Global Swarming

Is It Time To Move Beyond Multiculturalism?

In the vanguard of modernism, any new commingling of forms needs its cheerleaders to encourage and educate a confused audience (John Martin for modern dance, Clement Greenberg for abstract expressionism). So has multiculturalism needed this initial period of advocacy from presenters and curators. Now it is time to move on, to transcend the commodification of the exotic.

Clifford Geertz has written that he is distressed by the modern world, finding it "fluid, plural, uncentered, and ineradicably untidy." Perhaps multicultural programming, instead of rectifying art history's narrow focus, has really been an attempt to tidy this mess with pigeonholing and categorization.

Choreographer Donald McKayle was multicultural long before it was fashionable. Like Jawole Willa Jo Zollar of Urban Bush Women, his work incorporates the global community as an extension of his personal vision, not because it looks good on a grant proposal. A mini-festival within 1998's Out of Doors focused on his 50-year legacy, allowing him to emerge from Alvin Ailey's shadow. Dayton Contemporary Dance Company showed three of his early works, two of which have become modern dance classics: 1951's Games and 1959's Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder. The Limón Dance company, for whom McKayle now serves as "artistic mentor" and resident choreographer, performed his new, somewhat derivative work, Heartbeats. This suite of dances to a selection of global music traversed familiar McKayle terrain: virtuosic execution of eloquently earthy, universally humane themes.

McKayle's dances have always celebrated hope and the human heart, while unflinchingly showing painful sides of the American black experience (urban grit, Southern chain gangs). His career spans Broadway (five Tony nominations), film, and concert halls, both as a dancer and choreographer. His autobiography, slated for publication next spring, will hopefully stake him a larger, deserved legacy in American dance.

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