The Homogenization of American Dance

At first I thought it was my imagination. I spent a week last summer in Chicago at the Chicago Dancing Festival watching a dozen companies, of all genres. The ballet companies were doing modern pieces, the modern companies had ballet slippers on for some pieces, the jazz company now does modern – it was a complete mind swoon. But after my recent visit to Jacobs Pillow, seeing Pacific Northwest Ballet, I can definitely say that the dance companies, on this continent anyway, are all doing the same kinds of dance pieces. And although they make look more versatile to a recreational dance fan, I think it’s not doing much for their likability from my seat.

Really, it’s little wonder when the cost of doing business is high and the audience base is relatively small, that these companies all want to be everything to everyone. Add to that the small number of choreographers that are working and setting pieces on modern, ballet, and jazz companies. Unfortunately, just because you’re well-trained doesn’t mean you can do everyone’s choreography well. I did not think PNB is the right company for dancers to be doing pieces sans shoes. Their feet do not ’embrace’ the floor the way they should and their torsos do not contract organically based on the energetic impetus that I expect to see in a modern piece. That said, I was even disappointed the last time I saw Ailey do Revelations. EEeeek – where did all those contractions go? Ya know, the ones that were choreographed into the piece.

The only ballet piece PNB did do was without tights which I’m not opposed to and the dancing was definitely their best piece on the program, but it was also the only point piece they did. They closed with a Nacho Duarte piece that was 10 years old about slavery. I won’t even go into why white folk might rethink dancing a piece like that….. the topic was exhausted in my circles long ago as in I don’t teach African Dance and my counterparts don’t teach ballet. I haven’t done the work to deserve to speak to those experiences.

So I might suggest the same to these companies. Can you respectfully speak to and carry the history of these genres or are you faking it for the money?

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