Thoughts on So You Think You Can Dance

Two nights ago I finally watched So You Think You Can Dance for the first time. It was kind of great, and to a degree, I can see what people are attracted to. Some of the dancers were amazing--all of them, really, had mindblowing talents, like unreal flexibility or beautiful acrobatic skills. What made the program a lot less interesting to me, though, were the frequent and long commercial breaks, and the ridiculously indulgent comments by the show's judges. Those two things combined took up about 2/3 of the show's time, and were a definite disincentive to watching again. 

What also didn't attract me that much was the flashy style that most of the dancers had. Even in their solos, they all moved fast, way too fast for me at least to absorb what they were doing. And most of them were so young--or so fame-seeking, or something--that their movements didn't have a lot of resonance or umph to them. Just watching perfect splits, poised arabesques, and backflips gets old after a while. I'm not sure what I was seeking, exactly--maybe some sort of depth of feeling--but I think when it's present, it's what makes dance art, rather than just sport. 

The show made me wonder again what people would think if they saw our Human Landscape Dance rehearsals. I'd already been toying (hypothetically, of course) with the question of what it'd be like to make a documentary of a small penniless modern dance company, one that's concerned with art and aesthetics in a way that's pretty foreign to most Americans. The other day in rehearsal, the three of us were working on a new piece that has us rollling across and down a wooden ramp that Mac built. The movement is extremely slow and subtle, and maybe it doesn't appear to observers like we're doing much. But it's not easy to do: I have to use all of my powers of concentration to stay aware of exactly where my body is in space, and which area needs to initiate movement next so that I can continue to move seamlessly. It's almost like a moving meditation, and I'm sure it's helping me grow as a mover, somehow. But it's about as far from So You Think You Can Dance as you can get. No flashiness at all--we're just humans being humans, albeit in a kinetic way. 

Comments

art is personal?

as ever, amanda, i enjoy hearing you articulate what i see as a quest for the substance, the juice, in dance.

there's a quote which i found, in someone else's quotes collection, which begins to get at something that's important to me:

 

It is the assumption of this book that a work of art is a gift, not a commodity.  Or, to state the modern case with more precision, that works of art exist simultaneously in two "economies," a market economy and a gift economy.  Only one of these is essential, however: a work of art can survive without the market, but where there is no gift there is no art.
-- Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property

i might go further, and suggest that the most compelling art, that with the greatest staying power, is that which actually matters to the artist - that in which they hava a personal involvement totally aside from the value as property.  i'm not saying that personal engagement ensures substantiality, but rather that when a work is not particularly personally engaging for the artist, that is a fatal flaw.  the performers that can do fantastic things while still conveying the sense of a real, vulnerable person doing and experiencing those things, are rare and transcendent.

and to turn that around, and maybe come to what i see as most essential, that personal engagement is what i see as the most essential reason to do art in the first place.  substantial opportunities for development and deepening of one's own sensibilities are too rare in the world - and they can help make for more full participation in the world.  so the process that you describe in hldance - and i would say we've been doing in the havlik group, for a while now, much to my delight - is just fantastic.

ken

 

- It is the assumption of this book that a work of art is a gift, not a
  commodity.  Or, to state the modern case with more precision, that works
  of art exist simultaneously in two "economies," a market economy and a
  gift economy.  Only one of these is essential, however: a work of art can
  survive without the market, but where there is no gift there is no art.
  -- Lewis Hyde, *The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property*

ken, thanks--i always

ken, thanks--i always appreciate hearing your thoughts. and i agree, art generally isn't art w/o that kind of personal investment. i find myself taking a somewhat negative perspective lately and wondering if there isn't something in the culture currently--connected w/ all the gadgets and the instant zing they bring--that works against that kind of deeper, time-intensive process. not that people aren't necessarily into the idea of making good art, but that they're perhaps increasingly unfamiliar w/ how to get there.