Stage

In 1936, dance writer John Martin pointed out what has become a truism: Originating with Duncan, modern dance "objectifies, in terms of movement, inner life. In modern dance, the dancer is essentially a nude figure." Just this month, one of the original deviant's descendents, DV8 Physical Theater Artistic Director Lloyd Newson, described performance in similar terms: as a process of spilling your guts and then "sewing yourself back up again." What creates modern dance's vibrant immediacy -- internal and spiritual leanings and concerted lack of pretense, all of which Duncan initiated -- also leaves it vulnerable to time. Ballet, blatantly artificial and anachronistic, springs eternal because its culture is static and therefore remains legible. Modern dance's culture, like the culture around it, constantly changes. And it's wrapped so close to the body that we think we're getting nakedness: a heart bared before us. Later, however, we realize this heart is speaking only the particular patois of the culture of its invention. We can't understand it; whatever truths and beauties the body meant to convey, in that elusive way dance has, have become unintelligible. We stand outside without a way in, and the surface yields little. Only modern dance, John Martin proclaimed, responds to the "unformulated will of its epoch." So only modern dance will disappear into history.

-- Apollinaire Scherr

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