Monday, May 10, 2010

Mothers Day and the History of Dance

My daughter gave me a set of gift certificates as her gift, and I pulled the one where I get to force them to watch any movie I want.  We had just seen a live company class at the Joffrey Ballet, and I had a copy of the documentary about the Ballet Russe on DVD .  If you know anything about dance history (and most people don't) you know that this particular ballet company in the early 20th century was to profoundly affect everything about dance in the western world even until now.  The influence of the various incarnations of the Ballet Russe affected painting, theater, Broadway musicals, film and television and of course, the art of ballet and the birth of modern dance.   The thing about dance history, though, is that it is so much a history that lives in the bodies of the people that create it.  And film came into being at exactly the right time to capture and hold that history.  This documentary was made at exactly the right moment--many of the original performers were still alive and vibrant.  Well into their 80's, some in their 90's, we got the stories straight from their mouths.  I am a part of that history, having studied with some of the pillars of American Modern Dance, from Hanya Holm and Alwin Nikolais to Robert Ellis Dunne, the composition teacher who also taught the Judson Church choreographers.   I am not entirely certain my kids "got" the idea of oral history, or really enjoyed the film.  After seeing the generation on stage with the Joffrey Company class, I felt thrillingly a part of dance history.  I am hoping more documentary film makers capture the stories of dancers as we move into the future. My kids hope I don't have too many of those coupons!

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