Here is the L.A. Times story on the July 19-24th Dancing in the Millennium
conference that Sid Hetzler attended. For more information, see conference
and press links at:
Dancing in the Millennium: http://www.artsnet.org/dance2000/
Press Coverage: http://www.artsnet.org/dance2000/pressc.htm
Tuesday, July 25, 2000 |
Dancers Lobby Movers, Shakers
Housed at several locations in Washington, the conference focused on documentation, critical studies, preservation and physiology of dance, with an emphasis on contact between normally insular organizations. It also represented a major lobbying opportunity for the American dance world, an intention particularly evident at the opening advocacy session in the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill early Wednesday, the morning after the Senate approved a $7.3-million increase in the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts. If sustained by the House and signed by the president, this modest increase would be the embattled NEA's first in eight years.
"It's always nicer on the Hill when people from the arts are here," said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), a longtime arts supporter and author of an approved and then scuttled amendment to the Interior appropriations bill that would have increased NEA funding by $15 million. Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.) echoed Slaughter's welcome, emphasizing the role of arts in education--what she called "the connection between the arts and the development of the mind."
The session also included the perspectives of artists such as choreographer Donald Byrd and former dancer Carmen de Lavallade, who spoke about the "imbalance between mind and body" in American culture and how that imbalance cripples dance funding. "Dancers are very silent people," she said, "but they have a voice, and it's time to get noisy."
The conference did its best to comply, with nonstop papers, panels, demonstrations, workshops, town meetings, screenings, receptions and schmooze sessions by organizations as diverse as the International Assn. of Dance Medicine and Science, the Country Dance and Song Society, the National Dance Education Organization, the Society of Dance History Scholars and the Dance Notation Bureau.
As conference organizer and steering committee member Naima Prevots explained, "bridging the chasm between the professional world and the scholarly world" in dance formed the principal motivation for getting everyone together, with the participating groups all interested in exploring the question of "how do we become part of a large force in a small field without losing our identity?"
This investigation of possible unity formed one theme in the wide-ranging keynote speech by Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts. "In an arts world that is often pathologically divisive . . . you have come together," he said, calling for increased leadership, advocacy, visibility and professional development to stop the marginalization of dance in a period of increasing globalization of American pop culture.
As it happened, marginalization and globalization arguably formed the twin themes of the conference--especially the virtual invisibility of dance in American culture, but also the limited voice within dance of various constituencies such as African Americans, gay people and world dance advocates.
For instance, in a bracingly contentious Thursday round-table on dance ethnography, Anthony Shay, founder/co-director of the Southland's Avaz International Dance Theatre, attacked the practice of ignoring the diversity of American dance and dividing the field only into "ballet, modern dance and other." New York teacher-choreographer Uttara Coorlawala further suggested that the concept of "otherness" is so inherently patronizing that only those scholars who can bring dual perspectives (a.k.a. "hybridity") to ethnographic subjects should be writing about them.
British historian Val Rimmer's Wednesday paper on the political and economic implications of the technology used by choreographer Merce Cunningham in "Biped" raised debate about whether or not the animated, motion-capture figures in the work embody Cunningham's negotiation with globalized mass culture--being recognizably human in outline but deliberately sexless, ageless, race-less and classless.
However, cultural globalization seemed less a threat than an opportunity to former California-based impresario-educator Halifu Osumare in her Friday paper on hip-hop. Largely ignoring the inevitable, ongoing appropriation of black youth culture by the American commercial media, she focused instead on the way that culture and its underlying social attitudes are changing people under 25 everywhere. "Hip-hop is where complex issues of gender, race and class intersect" on an increasingly global level, she said, calling the process "cultural adaptation in action."
It would be wrong, however, to imply that all or even most of the conference sessions reflected a political agenda. Some simply, and valuably, updated scholarship in the field, for example the hours on Saturday devoted to dance education as a method of violence prevention among at-risk teens. Or the Thursday talk by New York critic-historian Sally Banes on the Kitchen, a seminal alternative-performance space in New York that, she argued, "profoundly influenced shifts in postmodern dance by identifying, producing and promoting a second generation of postmodern choreographers."
Screenings brought an impressive array of performance experiences to the conference, arguably none rarer than footage of "Excelsior" (1881) and "Die Puppenfee" (1888), two ballets (the former from Italy, the latter from Austria) immensely successful and influential in their time but now largely overlooked by dance historians.
And as England-based 19th century ballet specialist Giannandrea Poesio persuasively argued, "Excelsior" alone can tell us much about the origins of Marius Petipa's 1890 "Sleeping Beauty," starting with a sequence in which four cavaliers from different countries each presented a rose to a ballerina symbolizing the spirit of civilization.
Unfortunately, some of the most tantalizing presentations were scheduled opposite one another, so nobody could see everything. If normal conferences reflect a linear design, "Dancing in the Millennium" resembled more a worldwide dance web or system of links, with nine or 10 possibilities every hour.
Marginalization and globalization arguably formed the twin themes of the conference--especially the virtual invisibility of dance in American culture, but also the limited voice within dance of various constituencies such as African Americans, gay people and world dance advocates.