Monday, December 20, 2010

end of year lists

Over the weekend I was in New York City and picked up the "Arts & Leisure" section on Saturday night to see the annual list of highlights in performances and exhibitions.

Reading the critics' analysis I thought about a question I had put on a Dance Appreciation test a couple days before to motivate students to think about the conditions and reception of certain artists: "who is the greater dancer - Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly?"

Some students wrote poetically: "Trying to choose between Astaire and Kelly is like trying to choose between day and night: we need both... They were excellent dancers and the best in their own right. Picking favorites is determined by the personality of the person being questioned. It cannot be denied that both dancers broke boundaries, set standards, and deserve their thrones in the kingdom of dance mastery."

Other students described their different approaches to choreography, the camera, and movement: "Gene Kelly used a variety of camera techniques... Fred Astaire was seemingly effortless and had a certain swagger... In my opinion the best dancer would be a fusion of the many great characteristics of both men... I think the greatest dancer is Michael Jackson."

The response that really made me smile was: "The answer to this question reveals the personality of the answerer. Fred Astaire was a representation of graceful aristocracy and Gene Kelly was slightly rougher around the edges. Myself being more of a jock, I prefer Gene Kelly."

So it comes as no surprise that in The New York Times a similar pattern occurred: Alastair Macaulay wrote about Sara Mearns of New York City Ballet, Alina Cojocaru and David Hallberg of American Ballet Theatre, and Matthew Renko of The Suzanne Farrell Ballet as performers who left lasting impressions. For notable choreographers, Macaulay cited Liz Gerring and Pam Tanowitz. For impressive collaborations, he wrote about Sara Rudner and Dana Reitz.

Critic Claudia La Rocco listed Keely Garfield, Wendy Whelan, Ralph Lemon, Alain Buffard, Rob List and Bruno Beltrao as "top-notch" artists. She also mentioned people who were creating in the 1950s and 1960s and whose works were revived, re-created, or shown on film in 2010: Trisha Brown's "Walking on the Wall," Yvonne Rainer's "Trio A Geriatric with Talking," the documentary "Simone Forti: An Evening of Dance Constructions," and Anna Halprin's tribute to her husband which was performed in September in Portland.

Looking at these two lists, it is not so much the differences in people but the massively different perceptions of performance that intrigue me. I am fascinated by how much our preferences expose our subjective understanding of the world, our desire for things to be a certain way, and our particular beliefs about the role of dance and the arts today.

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