Danceletter 11

I’ve always enjoyed reading Joan Acocella in The New Yorker. But I have to admit, I had trouble with her latest piece, in the July 1 issue, which takes a long look at how big modern dance companies are carrying on without their founders (or preparing to).

And I’ve been tweeting about it:

I have so many counterexamples to the idea that dancers “don’t date; they get married [to a style]” that I don’t even know where to begin. One comes from the Paul Taylor company itself, which just a few weeks ago performed a new piece by Pam Tanowitz, sandwiched between Taylor’s Junction and Promethean Fire. While I didn’t mention this in my review, I thought the dancers looked more comfortable in Tanowitz’s work than in Taylor’s, as if they had more ownership of it — which would make sense, given that they went through the process of building the dance with Tanowitz, while they might have inherited the other works from older dancers or from video. Certainly it can be challenging to pick up a new style when you’re accustomed to another, and the original might always be where a dancer really thrives. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done, or that doing so compromises a dancer’s “integrity.” And as my friend Elena noted:

Then there is the issue of the article’s scope, which confines itself to big names in modern dance: Taylor, Graham, Bausch, Cunningham, Mark Morris, Trisha Brown (strangely making no mention of Alvin Ailey). Of course it’s worth exploring how the work of these choreographers — and the companies they founded — will or won’t endure. But questions of preservation in modern dance extend beyond artists of this stature and institutions of this size, and I wish the article acknowledged this, or at least defined its own parameters. A reader unfamiliar with the modern dance world might get the impression that the traditional company structure — devoted to one artist’s vision, with dancers employed year-round — is the norm these days, when in fact for years (decades, really) it has been giving way to something much more fluid.

And just as as the old “company model” has shifted, efforts to preserve modern dance aren’t limited to large, internationally touring groups with trusts and boards of directors. One project that comes to mind is Gesel Mason’s No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers, which I wrote about last year. Mason has taken it upon herself to archive, in her own body and on a forthcoming digital platform, works that she considers to be part of the canon of contemporary black dance, from Donald McKayle’s Saturday’s Child (1948) to Rennie Harris’s You Are Why! (2014). To me an independent endeavor like this is as vital to protecting modern dance history as more institutionally driven approaches. (There is also a longer discussion in here about “modern” vs. “contemporary” … perhaps for another day.)

I could go on. But instead I’m going to point you in the direction of more tweets — by Andrea Kleine and Michaela Dwyer, who raise related and important points on the matter — and abruptly change the subject to: Fosse/Verdon. Who watched it? I finally did, was surprised to find I adored it, and then was surprised by most of the reviews I read, which were not nearly as enamored as I was. My favorite scene: the one where Verdon (the extraordinary Michelle Williams) tells Fosse what we’ve come to know already, that he owes her his “entire f***ing career.” Subtle? Maybe not, but very satisfying. If you tuned in and feel like sharing, let me know what you thought.

Shows to See

I’m not sure if I can get to Bard for this, but if you can, you should: Ronald K. Brown is presenting Grace with live music at the Fisher Center, plus a new companion piece called Mercy, July 5-7. This preview by Gia Kourlas might entice you to check it out.

In the free events department: SummerStage is hosting an evening of Merce Cunningham works in Central Park, July 17, featuring ABT’s Calvin Royal III, the Stephen Petronio Company, the Hudson Valley’s A-Y/Dancers, and Cunningham dancer extraordinaire Melissa Toogood, who will also teach a pre-show workshop.

What You’re Watching

Thanks to Anna Drozdowski in Philly for bringing this summer classic back into my life. I don’t think I’d ever watched it from the vantage point of adulthood:

As always, you can send me your dance video obsessions at any time (with or without explanation) by responding to this email or writing to

Till next time,


p.s. It came to my attention through an angry reader email that there might be an issue with unsubscribing from Danceletter. I’ve alerted Substack and they say they’re looking into it, but in the meantime, if you’ve had trouble unsubscribing, just let me know and I’ll take you off the list. The last thing I want is to be spamming anyone’s inbox with unsolicited dance news!

p.p.s. On the other hand, if you have not yet subscribed and want to, there is now a button you can click to do so easily:

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