Urban Choreography

This semester I’m teaching a new course. I’ve hesitated to teach about dance too directly, worried about scaring off students. I’ve usually chosen subterfuge, putting in articles or footage about dance into courses on New York, the 1930s, or the arts and social engagement. In Urban Choreography, however, dance has a more central place. We’re looking at Trisha Brown’s Man Walking Down the Side of the Building and Roof Piece (featured above); discussing Annie-B Parson’s prose-poem The Choreography of Everyday Life; and we’ll be moving with Andrew Suseno in Union Square. What is it that dance—both formal and informal—reveals about urban life? 

What rich research and ongoing conversation was the Accumulation conference! It primarily featured young scholars moving the field of dance history to greater insight and reach. Presentations ranged from movement and dance at HBCUs to the intricacies of creating a living archive of dance to the political economies of avant garde dance–and university dance departments! My keynote picked up on some of these issues. 

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The field of dance history has evolved so much over the last 30 years. Where is it now? What kinds of research does it encourage? Where do embodied research and archives fit into the field? I’m honored to give the Keynote address at this conference on December 8 alongside other scholars asking and answering these questions. (Info here.)

Choreography as Directing

My essay on Jerome Robbins as a director has just been published! It’s in an inspiring anthology edited by Harvey Young, The Great North American Stage Directors v.3, which looks at the work of Robbins, Elia Kazan, and Lloyd Richards, with contributions by Young, Stuart Hecht, cfrancis blackchild, Everett C. Dixon, and Sandra G. Shannon. To be a choreographer is to be director, Robbins ever in charge.

If dance is a kind of knowledge, what kind of knowledge is it? What are the power relations between a moving body and a speaking body? Who has the right to dance what? What does it mean to repeat choreography?

These questions frame the construction of Netta Yerushalmy’s monumental performance project, Paramodernities, which debuted in 2018. And from May 4-9, the questions and conversation will move online, with daily streaming of an installment followed by commentary and chat with noted theorists and artists.

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I revisited the research for my first book in this talk for the Peoria Fine Arts Society on February 13. It’s always useful to think about why dance matters.

I ended the talk with this:

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Deconstructing Fosse

I’m delighted to be part of a special issue of Studies in Musical Theatre devoted to dance and edited by the fabulous pair of Joanna Dee Das and Ryan Donovan. I took the opportunity to recount the process of putting together the installment on Fosse in Paramodernities–and what it meant to include Fosse alongside Graham, Balanchine, and Ailey.

Critic’s Pick: “How solid is this show…”

So says the New York Times about the Robbins exhibition (full review here)! There was also an article in The Times of Israel; a clip on WABC-7 with Sandy Kenyon (also appearing in 6000 cabs!); another on CUNY-TV’s Arts in the City; an Instagram story with New York City Ballet’s Adrian Danchig-Waring; and a poignant account of remembering a beloved dance instructor–and former dancer in West Side Story–through the exhibition.

Robbins’ New York Portraits

My remarks for the program on Robbins’ New York Portraits at the Library for the Performing Arts with Adrian Danchig-Waring, Justin Peck, and Ellen Bar.

The exhibition upstairs perhaps best reflects my thinking about the ties between Jerome Robbins and New York, but I thought I’d offer a few more specific to the study of New York. As I hope the exhibition proves, Robbins was quite the researcher, an observer of human habits and habitation. Since he lived his entire life in New York, inevitably that research included the city itself. In fact, I think artists such as Robbins deserve to be put alongside urban planners and policy makers, sociologists and architecture critics, for their ways of revealing how cities work. Read more…

More Robbins

The Robbins’ events continue: a discussion at the Gotham Center with Carol Oja on Bernstein and Robbins; a showing of snippets of Robbins’ dances on the theme of collaboration (with composer, dancer, camera, community); and a talk with Adrian Danchig-Waring and Justin Peck on Robbins’ New York Portraits. Come!

I never met Jerome Robbins but I feel like I’ve been living with him for the last few years. What he left behind–the letters, diaries, ballets, musicals, photographs, film footage–makes possible that conundrum. And this library and the extraordinary people who make it live have created a home for Robbins and for people like me. Read more…


Conversation is an integral part of Netta Yerushalmy’s conception of Paramodernities. There’s a performance of dance and words and then a conversation about it all. Broad questions hover above as titles running atop the stage: Who has the right to dance what? What power does a moving body hold, what a speaking body? What does it mean to repeat choreography? These questions are woven through the performances themselves and then addressed in conversation with the viewers. Read more…


The world premiere of Paramodernities occurred last week at Jacob’s Pillow. What a whirlwind! Preview article of the project in the New York Times here; reviews of the series here, here, and here. Most anecdotal commentary I heard: “this was so interesting.” Netta got us all moving and thinking. What a tremendous privilege to be part of it all.

Back to Dance

Perhaps you can never really leave it. But dance has become more central in my life again this year. Primarily it’s because of my collaboration with Netta Yerushalmy in her Paramodernities project, and also my time at the Center for Ballet and the Arts, and just more conversations with dancers. What strikes me most about this return is how much has changed in the years I’ve been studying dance. Read more…

Paramodernities #5

I’m returning to a previous life as a performer…. I’m delighted to be a part of Netta Yerushalmy’s Paramodernities #5, a performance piece on Bob Fosse. Dance, text, spectacle, sex — what more do you need? We’re previewing the piece at New York Live Arts on May 11-12, tickets are $10; more info here. The world premiere of Paramodernities will be at Jacob’s Pillow this summer from August 8-12; more info here.

Will I dance?

Voice of My City: Jerome Robbins and New York

In the ballets Fancy Free, Age of Anxiety, and Glass Pieces, and especially the musical and film West Side Story, 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.

On view at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center from September 26, 2018 to March 30, 2019; a digital version of the exhibition is available here. Photo NY Export: Opus Jazz (NYCB).

Paramodernities #5 (Fosse)

Dancer/choreographer Netta Yerushalmy’s Paramodernities is an experimental project that bridges dance, critical theory, performance, aesthetics, and history. Julia Foulkes joins Yerushalmy’s project as the writer/speaker on the installment on Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity. Fosse created an iconic style–of turned-in feet, cocked hat, and jazz hands–and that style circulated through Broadway and Hollywood and lives on in music videos. The style also illuminated the edges of modernism, poised between high art and abstraction and commercial popular culture.

World premiere of Paramodernities at Jacob’s Pillow, August 2018.

Don’t Stop and Criticize–Go

Dances at a Gathering (1969) is one of Jerome Robbins’ most acclaimed ballets. Danced to Chopin, it is a meditation on relationships and what is revealed when people move together, alongside one another, in companionship. Robbins is rarely sweet—and that’s a word that may be too close to saccharine for it to have a less tainted meaning—but there is an innocence in this ballet that feels unweighted by drama. And drama is something that Robbins is well-known for, both in creating tension and meaning in dance, and in the process of choreography. Read more…

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.

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…


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.