortunately, it appears that the general audience will take its time to help this dance form recover while they continue to Thumbs Up those Sia videos in a frenzy.
Katherine Duke’s reign as Artistic Director to the EHDC began in 2001. She’s a direct descendant of the Hawkins fundamentals and a defender of passing on the torch to perspective university dance programs and professional companies alike. (Note, she’s held many workshops and master classes at TXST as well as Shay Ishii Dance Company in Austin,TX.) Yet, what makes EHDC “doomed” is the lack of funding and lack of 21st century innovation that MGDC and MMDC have mustered rather quickly. The company has come a long way since its 1951 start, but it has yet to make it into the hearts of millennials.
Another issue, the idea of “suchness” is nowhere near as appreciated, nor understood, as some contemporary dance ideas such as “whack-it” or “over-splitting.” I’m not saying that one is greater than the other; I’m asking for the adding of the historical back into dance and the contemporary to reach the past. Just like the public where young and old members need one another, the classical and the contemporary need each other in order to A.) survive and B.) expand.
I think a wonderful example, besides the two obvious ones mentioned above, of this blend and sharing of past and present for the future can be seen in Alvin Ailey American Dance Company. They are on Facebook. They are on Instagram. They are nearly always on tour; AAADC is living for the future.
Also, their constant reputation as a necessary technical training for most contemporary dancers– ballet to broadway– is remarkable. I can’t imagine a single dance major who would turn down the chance to go to one of their workshops, let alone audition for Alvin Ailey II; they are simply required.
Not only that, but the AAADC updates their rep with worthy and competitive pieces that attracts audience members from the newer generation; the generation that, honestly, matters the most to classical modern dance companies (or any dance company for that matter). They also tour to places that aren’t exclusively in or around New York or California! (They actually come to Texas multiple times!) AAADC also receive a generous amount of funding per year, but that is mostly the reflection of attraction they continue to work with; their everlasting image.
As choreographer Shen Wei has said in a recent, and wonderful, New Yorker article about modern dance, ““I know in Western culture there is great reverence for the new and the innovative, and that is what makes this culture so energetic and vibrant. Yet I wish there were more reverence for the past.” And with that, Paul Taylor Dance Company becomes the Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance Company and we continue to see stunning MGDC collaborations and Morris creations (likely until his imminent death). We see this historical artfulness next to Youtube videos that become viral sensations thanks to an manic general audience, trained in glamorizing the immediately entertaining.
But we are missing a section that matters to dance. Let’s make Hawkins matter again. No, let’s make all “doomed” dance techniques and choreography regenerate for the 21st century! Stop focusing entirely on egotistical entertainment dance and start learning, living, and contributing to the historic art of classical modern dance.
For more on Erick Hawkins Dance Company:
For more on other classical modern dance companies:
I strongly promote these articles: