I’ve just returned to Columbus from a wonderful 3 weeks at Bates Dance Festival. During my time there, there were a lot of discussions regarding choreographers’ processes when making work. During our second week at the festival, we were fortunate enough to see Robert Moses and his company, Robert Moses Kin, a contemporary dance company based out of San Francisco. During the talk-backs I attended, one of Moses’s most emphasized points was his interest in dancers as individuals. I took this to mean that his ideal dancer is one who has little-to-no-inhibition about using their experiences, hopes, worldviews, dreams, strengths, weaknesses, fears, downfalls, etc. as a way to inform their movement, and contribute to the choreographic work.
Moses’s construct of an ideal dancer is one that, I believe, is becoming quite the new-norm amongst many concert stage choreographers. There has been a shift in the relationship between choreographers and dancers from a clear hierarchical relationship to a more communal and collaborative one. In many processes these days, dancers are expected to bring their creative thoughts to inform the choreographer’s work. Therefore, many choreographers cherish the way a dancer thinks as much as they move. This is a drastic difference from a dancer who simply existed as a body to be molded and shaped for the purpose of the choreographer’s vision.
As I reflect on my appreciation of this evolution within dance, I find it intriguing to connect this importance of “dancer as individual” within concert stage dance to the folk dance tradition where the sharing of ones’ individuality has always been the norm. This norm stems from a quintessential characteristic of folk dance—improvisation—where it’s all about the expression of individuality as a way to contribute to the personality of the community.
Take a style such as Bboying. Despite its clear structure— top rock, floorwork, power moves, and freezes— the form would fail to exist within the folk communities if there was no clear room for individual expression. Within the bboy structure, bboys and bgirls use their own sense of style, musicality, amongst other things, in order to express innovation, creativity, and individuality. By sharing their own individuality within the Bboy structure, each dancer allows for the form as a whole to change and progress.
Dance used to be so segregated between high art (art done for the upper class citizens of a society) and folk art. Although each world has always informed one another, I believe the distinction between the two is becoming less and less prevalent as choreographers within concert stage dance continue to adopt the mindset of folk dance traditions. The increase of technology continues to integrate high and low art together as well, and I simply wonder how all of this integration will change the dance world and how it’s perceived during my lifetime.