DANCE; Art for good: the importance (for oneself) of being Isadora

Nor is it surprising that American popular culture has often appeared more vital, or at least more uninhibited, than its scholarly counterpart. It is now a dusty cliché, if none the less true to be overused, that much of what was characteristic of American art in the 20th century came from sources long considered unacceptably plebeian. In any list of artists whose work suggests something essential about the American temperament, Fred Astaire and Count Basie are as likely to feature prominently as, say, Aaron Copland or Helen Frankenthaler. You should also not feel uncomfortable at the idea of ​​bracketing such superficially dissimilar characters, who all know how to say serious things without falling victim to the curse of heaviness.

It took some time for modern dance choreographers to break free from this curse, but Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor – both, in this case, alumni of Martha Graham’s company – finally pulled it off. It’s surprising (well, no, it’s not) how many dance enthusiasts still distrust Mr. Taylor, mainly because his job, while serious, is never heavy. ” Speaking of death, ” he once said to me in a disturbingly good-humored tone, ” I think someone should count the number of my pieces that somehow another can connect with death and disintegration! But I don’t see death as a terrifying monster. It’s just another of nature’s ways. ” And that’s how it’s described in “ Company B, ” the witty war dance set on old records by the Andrews Sisters who More and more resembles Mr. Taylor’s masterpiece: War is terrible, but it is something that human beings do and always will do. The soldiers die and the lovers mourn them, and the rest of the world continues to dance.

Having seen a lot of art of all kinds since 9/11, I’m in awe of how many things have spoken to me the most, from ‘Urinetown’ to ‘Ghost World’ at the Ben Katchor’s exhibit The “illustrated stories” currently on display at the Jewish Museum were either entirely comedic or echoed the bittersweet taste of Mr. Taylor’s best dances. I even saw a very timely play that managed to strike the same balance: “After the Storm,” Heather Grayson’s richly involved one-woman show about her misadventures in Operation Desert Storm, in which she briefly commanded. an army demining unit. . Not that defusing landmines is inherently funny, but for all the intensity of her acting and performance, Ms. Grayson went out of her way to make us laugh at the myriad follies of military life, throwing in the heart-wrenching parts of it. of his experience in stillness. higher relief.

Like-minded dance fans got a chance to get a second look at Mark Morris’ “Gong” during the City Center season of the American Ballet Theater. A wonderful piece in its own right, ” Gong ” also contains two speckled parodied pas de deux, both danced without music, which are a reminder that Mr. Morris, like Mr. Taylor, is one of those rare birds that can be serious with smile. It will be a comfort to have his company back in town in February, when I think we will all be in great need of his special gifts.

Then there was also George Balanchine’s ” Symphony in C ”, which received its long-awaited debut at the Ballet Theater. Few other modern artists working in any medium have had Balanchine’s eerie ability to transport the attentive viewer to a more ordered universe of romance and grace – and humor. So it was with ” Symphony in C ”. As the curtain rose for the ten-thousandth time on this familiar scene of women in white tutus posed in front of a blue backdrop, the world was felt to return to normal – just what all the experts assured us would never happen. . It reminded me of an Edwin Muir poem, “Reading in Wartime,” which argues for sonnets on larks:

Boswell’s turbulent friend

And his deafening verbal quarrels,

The death of Ivan Ilich

Tell me more about life,

The meaning and the end

From our familiar breath,

Both being personal,

That all the carnage can,

Find the form of man,

Lost and anonymous.

Of course, there is a parallel argument to be made for seriousness: surely it’s people like Isadora Duncan who make the world go round. But who would want to shop around if they were also doing all the art? Henry James, the most witty of serious men, made this point in an 1893 letter to his friend Edmund Gosse. The occasion was the publication of ‘A Problem in Modern Ethics’, John Addington Symonds’ excruciatingly serious pamphlet calling for a change in public attitudes towards homosexuality. “I think,” said James, “we should wish him more humor – it really is the saving salt. But the great reformers never have it. “- handsome.


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