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0819574090
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9780819574091
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Through the Eyes of a Dancer: Selected Writings

Through the Eyes of a Dancer: Selected Writings

by Wendy Perron

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Overview

<P>Through the Eyes of a Dancer compiles the writings of noted dance critic and editor Wendy Perron. In pieces for The SoHo Weekly News, Village Voice, The New York Times, and Dance Magazine, Perron limns the larger aesthetic and theoretical shifts in the dance world since the 1960s. She surveys a wide range of styles and genres, from downtown experimental performance to ballets at the Metropolitan Opera House. In opinion pieces, interviews, reviews, brief memoirs, blog posts, and contemplations on the choreographic process, she gives readers an up-close, personalized look at dancing as an art form. Dancers, choreographers, teachers, college dance students—and anyone interested in the intersection between dance and journalism—will find Perron's probing and insightful writings inspiring. Through the Eyes of a Dancer is a nuanced microcosm of dance's recent globalization and modernization that also provides an opportunity for new dancers to look back on the traditions and styles that preceded their own.</P>


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819574091
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 11/05/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 372
File size: 4 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

<P>WENDY PERRON is a former dancer, choreographer, and teacher. She was the editor in chief of Dance Magazine from 2004 to 2013, and is now an editor at large.</P>

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

The Sixties

A few years ago, when I came upon an old program from my days as a teenage ballet student, I noticed that the date of our summer recital in Cape Cod was the exact same date as the first Judson Dance Theater concert. So when Sally Banes asked me to contribute a memoir-type story to her anthology Reinventing Dance in the 1960s I couldn't resist making the connection. The aesthetics and lore of Judson, that crucible of dance reinvention, have been such a big influence on me that it was a crystallizing moment to realize how far I'd been from those aesthetics in 1962.

From Sally's point of view, the sixties stretched into the seventies, so it was fair game for me to include something about that later decade as well. This account of my early dancing life lays out some of the preoccupations that recur throughout this collection: the intersection between ballet and modern dance, the magnetic pull of Russian ballet, the terrors and triumphs of improvisation, Trisha Brown (with whom I started dancing by the end of this memoir), and Judson Dance Theater, the collective that cracked open modern dance on the way to postmodern dance.

Just a note to say that this first section is the only one in the book where the title ("The Sixties") describes the period written about rather than the time of the actual writing, which in this case was around 2002.

* * *

One Route from Ballet to Postmodern

from Reinventing Dance in the 1960s: Everything Was Possible, edited by Sally Banes with the assistance of Andrea Harris, University of Wisconsin Press, 2003

On July 6, 1962, the day of the first performance of the members of Robert Dunn's workshop at Judson Memorial Church, I performed with my ballet teacher on Cape Cod. Miss Fokine (Michel's niece, Irine) took a group of students to Nauset Light Beach, where we had class for two hours every morning and late afternoon on an outdoor platform and swam at the beach down the block in between. At the end of this idyllic summer, we gave a recital for local residents. I was fourteen.

After every performance, summer or winter, Miss Fokine would pick on one poor kid who had done something transgressive, like letting dirty toe shoe ribbons drag on the floor. On this occasion, after our performance of the "Grand Pas" from Paquita, she entered our dressing room and came right at me, pointing and yelling, "Look at your hair! You look like an African Fujiyama!" We had been on the Cape for six weeks, and whenever my mother wasn't around to cut my hair it grew like a bush. From that moment on through the rest of high school, I grew it long so I could tie it back in a bun like the other girls. When not in class, I ironed my hair or applied a god-awful-smelling chemical to straighten it. I never found out what a "Fujiyama" was, but I don't think it's African.

That fall the Bolshoi was coming to the Metropolitan Opera House, and they were looking for American teenagers to fill the crowd scenes of Leonid Yakobson's new Spartacus. Miss Fokine's mother, Alexandra Fedorova, still had connections to the Bolshoi, and arranged for a bunch of us to audition. I was among the lucky group chosen to perform. We were onstage when Vladimir Vasiliev leapt like a panther and turned like a gyroscope. When Maya Plisetskaya dragged the cart like a beggar woman, we all had to point at her and laugh. Backstage, Galina Ulanova walked a few steps behind the meltingly lovely Ekaterina Maximova. My fantasy was to become the next Anastasia Stevens, the American-English girl who danced with the Bolshoi and also translated for us. Plus, she had beautiful reddish frizzy hair (frizzy — like mine!).

In the summer of 1963, I went to the Delacorte Theater in Central Park to see the new Joffrey Ballet. Because the performance was free, crowds of people would come, so you had to get your ticket in the morning and camp out in the park all afternoon. I remember seeing Gerald Arpino's Sea Shadow, with Lisa Bradley, hair long and free, undulating on top of a man. She was both pristine and sensual, and utterly gorgeous. The possibility of this kind of dancerly sexuality appealed to my budding sense of myself. That night I decided to study at the Joffrey school (officially the American Ballet Center) starting in the fall, even though it meant commuting from New Jersey.

I loved the Joffrey school, especially Françoise Martinet, who wore white tennis shoes even for pointe work. The classes seemed less strict than at the School of American Ballet, where I had studied during the summers of 1960 and 1963, and the atmosphere was not quite so hallowed. Lisa Bradley, Noël Mason, Ivy Clear, Trinette Singleton, Charthel Arthur and Marjorie Mussman were all taking the advanced class, which I watched whenever I could. I usually took the intermediate class with Miss Martinet, Lillian Moore, or occasionally Mr. Joffrey. I tried hard to be a worthy ballet student, and when Mr. Joffrey asked me to stand front and center as an example to the others, I was thrilled almost to the point of delirium.

A few modern dancers took class too. I didn't want to be a modern dancer — that's what my mother had been. I had studied "interpretive dance" with my mother and other teachers since I was five. I had taken the June course at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance that summer of 1963, and I continued to go every Friday, but it remained a sideline for me. One day as I was walking to Washington Square Park between classes, I saw one of the modern dancers from the Joffrey class — Sandra Neels — on the steps of a church on Washington Square South. She called out to me, saying, "You should come to some performances here. They're really interesting." I just said, "Uh huh." I don't think I was even curious. I didn't go see modern dance unless my mother dragged me. (Sandra danced with Merce Cunningham from 1963 to 1973.)

I've gone back to that moment many times, wondering if anything would have mobilized me to check out the performances at Judson. My two magnetic poles at that time were Swan Lake and West Side Story. I would listen to the radio, roving up and down the dial in hopes of hearing one or the other. I had seen West Side Story on Broadway and memorized all the songs. The same year, I danced in my ballet teacher's Swan Lake and adored it. I could have rippled my arms to Tchaikovsky's music for days.

As my high school graduation approached, I developed three possible plans. The first was to attend New York University and continue studying at the Joffrey school, with the hope of getting into the company. The second was to go to Juilliard, where I could study both modern dance and ballet. The third was Bennington, which was my mother's first choice, and for that reason it was my last.

I forced myself to assess my prospects in ballet realistically. Although I was a lyrical, musical classical dancer, my turn-out and pointe work were less than sparkling. In the Graham technique, you had to dig deeper into yourself, and that intensity had a gritty psychological appeal. So, after being accepted at Juilliard, I watched a class there — I believe Antony Tudor was teaching. I realized that if I chose that route, the next four years would be entirely familiar to me, as I had taken ballet and modern classes virtually all my life. On the other hand, the day I visited the Bennington campus in Vermont happened to be a beautiful fall afternoon, suddenly illuminating the world of art and literature and learning. I chose to follow the unknown rather than the known.

It took me my whole freshman year to change over from being a ballet dancer to being a modern dancer. I had to be broken like a horse is broken before you can ride it. Bill Bales lit into me for my habits — the swanlike neck, the prissy footsteps, the jutting chin, the delicate fingers. I had to purge myself of these mannerisms and find the ground underneath me.

During my college years — 1965 to 1969 — I often came to New York City and saw early Dance Theater Workshop performances. Jack Moore, who had cofounded DTW with Jeff Duncan and Art Bauman, was teaching dance at Bennington. On one of these trips I saw Rudy Perez perform his solo Countdown. He sat on a chair and took a drag of a cigarette in surreal slowed-down time while the Songs of the Auvergne played on tape. When he stood up, you could see stripes of blue paint on his face. Was it war paint? Was it the tears of a clown? The markings of a quarterback? The dance was ineffably sad, yet rooted and powerful.

And I went back to the Delacorte in 1966 and saw Carmen de Lavallade in a solo by Geoffrey Holder. She was the most beautiful woman dancing I could imagine. The vision of her spiraling in a white dress lingered in my mind for days. It was the first "modern dance" I fell in love with, but it wasn't weighty and angular like "modern dance" or insistent in any way. It was like dreaming of an island far away.

I was feeling more comfortable as a modern dancer and wanted to choreograph, simply because it was so hard to do well. I remember a time in Jack Moore's composition class, probably in my junior or senior year, when the assignment was to make a beginning and an ending. We would each then choose someone else's beginning and someone else's ending and make our own middle to sandwich in between. I remember being in the studio alone, trying to begin my beginning. I started with a big reach up with my head and arm — an ecstatic reach to the heavens. I was playing with it, trying out different ways of doing it. I started breaking it up into parts. Through endless trials, I found a way of reaching the head up, then bringing the arm up sharply, and then as the head came down, leaving the arm up. Within two seconds, the arm movement intercut the head movement. I worked on it until I could do it without thinking. It was an unusual coordination, but a certain energy came from breaking it up. It was no longer a breathy or ecstatic thing, but broken, like shards. When I showed it in class, the other students responded immediately, and more than half of them chose it for their beginning. I felt something had happened. I had undermined a unit of assumed movement and made something new. Looking back, I see that I was deconstructing a standard modern-dance reach — my first encounter with postmodernism. I feel that much of my choreography can be traced to that moment.

College changed me, but the sixties did too. I remember sunny days when we would take our dormitory furniture out on the lawn. Someone's stereo would be blasting Aretha Franklin's voice from a dorm window, and everything was fine in the world. To me that was the sixties: wearing a light-as-air Indian shirt and beads and hearing Aretha wail over Commons Lawn. Some of us were dancing and some were reading. Ooooh it felt good. Singing "R-e-s-p-e-c-t" along with Aretha was a glorious way to grow up.

One night during our college dance tour in the winter of 1968, I stayed at a friend's pad in Boston. She sat me down and said, "You have to hear the new Beatles album." It was Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and I was overwhelmed. The ingenuity, the drive, the lilting but somehow rebellious melodies, the camaraderie, the lightheartedness, the trippiness (yes, we got stoned first), the sense that Anything can follow Anything, were astounding. (Did the Beatles know about John Cage?)

So my new poles were Aretha Franklin and the Beatles. The gofor-broke, sing-from-your-guts celebration of womanhood on the one hand, and this zany collaboration, the revelation that you could be brainy and also have fun, on the other.

College taught me that while it's worthwhile to be a good girl, it's also worthwhile to break the rules. The Bennington campus had 350 acres of rolling hills and picturesque landscape. Viola Farber, the former Cunningham dancer who taught at Bennington briefly, asked us to choreograph for an out-of-doors spot on campus. I was feeling pretty dismal, nursing a broken heart that I pretended was "sophomore slump." I wasn't in the mood to celebrate the joy of life on the grassy knolls or under a lushly spreading oak tree, so I found a small alley between a garage and a chicken coop that was littered with hangers, old tires and beer cans. Mostly I got entangled in some wires and stared at the ground. Decades later, Viola, recalling that assignment, blurted out gleefully, "And you picked the ugliest place on campus!"

In the fall of 1968, Judith Dunn came up to Vermont to teach, with musician Bill Dixon in tow. Also a former dancer with Cunningham, Judy had assisted her husband, Robert Dunn, in giving the composition workshops that led to Judson Dance Theater. (She had since separated from him.) I loved her yoga class and learned the sun worship from her. To demonstrate the lion posture, she would get preternaturally calm and then, with a ridiculously fierce thrust of her head, stick her tongue out and down and pop her eyes wide open. She would hold that posture for two full minutes. I was impressed by her commitment.

But I hated Judy's technique class. Her idea of the new relation of music to dance was that Bill would play any loungey jazz thing on the piano while we repeated her combination. She emphatically did not want the piano to set the tempo and did not want us to do the steps "to" the music. But she scolded us when, inevitably, we each performed it with different timing. This seemed illogical and irresponsible, and I quit the class.

But Judy's presence opened things up. She challenged the tradition of a single, end-of-semester concert in Commons Theater so that we could do performances in other spaces and at other times. But one such performance, masterminded by Cathy Weis, one year behind me (now a video/dance/performance artist), and an MFA student named Mary Fussell, was already in the works. Cathy and Mary turned Jennings Mansion, where music classes were held, into a complex, dreamlike environment. On the ground floor was a genteel ballroom where Ulysses Dove and I danced with guests and graciously escorted them to the level below. The basement practice rooms had been transformed to represent organs of the body: one room was the heart, another the lungs, another the liver. Audience members entered rooms that had billowing fabrics and throbbing sounds. They were given costumes to don, so the separation between performers and audience was blurred, and people went from room to room in a pleasantly confused state. Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs came to campus to heighten the confusion. [I would say this event was a precursor to the "immersive theater" that we've recently seen emerge from England.]

I knew that Judy was conducting a serious improvisation session on Friday mornings, but I never signed up for it. Out of that class came her strong improvisation performance group of the next few years. I knew that some-thing very interior, very intuitive was going on that I wasn't privy to, or didn't have access to in myself. Just the fact that it was a three-hour session was daunting.

Also, I had had an experience that crystallized my fear of improvisation. One Thursday afternoon during the weekly dance division workshop, Jack Moore decided, for a change of pace, that we should improvise. He named a few people to go up onstage and "improvise." (This was Commons Theater, where Martha Graham and other modern dance "pioneers" had premiered major works in the thirties.) Someone put a box full of hats onstage. As Jack was calling out names of people to go up and experiment in front of every-one, his eyes alighted on me and he added my name. I froze. Like a stone, my body suddenly got heavy and inert. Even if my future had depended on it, I couldn't have budged from my seat. I shook my head vehemently. "Oh come on, Wendy, it'll be fun," said Jack in his most inviting voice. "No," I said. This went back and forth a few more times as I totally humiliated myself. I had had good solid training in both ballet and modern dance, and I knew myself as a dancer when I had access to those techniques. Improvisation meant losing control and looking stupid.

Jack finally dropped his case, and I got to sit back and watch the adventurous ones onstage. They played with the hats. They covered their eyes with the hats, stomped on them, tossed them around. At best, what they did was either cute or clever. I was glad I hadn't acquiesced. But amid the sea of silliness, one phenomenon surfaced: Lisa Nelson, a student one year behind me. Her concentration was a thing to behold. Her quickness and connectedness between her dance self and the hat self were astonishing. She did things with the hats that I was sure no one else on earth had ever done. I couldn't take my eyes off her. She seemed to be getting signals from outer space, or I guess inner space. (Many years later, she teamed up with Steve Paxton, and they created PA RT [1978], a collaborative duet which they performed for years.) To this day, she is my favorite improviser.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Through the Eyes of a Dancer"
by .
Copyright © 2013 Wendy Perron.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

