VNPAC: The Last Dance
The new buzz word: “Authenticity.”
By day three at the Dance/USA conference, I found it most interesting that the theme of honesty, authenticity, and being true to oneself emerged in most of the sessions I attended. This integrity I’m sure is also important in music, and probably most other art disciplines as well.
The conference had four different tracks for the breakout groups: Management, Artistry, International Exchange, and Audience Engagement. I discovered that the Artistry track was the most interesting to me. The plenary session on marketing may have been more applicable to the marketing folks, but I suspect that even some of them found the discussion about Amtrak and hockey more amusing than helpful.
The two artistry breakouts I attended today were “The Contemporary Evolution” and “To Fuse or Not? Fusion and World Dance.” The first session moderated by Co-Director & Producer of MAPP International Productions Cathy Zimmerman, was in essence about alternate conceptions of dance.
Holding the audience spellbound, John Scott, the artistic director of the Irish Modern Dance Theatre, told a marvelous story about his interaction with asylum seekers. He was able to provide a safe haven through dance for these survivors of torture, and the response he got was amazing. The fact that these people were able to really express themselves through dance, when they had such need as well as convincing stories to tell, made for an honest and authentic expression that Scott felt he had to put on the stage. The fact that these were not professionally trained dancers was equally vital. In addition, the political climate of having 65% of the public vote in a referendum to send these asylum seekers back home made seeing these very same people on stage quite an eye opener. Apparently very few of these asylum seekers actually gain official status as refugee.
Dean Moss, director of Gametophyte, had a similar experience of creating authenticity by placing audience members on stage as the focus of attention. A trained dancer/actor will never be able to recreate the vulnerability of an audience member suddenly thrust upon stage in the same way.
Muna Tseng, founding and artistic director of Muna Tseng Dance Projects Inc., echoed Scott’s story in a different way from Moss. She told of how she was raised in Hong Kong and emigrated to North America at a young age. Unable to express herself verbally, dance was her salvation. Later while choreographing a work about the relationship of mother to daughter, her authenticity is drawn from the relationship with her own mother, who happens to die during this process.
Chloe Arnold of Chloe & Maud Productions and DC Tap Festival spoke of how her art was somewhere between modern dance and hip hop, and that she finds it hard for either to really embrace her. The form in which she can express herself the most honestly does not fit neatly into a box.
Moderated by Director of Dance/Metro DC Peter DiMuro, the same theme of authenticity was continued through the second session about fusion. DiMuro asked the panelists to talk about their “Ah-ha!” moment. Founder and Director of Urban Artisty Junious “House” Brickhouse told of naively wearing an American Indian necklace called a “choker,” and being told that its purpose was “to stop arrows not bullets.” By not understanding cultural and traditional values, he had inadvertently caused disrespect.
With participation of each of the panelists, including Artistic Director of CONTRA-TIEMPO Ana Maria Alvarez and Executive & Artistic Director of CounterPULSE Jessica Robinson Love, DiMuro broke the audience into small discussion groups.
When applied to the fusion of cultural elements in dance, the importance of authenticity was discussed in my group. If one understands and respects the elements that are being borrowed, then there will be more integrity. Exactly which parts of a tradition need to be respected are personal. For example, while touching may not be part of a traditional dance style, when melding that style with another, it is up to the individual dancer whether or not touch is acceptable and requires respect.
Also discussed was the fact that there are no really pure forms of dance, that every form, including classical, is an amalgamation of what came before, and that forms mutate and change over time. For example, it was thought terrible when toe shoes were introduced to classical ballet, although it is hard to imagine it without today.
I was able to draw parallels in the music world. When drawing inspiration from other places, it is important that your own voice still come though. When assimilating foreign influences, being honest to yourself requires incorporating the borrowed elements into your own voice. It is essential that the audience feels your own authenticity, or your music will be not be sincere and communicate.
The evening concluded with an honors ceremony at the lovely Atlanta Botanical Garden. The honorees included Richard Caples of the Lar Lubovitch Dance for his 26 years of service, and Carmen De Lavallade. De Lavallade spoke eloquently of being a black dancer in a not-always-so-friendly time, and all her stories of the greats from bygone years, including Josephine Baker among many others, was inspiring.
At this last reception, I realized that a multi-day conference provides a unique networking experience. The extended time allows for more than one casual encounter with the same person, and in a non-pressured setting. I ended up exchanging business cards with several choreographers with whom I was able to connect. Who knows what may come from this conference. One day I may even get a call asking for music from a relationship that was planted in a botanical garden.