Dance

Mod in the Park

The dancer-choreographer Netta Yerushalmy has undertaken a project right up my historian’s alley: she is re-imagining the work of modernist choreographers such as Alvin Ailey, Martha Graham, and Vaslav Nijinsky. Even more up my alley: she’s pairing the dance with on-stage commentary from scholarly folk. There’s a conversation about it all at Madison Square Park on August 12, and I’m looking forward to being a part of it. More info here.

The Voice of My City: Jerome Robbins and New York

In the ballets Fancy Free, Age of Anxiety, and Glass Pieces, and the Broadway shows West Side Story and Gypsy, the choreographer and director Jerome Robbins created indelible images of New York. This exhibition marks the 100th anniversary of his birthday and charts his insatiable quest to understand, depict, and belong in the city—his home and his muse.

Opening at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center in September 2018; photo NY Export: Opus Jazz (NYCB)

A Center for Dance

Yesterday I gave a talk at the Center for Ballet and the Arts about other centers–City Center and Lincoln Center. The tangled relationship between these two institutions reveals the ideals, politics, and challenges of the arts in New York, especially for dance. In short, ballet won at Lincoln Center. Both the New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre have their home there. Other forms of dance (modern, Ailey) and smaller ballet companies (Joffrey) have found their home at City Center (as well as at the Joyce, Dance Theater Workshop, Danspace Project, etc). Read more…

Ballet Class

Today the fellows of the Center for Ballet and the Arts took a ballet class given by Melissa Barak, another fellow. CBA boasts a beautiful studio on the ground floor of Cooper Square, but the shades are always drawn. (I wish they would be open occasionally—ballet on the street—but I was grateful they were not today.) Jennifer Homans, CBA’s founder and director, believes that to understand ballet we have to start with class. Read more…

Center for Ballet and the Arts

The Center for Ballet and the Arts (CBA) at NYU had an auspicious debut in September. There were the necessary calls to high ideas, grand plans, and donors to thank. But the center of the evening was a ballet class, taught by Mark Morris, with dancers from his company and American Ballet Theatre. What an odd – and exhilarating – experience. Read more…

Kyle deCamp, Urban Renewal: A Multimedia Solo

The choreographer, performer, urbanist Kyle deCamp performed a piece on urban renewal on Tuesday, Sept. 23, at 7pm, at Barnard. I participated in a panel after the performance, along with Robert Beauregard, Reinhold Martin, and Mabel Wilson.

Kyle de Camp’s Urban Renewal brings together personal narrative, history and memory, with acuity to movement and place. This is a theater piece, but de Camp began her career as a dancer, and I think that perspective seeps through the entire project. Moving through projections on the floor and up the back wall, de Camp puts herself into outlines of her family home. Sketches of furniture move; rooms scroll up and away; she is moving in place. Read more…

Bodies in Motion

As shocking as the balloon nudes of Matisse and fractured bodies of Duchamp were, at least they stayed on the canvas. There bodies remained odd, perhaps unsettling but still. Bodies dancing on stages and in dancehalls outside of the Armory Show, however, were vibrantly – even dangerously — on edge. At the time of the exhibit, a dance craze was sweeping the nation, lifting young men and women off their feet, toward each other, and in pursuit of pleasure and escape. Read more…

“The Rite Of Spring”

Spring 1913: artwork that caused outrage, derision, acclaim, and confusion. Movement never seen before: feet pounding, torsos thrashing, limbs akimbo. Sounds never heard before: violins used like drums in relentless pulsation, full orchestra instrumentation loud and moaning, little melody or harmony to blunt the onslaught of percussion.

Now considered a masterpiece. Read more…

Sailors, Fancy Free

Exhibition Object and Text, Masterpieces of Everyday New York: Objects as Story (Kellen Gallery, Shelia Johnson Design Center, The New School, 2013)

In the ballet Fancy Free three sailors burst onto the stage, liberated from duty for a short leave. Leaning against a lamppost outside a bar, they wait for the city to happen. A woman passes, and action begins. Three ply their charms on her, one tires of the game, and another woman saunters by. Competition grows between the three men for two women, resulting in dueling solos. The fight amongst the sailors takes over, the women realize they have been forgotten and stride off, and the men find themselves where they began, waiting for something to happen. A third woman saunters by. Read more…

Seeing the City: West Side Story and New York

The movie West Side Story opens with an aerial panorama of New York City, starting from the southern tip of Manhattan with a view that encompasses the divide and coming together of the Hudson and East Rivers, moving over the concentric circling entrance ramps of the Triborough bridge to the dense skyscrapers of Midtown, patterned scape of Columbia University and Stuyvesant housing complex, and then following the diagonal cut of Broadway in the grid to swoop down to the street, to a worn concrete basketball court. The Jets begin snapping their fingers. Read more…

Celebration

Part of “This is Your Exhibition,” on view on 3rd Floor, 66 W. 12th St.. Image source: MoMa 

I grew up loving ballet, hating modern dance. Ballet was beauty and grace personified. Modern dance was so defiant and earnest. Wasn’t art about transcendence? A course in feminist philosophy in college, however, shifted my perspective. Now I saw ballet as frivolous and modern dance as ideas in action. At the center of the shift: forceful, demanding, jumping women. Celebration indeed. Read more…

Dance and the City

Festschrift for Rüdiger Kunow (2013)

All great art is born of the metropolis. — Ezra Pound

For some years now I have been pondering the ties between cities and the arts. This pondering began from one of those seemingly random questions in the oral defense of my dissertation on the development of modern dance in the United States in the 1930s. As I was articulating the Americanism of modern dance, a committee member asked, “But is New York American?” With a righteous New York manner, I defended the Americanism of my new home, contrasting its immigrant and ethnic pluralism with the homogeneity of the often valorized heartland. But I knew his question uncovered something I had not thought enough about: that the dancers I researched and wrote about almost all lived in New York, even if they toured the United States and sought national acclaim and nationalist meaning in their dance. Read more…

“My Feet are Again on This Earth”

in African American Art and the Julius Rosenwald Fund, ed. Daniel Schulman (Spertus Museum and Northwester University Press, 2009)

“My feet are again on this earth,” the dancer Pearl Primus exclaimed upon receiving word in May 1948 of the Rosenwald fellowship granted to her, “and my preparations and plans are being made with great care.”i Dancers regularly leap off the ground and Primus was well known for her gravity-defying jumps–but the wonder in Primus’s exclamation expressed another kind of buoyancy: encouragement and financial support to a genre of the arts that was most often fueled by sheer determination. Read more…

Miss Hill

Appearance as a guest speaker in Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter

A formidable administrator and advocate, Martha Hill fought to establish modern dance as an art form that deserved a place alongside ballet, opera, and the symphony, not only in the annals of American art but at Lincoln Center.