The lineage of dance, in a beautifully tangled web

So I’m back in New York, having previously lived here for five years as a performing artist. Yes, I have scoured the dance (and museum/music) calendars! Went to Rain Room at MOMA, checked out the Punk exhibit at The Met Museum, and enjoyed Calexico playing at the Prospect Park bandshell. Took some dance classes and will see some dance in the coming week.

Today I got an introduction to one aspect of the moving image archive at the Jerome Robbins Dance Division—the original documentation (OrigiDocs) program. Since 1967, this program has recorded over 2500 dance performances in a wide variety of styles.1 The selections from 2012 were recorded at Danspace, the Metropolitan Opera House, Abrons Arts Center, The Whitney Museum of American Art, and others, and each these spaces are equally important in the artistic works they present, and the styles they connotate, year after year.

When I seek out a performance, I already have a sense of that person’s work in my mind and acknowledge them as an individual. They have left an impression on my mind with their unique work. Even though I am aware of their lineage, I am not often reminded of it, as I was while documenting information for the OrigiDocs program. Yes, now Robert Battle is artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT), and has incorporated many of his works in to the company’s repertory. Before that, he had his own company, Battleworks, before that, he was a member of Parsons Dance Company. Before that, he was trained at The Juilliard School and Miami’s New World School for the Arts. Each of these were hubs where Battle knew and worked with other contemporary artists. Along the way, like all artists, Battle must have sought out inspiration in many other areas, and explored his art on his own as well.

One of my current favorite artists, Antwerp-born Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, has such an interdisciplinary style that it seems so versatile, but still recognizably styled. His lineage is rooted in hip-hop music videos that he watched growing up, but he also studied at Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s dance school. His own choreographic style is said to fuse hip hop, modern, jazz, ballet, Irish, African and kathak2 (influences of kathak were used in his collaboration with Akhram Khan—I loved this performance years back at NY City Center). He was also raised in a strict Muslim upbringing.3 I am sure that I am not aware of all these facts as I see a performance, but it intrigues me to try to know how all the influences, can make the lineage of a choreographer.

Lineage can only be seen when looking back. When artists create dance, the documentation of it in current time places markers for us to know that there was so much more going on, and there is so much to explore and know. Any point of a choreographer’s lineage—a collaboration, a name, a school—can be exploded to a hundred more interesting connections. Dance works are inherently tied to theater, music, and art elements. I see the linked data semantic web in my brain. You could play the six degrees of separation game between artists, topics, and styles. The beauty of it is that dance is still being created—there can be a connection if there isn’t one already. The decades of documented performances the Jerome Robbins Moving Image Archive is a research and reference tool to help us remember this lineage and web of dance. Not only can we know the names, we can see the movements and have them speak to us. Recordings are available to view onsite in their third floor reading room—try this list to start! The home season of Battle’s first year as artistic director of AAADT is available. Listen to or read an interview transcript for a description of it in Battle’s own words.

1 http://static.nypl.org/LPA/Annual_Report_FY_12_Dance.pdf

2 http://www.artsalive.ca/en/dan/meet/bios/artistDetail.asp?artistID=144

3 http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2005/jul/12/theatre.dance

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One Response to The lineage of dance, in a beautifully tangled web

  1. E.Hollenbeck says:

    Fascinating! I read through the transcript you linked, and found it very interesting to learn that Battle did martial arts at one time, and would hold impromptu classes in martial arts. It’s so neat to be able to trace that influence through different points in time in his career. Thank you for sharing this!

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