Around this time during the past several years, I find myself thinking that my work is out of fashion, out moded. Usually, I don’t know what causes it – a slowing down of activity, seasonal depression (this is Seattle after all). What triggered it this time, however, was an invitation from Zoë Scofield and Juniper Shuey to attend their APAP showing at The American Realness Festival. The details are unimportant in many ways but what struck me about the invitation and set me off was how aware I was of a shift in aesthetic tastes as evidenced by the artists that are the “real Americans”, those included in the Festival, Miguel Gutierrez, Ann Liv Young, Luciana Achugar, Layard Thompson, Jack Ferver and Jeremy Wade. Some of it is generational of course and of course I am not only another generation but also fall into another set of aesthetic values category as well… Wow, I think to myself — this is what old feels like!
The problem is that there is a tendency to think of these aesthetic shifts as absolutes; that generational shifts in perspectives are truths and not just a truth but permanent and absolute truths. Yes, these shifts are indeed real but just like dance they are ephemeral, transitory, and temporary. And like fashion or trends, well, even life itself, they will again shift, change and be different…
Last week in the New York Times Roslyn Sulcas and to some degree an unaccredited author in the Financial Times while writing on the Judith Jamison 20th anniversary celebration as artistic director of the Ailey Company, repeatedly vomiting out and regurgitated the same half digested stale old rhetoric about the mediocrity of the works commissioned and revived by the company under Ms Jamison tenure. What they both failed to recognize is that those works in many ways represent the dance fashion of the time that they were created, pieces from the “ready to wear collections” of the choreographers, if you will. And like padded shoulders and thick eyebrows they were meant to be no more than what they were, popular and the look of the time. They help to sell the company; they brought audiences in to the theaters and put butts in the seats. And like the perennial Nutcrackers that populate our stages at this time of year, they delighted some and perhaps help to whet the appetites of a few for something more substantial. If these choreographies did not meet the “classic” test, well most things don’t, but they served their purpose – they made the Ailey Company the most well-known and successful modern dance company in the world!
Ms Sulcas concludes,” But the depressing conclusion to be drawn here is that, in the main, the choreography challenges neither the dancers nor the audiences. It’s even more depressing that everyone seems to like it that way.” I say – Who said that fashion or entertainment was about challenges? What Ms Sulcas and other like-minded critics might value might be of no value to Ms Jamison and the supporters of the Ailey Company and the opinions of such critics might be like people deliberately and continuously farting and fouling the air during a birthday celebration of a beloved relative.
Now back to my original thought. If my work or aesthetic values are outdated, do my past work and my current work have value? Do I need to dress-up what I do differently in order for its worth or content to be gotten or appreciated? Another set of questions might be: Is much of the American dance works currently in fashion today devoid of “content”? But rather the aesthetic packaging is the content? Its stylishness, its construction, its cleverness, how it’s accessorized (video, text, celebrity artists collaborator), its intellectual conceits, and its total visual appeal might be “the point”?
Perhaps what is most valuable for me in all of this thinking and wondering is – none of this has anything to do with why I do the work I do or whether I will continue to do it. I get value from what I do and the dances I create and there appears to be others that get value as well. During my 33 years of making dances I have found myself many times, to paraphrase Heidi Klum the host of Project Runway, being out one minute and in the next minute. But it has never been auf Wiedersehen.