<P>List of Illustrations<BR>Acknowledgments<BR>Introduction<BR>I. THE SIXTIES<BR>One Route from Ballet to Postmodern<BR>II. THE SEVENTIES<BR>Barbara Lloyd (Dilley)<BR>Followable Dancing: Mary Overlie and David Gordon<BR>People Improvisation: Grand Union<BR>Consuming Determination: Lucinda Childs<BR>Older Is Better<BR>Exporting SoHo<BR>Improvisation: The Man Who Gets Away with It—Radio Host James Irsay<BR>Only an Illusion: On Street Performers<BR>Starting from Nothing: Michael Moschen<BR>Masters of Surprise—Mikhail Baryshnikov and Fred Astaire<BR>Interview with Susan Sontag: On Writing, Art, Feminism, Life, and Death<BR>Dumb Art: Beautiful but Not Too Bright<BR>III. THE EIGHTIES<BR>Bausch, Brecht, and Sex: Kontakthof by Pina Bausch<BR>The Structure of Seduction<BR>Book Review: The Intimate Act of Choreography <BR>The Holes in Tin Quiz—Notes on My Duet<BR>Containing Differences in Time—My Choreographic Process<BR>Shoot for the Moon, but Don't Aim Too Hard—On J.D. Salinger<BR>IV. THE NINETIES<BR>Beware the Egos of Critics<BR>Trisha Brown on Tour<BR>American Dance Guild Concert Review<BR>Love Is the Crooked Thing: Paris Opéra Ballet<BR>Book Review: Jill Johnston's Marmalade Me Reissued<BR>Looking Back on the "Embodiment of Ecstasy"—Sara Rudner<BR>The Power of Stripping Down to Nothingness—The Butoh Diaspora<BR>The New Russia: Sasha Pepelyaev's Kinetic Theatre<BR>V. FROM 2000 TO 2004<BR>Seeing Balanchine, Watching Whelan<BR>Merce at Martha@Mother—Richard Move<BR>Moving, Joyfully and Carefully, into Old Age<BR>An Improbable Pair on a Quest into the Past—Baryshnikov and Rainer<BR>Katherine Dunham: One-Woman Revolution<BR>Martha Clarke: Between Terror and Desire<BR>Misha's New Passion: Judson Dance Theater<BR>Living with AIDS: Six Dancers Share Their Stories<BR>Irina Loves Maxim—ABT's Russian Couple<BR>Twyla Tharp: Still Pushing the Boundaries<BR>The Struggle of the Black Artist to Dance Freely<BR>A Dance Turns Darker, Its Maker More American—Patricia Hoffbauer<BR>Paying Heed to the Mysteries of Trisha Brown<BR>East (Coast) Meets West (Coast): Eiko &amp; Koma Collaborate with Anna Halprin<BR>Bill T. Jones Searches for Beauty, and a New Home<BR>Snip, Snip: Dance, Too, Needs Editing<BR>Batsheva Dance Company: Naharin's Virus<BR>Kirov Classics Hit and Miss<BR>Way Up High, Soaring, Floating, Diving, Dancing—Joanna Haigood<BR>Russia Makes Room for Contemporary Dance<BR>Wendy Whelan: The Edgy Ballerina<BR>VI. FROM 2004 TO 2007<BR>Tere O'Connor Dance<BR>Lori Belilove and the Isadora Duncan Dance Company<BR>Susan Marshall &amp; Company<BR>Stan Won't Dance<BR>Urban Bush Women<BR>Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People<BR>American Ballet Theatre<BR>Book Review: Feelings Are Facts: A Life, by Yvonne Rainer<BR>New York City Ballet: Winter Season 2007<BR>Enchanted by Cuba<BR>VII. FROM 2007 TO 2012<BR>A Brave, Illuminating, Terrific New Book—Carolyn Brown on Cunningham and Cage<BR>New York City Ballet: Winter Season 2008<BR>New Works Festival: San Francisco Ballet<BR>Akram Khan's Bahok<BR>Flamenco Master in Silence: Was Israel Galván Improvising?<BR>Trey McIntyre Project<BR>Pacific Northwest Ballet: All Tharp<BR>Boston Ballet: Diaghilev's Ballets Russes Centennial Celebration<BR>Spoleto Festival (Festival dei 2Mondi)<BR>The Forsythe Company: Decreation<BR>Twyla's New Musical Flies, But...<BR>International Exposure—The Tel Aviv Festival<BR>Lemi Ponifasio<BR>Necessary Weather (revival)—Dana Reitz and Sara Rudner<BR>Why Don't Women Make Dances Like That Any More?<BR>Blogging about the Process of Choreography—Ugh!<BR>The Times They Are A-Changin'<BR>Biennale de la Danse de Lyon<BR>Ralph Lemon<BR>Crystal Pite<BR>Politeness: Is It Crucial to the Future of Ballet?<BR>National Ballet of Canada<BR>Is Appropriation the Same as Stealing and Why Is It Happening More Now?<BR>Is There a Blackout on Black Swan's Dancing?<BR>Putting the Black Swan Blackout in Context<BR>Can a Floor Give You Spiritual Energy? Ask Jared Grimes<BR>Eiko &amp; Koma: The Unnatural Side of Communing with Nature<BR>Merce's Other Legacy<BR>A Debate on Snark<BR>The Joffrey Ballet<BR>Afterword<BR>Credits<BR>Index</P>

