Monday, October 6, 2008

Revision(ish): Bill T. Jones through the lens of Urgent Art

I had a great mini-conversation with Julia today, and it illuminated some things in my head about the Bill T. Jones show that might provide an alternate view from the review below. Isn't it great to say something and realize mid-sentence how true it is?

Here's the thing. It's not that the piece was horrible or bad or lacked skill. The dancers were good, it was well made (debatable) and it was somewhat entertaining or maddening or nothing at all. But. What i realized in talking to Julia is that maybe the thing irking me about it wasn't all of these factors, but that the piece as a whole seemed to lack any matter or urgency. As Julia mentioned, a friend of hers who saw it said that she was entertained, but didn't take anything from it or think of it after.

So what does that mean, lacking urgency? It's clearly not a rule that modern dance convey something meaningful and passionate, and it would be silly to argue that the greatest dances all do that. Yet there seems to be some core difference between the work of emerging and "downtown" artists, and the cushy pieces of "accepted" artists.

I've been trying to craft my life (both personal and artistic) into something that, were i to die tomorrow, i would be at least satisfied with. It obviously doesn't have to be perfect, but i feel a need to be at least working towards what i want from it. No regrets.

And I feel that that's also how i'm thinking about dance. Moreover, for various reasons, i feel like thats how a lot of emerging artists right now are thinking about dance. If this was the last piece i ever made, would i be happy with what i'm making? Or the inverse opposite of that (which seems to be the broader reality): I have to make this piece the absolute best it can be, or it will be the last one i make due to a lack of support and funding. Even the feeling that "well, i'm doing this now, but i don't really know why...maybe i'll stop after this one" seems to be pervasive.

While that might seem bleak, i think it gives these pieces a drive that, even if the pieces themselves are not thematically or tonally "urgent", make them urgent in their creation and intention. These are pieces meant to cut, pieces meant to draw people in, and pieces meant to hold the future open.

Bill T. Jones's "A Quarreling Pair" was not one of these pieces. But is it fair to begrudge the piece on that account? Surely a choreographer's work does loose some urgency when the shift is made from fighting for one's life for a chance to keep making work to being supported by the acceptance of major funders and presenters, but this shift could be as readily seen as an improvement as a decline. Maybe it just signifies the maturing of a choreographer's intentions, a grace period, so to speak, where they get to attend to all the lesser and triter pieces they always wanted to make but were not quite impassioned enough to choose over other, more Important projects. Why is that a bad thing?

What is it about urgency that makes work good, if we think it makes it better at all?
Is it possible for a choreographer to retain their urgency, rawness, and innovation after they've been accepted by the "mainstream"?
If we agree that both "underground" and "mainstream" artists are necessary to create a cycle of patronage and viewership, how do we come to terms with what this cycle creates in terms of an artistic laxness in terms of the work that is being produced by the mainstream artists, and the survivalist urgency of the more underground work? Or, is it that the lax work is just more enjoyable to those "mainstream" viewers?

Most importantly, is it necessary to differentiate between work that comes from "urgent artists" and "accepted artists" when critiquing the work itself? Should I not be bothered by the sneaking suspicion that, if Bill T Jones died tomorrow, he would be vastly upset that this was what he spent his last year on, because he's earned the right to explore less "urgent" ideas and stories?

And, if we are going to differentiate for the sake of critique, what does each of these conditions for making work do to the art itself?

This seems to me to be a handful of questions that I won't be able to answer for myself until i'm at that point where i have the luxury to make relaxed work. Will i want to? Will i even get there? Who knows. Right now, the urgent artist instinct is alive and strong. I'll let you know when i'm ready to cross over.

No comments: