Dallas — No one cares about my boobs anymore.
And maybe they never did.
Let me introduce you to a word from math class: Sinusoidal. No, not death by allergies. A sine wave. Rising and falling at the same, smooth repetitive oscillation. Things go up and come back down.
Recently, we’ve seen a resurgence in old dance trends. Pop-up performance and cabarets are having a moment. Maybe it’s the financial climate or the commitment to breaking down genre barriers, but dancers are creating collaborations with other artists—in theatre, comedy, circus, burlesque, music, and fashion—and producing happenings in unusual spaces. I did this from 2011-2013 with a group of artists that I met in graduate school at the University of Texas at Dallas. Under the name, In Cooperation with Muscle Nation, we produced a series of interactive and immersive performances that blurred the boundaries between the fine and performing arts. Each event took place in spaces that were purposefully outside of the theatre or the gallery, and including everything from photography to video to live music to dance. And that was part of the fun. Everything was a little rough around the edges, and that gave the work a sense of purpose, meaning, and place. But this is not a novel idea. Art collectives have been existence for much of the modern period.
Moreover, the dance/art crossover concept is one that is being continually mined. It might take the form of dancers in gallery spaces, personifying the movement in a sculpture. Or traditional visual artists making work that is “choreographic” in nature. You might ask how can a work that isn’t dance be choreographic. Well, the answer is rather simple. If it revolves around composition, pattern, flow, and rhythm, and it provokes a response in the body of the viewer, then you have something that is inherently full of movement. It is choreographic. It is choreographing you.
We are also seeing the reemergence of multi-generational dance. The idea that your performing career should end when you turn 30 is so antiquated it is laughable. There is an increasing number of older dancers (40 and older) continuing to perform and holding their own next to their millennial peers. In fact, for lack of a better term, they are “killing the game.” Joy Constantinides dominated DV8’s Can We Talk About This? in 2012 at the age of 62. In 2015, Wendy Whelan, at the age of 48, left the ballet world to pursuing performing and creating contemporary dance. In the same year, Alessandra Ferri, at the age of 52, gave the most talked about performance seen at the Royal Ballet. Mikhail Baryshnikov, at 67, is still learning new works and constantly performing.
But a look back at dance history shows us that some of the most prominent artists performed will into their “later years.” Merce Cunningham continued to perform into his late 60s, while Diana Payne-Myers danced into her 80s.
Another trend that I am a willing and active participant of is the use of text on stage. Spoken work has finagled its way back into the dance world after the height of politically charged works from the 1960s-1980s (it never left) and it is not going anywhere anytime soon. But it does have its consequences, and not everyone should be jumping on this bandwagon. There is as much art to delivering a line, constructing a scene, and writing a script as there is to execute a pirouette. Not all dancers can, or should, do it. But when it works, it really works, and opens dance to a whole new territory of storytelling.
OK. Now back to my boobs.
In my early-to-mid 20s, the risky, body-baring, intimate dances I made were powerful. I gained collaborators, opportunities, shows, and notoriety. Many of my contemporaries did the same. We were excited and nervous, going in a new direction that “NO ONE HAD EVER GONE BEFORE.”
Except that they had, for decades. Maybe not everywhere and maybe not the exact movements over the same cutting of Sigur Ros or Max Richter or Son Lux, but the concepts and ideas that we think we are innovating are merely reinterpretations and deconstructions of preexisting forms. And that’s the challenge. How can you add to the history of these concepts? With so many examples to choose from, how will your work expand upon your predecessors? And how will you proceed in making work that is inherently derivative, as it relates to an ever-growing lineage of ideas? Where is the sweet spot in the Venn diagram where the approved anachronisms and the cool, new concepts can intermingle?
And now a selected etymology of boobs, butts, and balls:
In 1965, dancer and choreographer Anna Halprin made Parades and Changes, during which a group of people, standing equidistant apart, slowly removed their clothes. The late-1960s also brought us Hair and Oh! Calcutta! In 1970, as part of the “Judson Flag Show” at the Judson Memorial Church – a response to debates about the desecration of the flag—Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A had dancers naked under American flags worn like bibs. In 1986, Mark Morris created Striptease based on Roland Barthes’ 1955 essay.
In 1991, Bill T. Jones placed a group of 10 nude dancers on stage and asked them to move performed a work of ceaseless, staccato choreography, Continuous Replay. In 2009, performance artist Keith Hennessy staged a solo, Crotch, where he sat naked with his groin covered in lard, and proceeded to sew his skin to the audience members’ clothing. Jonah Bokaer’s work, NUDEDESCENDANCE, is based on Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, and explores the disappearance of the body. Sidra Bell used nudity in both Beautiful Beast and Nudity to contextualizing the female body in contemporary culture.
These are just a few examples of the many historical and contemporary cases of nudity on stage. When it works, it has the power to change our perceptions of the body, plant new meanings and ideas, and reclaim the feminine and social body. But it is not nudity that shocks, but how it is used.
In the past, nudity on stage was risky, but now it’s just an aesthetic and a staple of contemporary dance. It does not mean what it used to. Its power has been usurped. Risk comes and goes, rising and falling in favor just like a sine wave. But true risk is an outlier. It is not a fad or a trend. It is what is next. What will the risky dance of tomorrow look like?
» Danielle Georgiou is a dance educator, critic and writer. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of DGDG (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group) and is a working dancer and performance artist. Her column Sixth Position appears on the third Friday of the month on TheaterJones.com.
- February 2014: Cash Choreography
- March 2014: Make the Fringe Your Future
- April 2014: Don't Freak Out, It's Just an Audition
- May 2014: You Love Dance. You're Not Alone
- June 2014: Persevering Through Movement
- July 2014: Sharing in Success
- August 2014: To the Barre
- September 2014: Method Act
- October 2014: Fear of Flying
- December 2014: The Editor Dance
- January 2015: Community Relations
- February 2015: The Fabric of Movement
- March 2015: State of the Dance
- April 2015: The Dance Mom Complex
- May 2015: Who Wants to Date a Dancer?
- June 2015: Figuring How Men Fit In
- August 2015: Creative Economy
- September 2015: Dancing to Learn
- October 2015: Whose Idea Is It Anyway?
- December 2015: '15 Going on '16
- January 2016: In Memoriam
- Februrary 2016: The Politics of Dancing
- March 2016: No column
- April 2016: Defining Dance Theatre
- May 2016: No column
- June 2016: Dancing for Change
- July/August 2016: No column
- September 2016: Sweat the Details, Not the Consequences
- October/November 2016: No column
- December 2016: Louder Than Tweets
- January 2017: Making and Moving
- February 2017: Don't Fudge the Truth
- March 2017: The Collective Unconsciousness of Creating
- April 2017: Professionally Speaking
- May 2017: Dancer Depictions
- June 2017: No column (Danielle was busy preparing for Donkey Beach)
- July 2017: Where Have all the Critics Gone?
- August 2017: Rain Dance