Friday, August 6, 2010

Being a "Modern"

If you had to label what kind of dancer and choreographer I am, you could say "modern." It is a vague and all encompassing term, but I use it yet and still. I use it because my movement encompasses the historical trajectory of the word. My training reflects some of the early moderns, those figures who came to define American concert dance - Graham, Humphrey, Limon. In today's dance lexicon however, the movers who hold on much closer to those defined techniques, even with their own point of view, have become "contemporary." With this displacement of traditional techniques to a new word, "modern" is left to perpetually define "downtown dance": post-modernism and its legacy. You know, the crunchy granola kind of dance.

Say what?!

That's how I responded the first time I heard Best Friend use the phrase. Best Friend is a contemporary, ballet, and contemporary ballet dancer. I asked him to explain.

"Oh, you know, the roll-on-the-floor-feel-close-to-the-earth kind of dance."

"Well, that's what I do."

"You're not like them. You still have and use technique."

It felt like the explanation white folks use to explain their token black. "You're not like them."

So now not only am I the token black girl (I've been "oh, so articulate" in predominately white academic institutions for 13 of my 20 years of education.), but I'm the token modern. And let's not even get into where I fit into the "black dance" spectrum. At least, not today.

Choreographers have the pleasure of being able to create movement on their own bodies and have dancers emulate them. It is an out-of-body experience unique to the dancer-choreographer type of art-making. I've experienced this particular pleasure in depth over the past three years, at times making more dances simultaneously than my head and body could really manage. In watching the trajectory of my own work my style and voice continues to crystallize as something uniquely me. My training and experiences in dance manifest themselves more fully with each new work, and I can literally see my particular and entire dance history in the few minutes my choreography is on stage. From beginning to end of a piece I see Sylvie, Ava, Dana, Katie, Karla, Mary, Colleen, Donlin, Sister Gifty, JK, Charlotte, Armando, George...

They are my teachers, the ones who've impacted me most. They are not all "moderns," although somehow all that body knowledge they've passed on have shaped me to be "modern." I thank them for that. The Sydnie-brand of modern dance thanks them for that.

3 comments:

Crystal said...

Like this! We are the sum of all those who touch our lives.

Katie said...

from the Katie teacher:
one is happy when one is useful.
when one is useful, one is thankful.

labeling serves historians, grant writers/givers and critics. Maybe what's happening doesn't yet have a name -- we've been searching for this for years now. Contemporary and Modern are inadequate substitutes -- you'd think that in a world that has both created and embraced the words FAX, WIKI, GOOGLING that we could come up with something that somehow reflects the movement being performed/executed/danced/exhibited/created.

see?

Sydnie said...

@Katie: I should be saying Thank You! It's not only in my choreography that I see the work of my teachers, but also in my teaching. When I was teaching technique class to undergrads, while I certainly found the things I wanted to focus on and my own ways to express that, I also spent a vast majority of the time quoting my teachers. :) I suppose that's the way it goes... How dance traditions are passed down.

To the issue of labeling, you're right that it seems we'd be able to name the perpetually changing dance scene, but maybe it's something we will only be able to name in hindsight when we can view movement trends in a greater context?

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