BWW Dance: Looking Forward to 2013
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by Barnett Serchuk
As I am the so-called new kid on the block and just starting to build a team, it's nice to take a few seconds and reflect on what has passed before my eyes, brain and memory during 2012 and my expectations for 2013.
What I would like to see in the coming year is the creation of new dance works that will take a place on the universal choreographic stage. I don't mean a novelty created for one season that disappears quickly into the annals of dance books. I want a creation that spans the decades. Perhaps because I am somewhat more attuned to the world of ballet I am more sensitive to the desires of ballet lovers, who run the spectrum from the modest and demure to the flashy and outrageous. I like the latter as much as anyone. Who doesn't want to have fun when attending a performance and yell bravo at the end until it seems that the entire theatre is shaking, if not ready to collapse?
But when I consider those universal works and the ones of which I'd like to see more, my thoughts go immediately to George Balanchine's Serenade, a piece that has been with us for almost 80 years. It is always being staged around the world for the simple reason that it unlocks the truths we associate with dance: music, grace, mystery, abandonment and even love. Everyone says that Balanchine ballets lack emotion, they are cold, sparse. But take a quick look at Serenade. What are those three women and man doing together after he is led to center stage with his eyes covered? What does it symbolize? A foursome, a lovers 'argument, a night out with beloved friends? You can make up a story; one can take it as simply the presentation of four dancers doing what they do best, dance! And yet it continues to baffle us. What is behind all this? And that is what I think is missing in present day dance and what it needs: more mystery, more depth and the need to alter our perceptions according to movement, mood and music. More often than not we think dance is about bodies going at each other, lots of jumping, scrambling, hopping-but what does it signify Perhaps 2013 will introduce us to a spate of new pieces that can provide answers.
There are still those who continue to say Serenade means nothing. Ask a teenager who has just seen the work. But to those familiar with the music, who have lived with the many casts over the years, have taken the work home with them in their minds, know what it means: a great work that can signify anything you want. Describe a number of other works like that? Perhaps there will be some waiting for us in 2013.
Dance education is another concern of mine. There is so much outreach, yet when it comes down to nuts and bolts, many young people can't afford the price of a ticket. Companies do offer price reductions and there is always TDF and TKTS, but still we have a very limited public. When I go to many dance performances, whether it is ballet or modern dance, I see a dearth of young people. Where are those young people who once thronged to New York City Ballet ABT, Martha Graham, Paul Taylor and about 50 other companies you can name? While some call this the "graying of America," it is only too true. What is going to happen when those once enthusiastic dance goers have left us? Who is going to replace them? Companies are always looking for new ways to bring in audiences and, to my way of thinking, could be standing on their heads and whistling "God Bless America." It's not going to help. If you want a new audience you must have the funding that allows people to go; without that funding it's easier to rent a DVD and watch a performance at home. It's not the same as a live performance, but with those ticket prices, overheated theaters, train commutes, a great many people have decided to opt out. I mean you can stop the DVD and go to the bathroom without disturbing the person next to you. The same is true now for opera. You can see at least 10 productions of Le Nozze di Figaro. And from New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris and Berlin, no less!
And moreover, where are the new leaders in choreography. Yes I know people will be calling out the names of choreographers who have emerged in the past 20+ years or so. Some have produced excellent work; others have been here and forgotten. Others will continue to receive grants, scholarships, fellowships and whatever else is awarded these days. We will hopefully see a really excellent work every year or two. Perhaps the choreographer and his/her company might get a residency at a college for a month or two. Education will benefit, but not a wide audience.
But what resonance do these choreographers or their works have on the audience? What comes to our minds when we hear a choreographer's name? Many times a shake of the head. I have seen some wonderful pieces, yet when I tell my friends about them they give me a dumbfounded look. Who is this person, I never heard of these new works, where have they been presented: one night in New York or San Francisco? And here is the problem: the choreographer just does not have the resources that a Balanchine had. Never mind the choreographic skills. But the ability to create and have an audience come and reflect on what it has seen. It's called the right to fail. But it seems that we don't even have that entitlement anymore. Perhaps here is the time to honor one person who has been so overlooked in the annals of American dance: Morton Baum. Who? Baum was the chairman of New York City Center and it was he who invited George Balanchine to take up residency at City Center. Who else ever gets a chance like that? Sure many companies have residencies where a choreographer can create perhaps two new pieces a year, and hopefully good pieces. And if they are lucky they will be revived for extended periods. But if you think about it Balanchine created Square Dance, Agon, Stars and Stripes and Gounod Symphony in less than two months. That's quite a track record. And with the exception of Gounod Symphony they are still in the active repertoire 55 years after their premieres. Perhaps we will find another choreographer in 2013 that can surpass this record. That is, if we can find another Morton Baum and a venue that can afford to take risks. But given the economic state, what do you think?
So I want a great deal. Truth to be told, I'm not going to get most of it. Yes, I will see a new work, a new choreographer's name will cause a fuss, a dancer will advance in his/her career (I hope it's Tiler Peck) and there will be more galas, dinners, luncheons, fashion shows and honorable mentions. But in the end what does it add up to? Just a little, I'll admit, but given the state of affairs right now I'll take it. And if a work is created that all companies in the United States and Europe want mounted on their dancers, I say go for it. I want the best for our arts. We all cry for more money and education. And we do eventually get it, believe it or not, perhaps not in the large dosages we would like, but still a bit to try and inspire us to look forward to another year--hoping that the unattainable will be within our grasp.
And my final wish-which will never materialize. To utilize the choral version of Liebeslieder Walzer to give it a fuller, richer sound which would hopefully ignite many of the uninspired performances we have been watching over the years. It's never going to happen, but I can still hope.