[Author's Note: I wrote this piece August 2010 after seeing the performance mentioned. I hesitated to post it then because I had recently dealt with a lot of flack for a few race-related entries. I decided to publish it now finally, because I think it is a nice follow up to the previous post: it examines the "neutral universal" of American modern concert dance.]
Since its inception in the early 1900s, American modern concert dancing has been dominated by white women. Almost 100 years later, I left the Joyce Theater feeling no different.
Four women choreographers shared the bill: Kate Weare, Camille A. Brown, Andrea Miller, and Monica Bill Barnes. I enjoyed the concert and the work itself was varied and dynamic showing a generation of female choreographers who are as creative with their movement as they are insightful with their concepts. But I couldn't help but feel like Brown was not just the token black choreographer, but the token choreographer for all races/ethnicities being represented more or less in the mainstream. In addition, I generally feel choreographers choose dancers who reflect something in themselves, and as such, the most diverse cast was Brown's (including several black women and one asian male).
I think about Urban Bush Women's director Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, who is dedicated to telling the stories of women through dance and does so in major venues such as the Joyce Theater and Dance Theater Workshop, in addition to traveling the world as an ambassador of the US government. But who are the other female choreographic voices of color? I know they exist. Where are they? Why haven't they been highlighted and brought to the forefront in some of the more established venues for modern dance?
I should clarify that I am speaking of women who are creating their own traditions and teaching their own styles and techniques. I certainly know women of color who are doing this. Hell, I dance for one of them - Christal Brown, and another who comes to mind is Sidra Bell. But when I think of not only those creating work, but also teaching in places generally visited by the NYC modern dance population (such as Dance New Amsterdam) most of them are white.
I find it hard to believe that only white women aspire to make work and teach on this level. For black choreographers, have they been relegated solely to the black dance community? Is this true for Asian-American choreographers? Is it just that modern dancers of particular races/ethnicities only support one another?
Then I think about the Ailey company who employs choreographers and dancers of all races, genders and creeds. After all, it is the "American Dance Theater" and it represents the melting pot well. But then I wonder, Why is it that institutions and choreographers of color tend to be dedicated to a diversity of artists, while white choreographers only seem to fill a quota so we [critical audiences] don't look at them like O_o?
What is more, after seeing 3 out of 4 works that afternoon which were majority lily white, Bill Barnes' work which dynamically closed the show, did so to a James Brown tune.
Ruth St. Denis and Isadora Duncan are among those credited as early pioneers of the American concert tradition. They took their shoes off rebelling against the ballet tradition, and developed individual movement voices; however, their individual movement voices often including borrowing from other traditions, a lot of ethnically "other" traditions. Bill Barnes' use of "Get Up" to illustrate and emphasize the unrequited sexuality of four white women is just the latest in a long line of cultural borrowing to make some really interesting - dare I say? - "white" dance.
At what point will the forefront of the American modern dance tradition not be synonymous with white women? When and how will the rest of us be more equally represented? Or is it true that they simply outnumber us in the field?
Was it just a coincidence that this program included 3 out of 4 white choreographers? Are other women of color not creating work on this level, or not at this point in their careers yet? Why is it that after a century things don't seem to have changed much?
And if things have not changed, why is that? How can we change the landscape? (i.e. how do "others" get funded and produced?) How can we diversify the voice represented in modern dance?