CSA Paper

Lucky me! A friend of mine from NYU is curating a panel at this weekend’s Cultural Studies Associate Conference at Columbia College Chicago and they last minute had a speaker pull out. So, I will be presenting a paper Friday at 2pm.

It is titled Life after Death: The Immortal Body Politic of the Not-for-Profit Dance.

My abstract is below if you are interested. And if you’re around Chicago Friday afternoon, come by and hear this amazing panel curated by Elliot Gordon Mercer. The panel is called Critical Moves: Theories and Politics of Dance. The other papers are: Elliot Gordon Mercer’sReconstructing the Disappearing Dance Archive and John Joseph Trenz’s Jon Chu and theLXD: Empowering Everyday Dance Abilities Through Extra‐Ordinary Discourses.

ABSTRACT

Since the beginning of the 20th century, both modern dance and ballet have been negotiating the respective threat and promise of institutionalization. Despite its inherent opposition to many early modern dance intentions, institutionalization has offered a more stable way to produce work. The largest and most successful dance institutions in America all share in the same structure, created around and for a singular personality whose name and persona quickly became synonymous with the institution itself. The problem addressed in the following pages is that of the life of these iconic American dance institutions after the passing of their figurehead. When the visionary and sole choreographer dies, what is to become of their institution and all that it entails? Fighting against Peggy Phelan’s ontology of performance, its innate disappearance, the disappearance of the famous face further complicates notions of future and preservation of the past. Survived by his/her company, this unnatural distancing of bodies creates a potent tension between artistic direction, artistic output, preservation of past and a business need for financial solvency. Both the bankruptcy of The Joffrey Ballet and the Martha Graham Company’s copyright struggles in the early 90‘s are in marked contrast to the Merce Cunningham Company’s June 2009 public announcement of a “Living Legacy Plan.” These will serve as historical jumping off points into the abyss of mortality that both defines the artist and continues to haunt the American dance institution.

 

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Dance Magazine Emerging Choreographers

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Just cracked open the April issue of Dance Magazine. The editor’s note reads:

What do we mean when we say emerging choreographer?
“Put in the best light, though, I think “emerging” means you still have the energy of a novice but you’ve got a few choreographic notches on your belt. You’re making discoveries with every endeavor, with every performance – and you’re still not sure where your next gig is coming from.” – Wendy Perron

Hmmmm? Sounds like just about every choreographer. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a choreographer, even the most established, who doesn’t fancy himself still “making discoveries” and worrying about where the next paycheck is coming from. Emerging can be a pretty permanent state under this definition. Maybe this is a larger reflection on the field of dance as a whole – always changing, always discovering, always nervous about money.

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CORD Questions

Back to Chicago from Tallahassee and the Congress on Research in Dance. The final session of the conference was a sort of Dance and Dance Studies State of the Union. I wanted to share with you some of the questions that were brought to the group. There was an amazing discussion that ensued. I’d love to hear any thoughts you might have. If you have any ideas that you are willing to share, email me at lizzieleopold@gmail.com

How might academia make better use of the Internet both in research and teaching?

How has the competitive “mindset” that we see in all arenas of dance affected, changed, impaired creativity? In an era of shrinking dance venues and shrinking dance journalism in the print press, does it compel dancers/choreographers to adopt more commercial modes of presentation?

Have university research and teaching practices been altered by new forms of screen dancing (youtube, etc.)?

Why the presence of more conceptual performance-art and more competitive, commercial dance without the in between?

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Stars, Stripes and Choreography

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As I write this, I am in my hotel room in Tallahassee Flordia. I’m here for the Congress on Research in Dance Special Topics Conference, Dance and American Studies.

I am presenting a paper on Friday ondanced nationhood. It is titled Stars, Stripes and Choreography: The American Flag and American Modern Dance. I’m looking at Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A with Flags (1970), Ann Carlson’s Flag(1990) and Alexandra Beller’sus (2007) to interrogate the repeated choreographies of the American flag. I could talk about these there works for days. But I must confess, I have never seen Trio A with Flags. I have seen Trio A (on video, of course), but I believe the flags version was only performed once and documented only in photographs. Carlson’s work I have seen on video – not in its original cast, but a re-staging on the University of Michigan dance department. Ironically enough, Alexandra Beller was a student at Michigan at the time and appeared in Carlson’s piece. Her work, us, I’ve seen on video and could watch a hundred more times. (The picture is of her work and it is gorgeous).

Here’s the intro. Email me with any thoughts!!

November 9th, 1970. Judson Memorial Church is hosting the “People’s Flag Show” to protest flag desecration laws (Lambert- Beatty 210). Choreographer Yvonne Rainer has re-envisioned her seminal work Trio A, now calling it Trio A with Flags. For this reinvention, Rainer and five other dancers tied American flags around their necks, stripped naked, and performed the Trio A choreography twice through (Lambert-Beatty 210). Joining a long history of choreographed celebration and interrogation of nationhood, Trio A with Flags serves as a jumping off point into this conversation about contemporary choreographies of the American flag.

Bringing together the government regulations surrounding the American flag with a close reading of three dances – Rainer’s Trio A with Flags (1970), Ann Carlson’s Flag (1990) and Alexandra Beller’s us (2007) – I find the recurring presence of the flag on the contemporary, American modern dance stage a loaded and compelling partner for the dancing body. Each happening almost 20 years after the last, these three works help denote both a history and a trajectory of a choreographed nationhood – a simultaneously looking backwards and forwards. With the inextricable closeness of dance to the body and of the body to the ideas, histories and politics of nationhood, it is nearly impossible to imagine a dancing body devoid of nationality. Yet nationhood within the moving body is as slippery and malleable as the flag itself. By using the physical flag, these three choreographers are working to understand their American bodies and situate them within a national history and a cultural canon. The moment in which Rainer, Carlson and Beller felt compelled to create these works has past and the dances have long since disappeared. Reflecting back, my work within this story feels like looking in a mirror at a mirror – reflections compounding reflections, looking behind and past myself. This is a giant game of situating bodies within an existing conversation. And the flag, in its materiality and symbolism, can help cushion the stutters and stumbles.

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The Process

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I wanted to share a little bit of our process since we premiered Voyager and have an opportunity to reflect on our work.

One of the ways I like to generate choreography is to improvise in front of a camera and then pass the video along to some of my dancers. Their job is to translate my crazy movements into their own bodies. It’s much like a game of telephone and the product is anything but predictable.

Using YouTube Double (a simple website that plays two youtube videos side by side) I have uploaded video of Nicole dancing a Bach solo that was part of  Voyager. Next to it is the video of myself improvising that was Nicole’s blueprint. Take a minute and watch the two side by side. The different qualities and textures in the two versions are fascinating (as are my ridiculous socks).

My version is floppy, relaxed and calm – with lots of challenges to my shoulder girdle. Nicole’s version is much more polished and balletic. Her energy is stronger and more decisive.

I just thought this was interesting and worth sharing. Steps are a lot easier to learn from a video than intent. I guess my next task is to work on translating quality from my virtual body to my dancers live bodies. Sounds like good, hard work!

WATCH THE VIDEO

(Just a quick technical note. If you click on the link and the two videos don’t start simultaneously, you probably want to reload the page. The videos are most interesting side-by-side if the dancers are synched up choreographically.)

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