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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Modern Dance

I've come to love modern dance, however I used to have an awful aversion to it. There were very few pieces that I liked. I didn't connect as an audience member and I didn't know why. Therein, I dismissed modern dance for a great while. I wasn't going to fake it and say, "that was amazing!" when I had no idea what I had just seen. I could certainly recognize the timing, strength, and skill of the dancers, but I couldn't find what compelled the choreographer to design the piece.

Last night I was exposed to a text for a performance piece. The playwright read the piece and I assume that it was at the tempo and rhythm she desired to perform at. Her four, double-spaced pages took nearly eighteen minutes to read, and mired in amongst those pages were vivid, dreamlike imagery as well as detached, intellectual phrases. And finally, after years of thinking, I discovered what made "good" modern dance (but not an absolute as the arts are subjective. (Yes, I just created a clause to my thought)).

It's the story. I will say that modern does not always necessitate a story or journey, but it was my biggest hang up.

Now, I've called it out before that I didn't get the story. However, for a long while I beat myself up for thinking I wasn't smart enough to get it. That it was too intellectual (A-HA!). That this performance style didn't have to have a story. That dance was an exploration of the body and an exposing of the mind, however tangential. That there must be some other value or component that I missed, right? I did the same thing with theatre. When something avant guard is on stage as a performance piece I at least want to see a story, or a theme, or a lens to look through at culture or society. I want to see something that is going to connect me as an audience member or at least take me on a brief journey. Heartless, soulless, selfish theatre is something that I do not want to see (or make).

That is also to say that in any performance I need to see the connection between body and emotion, and from that comes the intellectual. Read any of Chuck Mee's works and you will find a lens, a theme, and a story. While you will discover how disconnected his pieces may appear on the surface, I think you will find that there is a story to be had throughout (not to mention a theme and context). I will say that I have not read all of his works so perhaps there is an exception to my rant here.

All this musing is to say that I've been thinking a great deal about Beckett and Muller in juxtaposition to musicals and melodrama. How do we find connections in a disconnected script? And how do we ask the audience to come along? How far can we take them? This is what makes modern dance so human.

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