Reading Dancing


Ann Daly’s Critical Gestures: Writings on Dance and Culture (Wesleyan University Press, 2002, $19.95) contains essays and reviews originally published from 1985 to 2001 in sources ranging from The Village Voice to The New York Times, High Performance, and TDR: A Journal of Performance Studies. They position Daly as a significant contributor to the evolving critical discourse. She’s been on the frontlines during the past two decades, and this collection touches on all the growing pains of a period that saw ethnographic and multicultural forms become commercial successes in American arts programming and identity politics enter the mainstream, while contemporary dance itself, according to Daly’s mentor Marcia B. Siegel, was in a “fallow period.” The volume is divided between Daly’s reviews of specific performances, and scholarly analyses of choreographers (Pina Bausch, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane, et al.) and her theoretical/historic concerns, including several pieces on her previous specialty, Isadora Duncan. Daly stakes an occasional risky opinion and can write a fine sentence, like this one referring to Arlene Croce’s infamous 1995 New Yorker “victim art” review: ” ‘Discussing the Undiscussable’ was Croce’s way of taking her marbles and going home, because artists had dared to move from the 1950s to the 1990s without requesting her permission.” But what about that “fallow period”? This idea reeks of the privilege of academic distance. Perhaps neither Daly nor Siegel has been in a dance studio lately. None of the choreographers I know waste their time wondering how they can manipulate the scraps of the historical avant-garde and pop culture into the next big thing. —Chris Dohse

The “journey” Igor Stravinsky and George Balanchine jointly undertook, fully explored in Charles M. Joseph’s new Stravinsky and Balanchine: A Journey of Invention (Yale University Press, 440 pp., $40), transfigured modern music and dance through a dynamic complementarity that aimed to make audiences “see the music” and “hear the dancing.” Joseph argues that Balanchine’s “facility as a deftly skilled, astute, all-around musician” and Stravinsky’s “enthrallment with dance,” along with their pre-revolutionary Russianness, created a bond empowering them to forge their own artistic revolution. Together they freed ballet from the trappings that still smothered it in the new century, and slew the superstition that dance could not accommodate great music. More strikingly, as Joseph convincingly shows, they liberated ballet and its music from drama by producing works whose impact lay in their structure, not their libretti. The greatness of Apollo and Agon, collaborative masterpieces three decades apart, derives not from theatrical storytelling, but from their balletic and musical architecture, with poetically inspired rhythmic motifs binding the musical and choreographic blocks into a whole. They transformed ballet from a narrative spectacle into an art form of dynamic lyric power, and the genius of Joseph’s book is the intensive attention it gives four major collaborations: Apollo (1928), Orpheus (1948), Agon (1957), and Stravinsky Violin Concerto (1972). Joseph has a musicologist’s ear, a balletomane’s eye, a scholar’s thoroughness, and an amateur’s devotion to beauty and discovery, and he writes clear, entertaining prose. He sensitively details Balanchine’s “almost unconditional submission to Stravinsky,” a savvy deference to his imperious mentor that enabled their collaboration to prosper. When Balanchine makes Violin Concerto, the now dead Stravinsky unable to gaze over his shoulder, his uncharacteristic show of pride—he tells his dancers it is “his greatest accomplishment”—provides a most moving moment in Joseph’s fine, essential book. —Jay Rogoff

A film on these two artists, Music Dances: Balanchine Choreographs Stravinsky, appears at the Dance Film Festival January 17 and 18 at the Walter Reade Theater.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 7, 2003

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