What People are Saying About This

Elizabeth Zimmer

“Through the Eyes of a Dancer is an exciting, adventurous journey through the ‘dance boom’ and its aftermath. The average choreographer doesn’t have nearly her facility with language, and the average journalist lacks the inside understanding of the process; Perron combines these two perspectives masterfully.”

Liz Lerman

“What does it mean for the world of dance writing to gain insights into decades of performance through the eyes of a beautiful writer/dancer/choreographer? This is the beauty of Wendy Perron’s new book, a compendium of her work of almost half a century. Whether observing through the keenness of her ever-present mind, or the visceral capacity of her dancer self, her writing takes us into and onto the stages of many of our most interesting dance makers. Wendy weaves her own story of inquiry, both muscular and mental, and the memories which fill these pages are sweet, terrifying and real.”

Deborah Jowitt

“I’ve never read a collection like Perron’s engrossing Through the Eyes of a Dancer. She reviews and ponders four decades of developments and enduring values—both in dance and in the life of her performing-choreographing-writing self. Currently editor-in-chief of Dance Magazine, Perron displays an uncanny ability both to view art works from a distance and to burrow into their hearts.”

From the Publisher

"What does it mean for the world of dance writing to gain insights into decades of performance through the eyes of a beautiful writer/dancer/choreographer? This is the beauty of Wendy Perron's new book, a compendium of her work of almost half a century. Whether observing through the keenness of her ever-present mind, or the visceral capacity of her dancer self, her writing takes us into and onto the stages of many of our most interesting dance makers. Wendy weaves her own story of inquiry, both muscular and mental, and the memories which fill these pages are sweet, terrifying and real."—Liz Lerman, choreographer

"I've never read a collection like Perron's engrossing Through the Eyes of a Dancer. She reviews and ponders four decades of developments and enduring values—both in dance and in the life of her performing-choreographing-writing self. Currently editor-in-chief of Dance Magazine, Perron displays an uncanny ability both to view art works from a distance and to burrow into their hearts.""—Deborah Jowitt, author of Jerome Robbins: His Life, His Theater, His Dance

"Through the Eyes of a Dancer is an exciting, adventurous journey through the 'dance boom' and its aftermath. The average choreographer doesn't have nearly her facility with language, and the average journalist lacks the inside understanding of the process; Perron combines these two perspectives masterfully.""—Elizabeth Zimmer, dance editor/critic and faculty member, Hollins/American Dance Festival MFA Program

"What does it mean for the world of dance writing to gain insights into decades of performance through the eyes of a beautiful writer/dancer/choreographer? This is the beauty of Wendy Perron's new book, a compendium of her work of almost half a century. Whether observing through the keenness of her ever-present mind, or the visceral capacity of her dancer self, her writing takes us into and onto the stages of many of our most interesting dance makers. Wendy weaves her own story of inquiry, both muscular and mental, and the memories which fill these pages are sweet, terrifying and real."—Liz Lerman, choreographer

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