Look at the erotic structure of this platform. “Blind dates.” Couplings. Actual romantic couples, past (JP + YLC) and present (RM + SR). The matchmaking is diluted by the impossibility of sexual desire between coupled artists, given what I know of our respective gender preferences, with the exception of SR + AD-W (and ECC + YLC?). Sex aside, at our first group meeting desire expressed itself most acutely across contexts, worlds, lifestyles. Most of the current NYCB dancers said they envied our “freedom” to “experiment” (unclear if “our” = any non-ballet dancer including the Cunningham faction, or specifically “experimental” practitioners). Of course I would love to have a salary and quality healthcare, not to mention a hyper-structured schedule, and the rare convergence of occupation, career, and identity.
Lifestyle-longing plays out in fiscal terms; now we’re on to (back to) aspirational economics (see CLASS BOOMERANG). My first crushes were on fellow ballet students. I was a girl and they were girls. Or women. Men in the company were dying of AIDS and preteens whispered nasty things about the soloist who might be a lesbian. This was San Diego. I jumped last with the men and wanted to kiss Stephanie and Jennifer and Caitie and Chelsea. In the early 2000s Jennifer fucked another company member named Jennifer. Both Jennifers cut that out and married men.
The path of the modern or pomo or contemporary or post-post- dancer mimics the metanarrative of Euro-US dance history. Defection is a prerequisite. In contrast to visual art movements, which modify, rethink, and push against that which has come before but do not require an artist’s wholly exiting the field or sub-field, modern dance is framed as a complete rejection of and alternative to ballet. Rebellion is involved on all fronts across disciplines, but in dance the rebellion necessitates leaving a world. You have to make new friends. Cunningham is muddy territory. He defects from Graham, but the work formally loops back to Balanchine. The loop-back is deeply fashionable now in post-9/11 New York downtown dancemaking, no doubt influenced by visual art’s mandate to quote, adapt, revive its canon. This is a sentence from Denby’s book: “Today’s avant-garde is as engaged, now as in the past, with anti-music, anti-dance, anti-theatre, and everybody agrees it is a good thing to have around.” It’s from a 1964 short essay on Paul Taylor. I very much doubt this 1964 consensus around feeling favorably toward Judson, but today the ballet gatekeepers rarely have warm feelings about downtown dance. When did everybody stop agreeing it is a good thing to have around? Early in Reagan’s tenure is my guess. What makes a 2014 defection different from a 1964 defection? We don’t have an avant-garde, for one.
I found an interview with Sterling from 2007 where she spoke candidly about City Ballet dancers’ salaries. “The typical salary of a dancer in New York City ranges anywhere from, maybe, $65 or $68,000 to $100,000, depending on your rank.” Okay, so you’re a corps de ballet dancer with a $68k salary—maybe $72k now that it’s 2014—at age 18. You’ve attended high school part-time; you’re considering part-time college. You’re rich. For now. You dance for 10 years, 20 if you’re lucky, 30 if you’re Wendy Whelan. If you grew up working class, you’ve enjoyed a brief high income period, but now you’re 36 and retired and halfway through your bachelor’s. The class boomerang. Or really, it’s the income boomerang. Unless you’ve managed to make excellent investments and accumulate wealth—not income, but wealth—the ballet dancer’s class position nets zero across the span of their dance career. I like the boomerang analogy because the boomerang travels at an angle, but mostly horizontally. Upward mobility is not in the picture. The high income period is the boomerang when it’s farthest away, and then it comes back and hits you in the face. When I was 7 a boomerang hit me in the face and broke my nose. I was holding a plate of food and I bled into my macaroni salad. It was summer. The kid who threw it was 8 and wore white socks under black Velcro sandals. He had very pink lips that were always wet. This happened under a rental tent on a Yale campus lawn during my father’s 25-year reunion. My father went to Yale; my brother went to Yale, twice. I grew up solidly middle class; I currently make poverty wages. Today I am low income and middle class. This Platform catches the City Ballet dancers at the far-away boomerang. They ride cabs and have dog walkers. The rest of us have at least one academic degree, if not two or three; our occupations range from adjunct professor to dog walker. Back to our first group meeting, and the freedoms us downtowners supposedly enjoy: all the ballet dancers couched this in financial language. We have the “luxury” to make whatever we want. This attitude can either represent class aspiration or class arrogance. The latter romanticizes poverty and believes in funemployment: how cute that you can experiment. The former knows the boomerang will come back: how nice that you can tinker.
The unstated expectation is that we work across the three “poles”—that we reskill with the help of our partner from another world, or take on a foreign pole thematically. As an ostensible representative of the Judson legacy, I am to research NYCB or Cunningham. What if we remove the “encounter” fetish, ignoring the two alien institutions in favor of going deep into Judson? (I know City Ballet isn’t alien to you, Emily.) (Are you alienated?) The four of us who have no direct ties to NYCB or Cunningham are no more directly connected to Judson Dance Theater. City Ballet and Cunningham retain their specificity while Judson is a synecdoche for postmodern and/or downtown dance. It is important that NYCB not stand in for ballet. I’m not in the least compelled to engage Cunningham for this project, save for that footprint in the Jasper Johns lobby piece.
TO DANCE OR NTD
I’m fucked if I dance and I’m fucked if I don’t dance. For this platform. Either way I reify the ballet dancer/non-ballet dancer, uptown/downtown, straight-passing/queer, divide amidst our group. If I dance you see my “version” of ballet next to Ballet.
If I don’t dance I’m the body that’s not supposed to dance, not dancing.