Wandering home from the interview, it hit me that we touched on, but did not leverage fully, a rather savory category: the primary social meaning, for me personally, of dancing then and now. I’m talking about a vague sense of importance that buoyed the NYC dance arena, and thus me, being in it, for the first twenty years or so. I took joyously for granted a feeling of connection with other dancers and choreographers, even those I did not know personally. Touring widely in Europe furthered this semi-conscious current of, dare I say power? At least of acceptance, of filling a useful place in the hearty arts of the west. An important aspect of this usefulness was the “uselessness” of the dancing: no theme, no social purpose, no message or idea for viewers to take home to nail on the wall. Dancing for dancing, leavened with a bit of wit. Empty art. Form as form. Daily diving into aesthetic bliss. For me personally, and, if I read it right, for the field too, this sense of estimable relevance has waned.
Yet another after-the-fact notion arises, the very kind of change I think you’re addressing. Early on I paid a great deal of attention to various visual stimulants leading up to working: post cards, paintings, people on the street. Still loving to look, lately I’ve become aware that all I really need to get going is to enter the studio. Maybe in fact I was not reliant on pre-piece voyeurism, was just enjoying being visually occupied. In any case, this is a definite shift. With hardly a reference to what else I do during the day or at night, there is now an unmediated flow right into the steps.
I offer these belated thoughts in appreciation of your project on the aging of dancers and choreographers.
[Email to Gia Kourlas - July 2017]
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If the dancer decides to dance beyond the years of peak prowess, there is, I see now, on the heels of talking to you, a tendency, indeed a need, to stay positive. I can no longer make that move, but I can make this one, so I'll put my attention here, on what's possible, and ignore what's not. Thus I maintain a level of emotional stability and confidence that keeps action happening. Stepping back, however, dropping this pragmatic pretense of all is well (there were always limitations, now they're just different), I think we can say that the change for the dancer from youth to creeping decrepitude deserves to be called, without exaggeration, an unmitigated disaster. To push off suddenly in a new direction, to go airborne and soar, to dive to the floor and rebound...to have risen to this scale of gesture and then to see and feel it declining, is, emotionally speaking, a crushing defeat, a depressing state of affairs, a symbolic ending of living. For the human animal, no other physical activity, and no degree of mental gymnastics, come close to replacing the daily ecstasy of unimpeded kinetic exploration, of ebullient interaction with immediate and infinite space and time. Let's make no bones about the apocalyptic status of this shift. And let's take, therefore, a moment to acknowledge and to sympathize with those lovers of full-body articulation who fulfill their potential, who achieve personal dance-mastery, and then face, without choice, however abruptly, and for however long, a searingly painful fall from grace.
[Email to Gia Kourlas – July 2017]