Dancehouse is turning twenty. Its longevity is a tribute to the founding vision of Hellen Sky and Sylvia Staehli and to the many others who have contributed ever since. For this anniversary I have been invited to write something under the heading ‘What’s coming?’. I’m including the question mark, humbled by the thought that someone may have felt that I could speak for ‘the dance of the future’, as Isadora Duncan put it.
‘What’s coming?’ is an interesting question to place beside the idea of the contemporary and of contemporary dance. The juxtaposition raises the question of how we imagine time and the relations amongst past, present and future. In linear time, for example, we are propelled forward, horizontally, apparently leaving the past behind. In archaeological time, eras pile up vertically, and the past bleeds upward from below into the present and future. We can also dig it up and bring pieces of it into the space of now. In cyclical time, there are continual returns where things get created, destroyed and then re- appear – but transformed. Yet another kind of time is the one that is lived or experienced: a durational, elastic time which can seem to speed up or slow down – very much a dancer’s felt sense of time. We might have different conceptions of the contemporary, of contemporary dance, and of Dancehouse’s role depending on which of these times is or are involved.
Being an art, of time and change, it need not be weighed down by permanence and tradition.
Dance participates in the ‘of now’ and does this very well. Being an art, of time and change, it need not be weighed down by permanence and tradition. But stopping with the idea of weight for a moment, this is one of dance’s – certainly modern dance’s – most defining attributes. According to Ann Daly and others, what Duncan did with her approach to dancing that was new at the time was to enable an audience to feel her shifts of weight in their own bodies. What’s coming I hope will include dance that investigates, as it has done in the past, a poetics of human weightedness. This weightedness does not easily translate into other contemporary media or on to screens: it is particular to the live – a state which is apparently ethereal through time, but materially weighted.
In 1957, when I was turning four, Hannah Arendt wrote about the first spaceship that was put into orbit around the earth. She reflected that ‘it dwelt and moved in the proximity of the heavenly bodies as though it had been admitted tentatively to their sublime company’. But she was also taken aback by the response of American journalists at the time whose reaction was relief that: ‘the first step toward escape from men’s imprisonment to the earth’ had finally been taken. Arendt was amazed and appalled that our gravity-bound earthliness could be regarded as a prison. Ten years earlier, Doris Humphrey made a work called ‘Day on Earth’, showing that modern dance was often ahead of its time.
I have the privilege of working on a daily basis with students in their early twenties, some of whom aspire to make their lives in dance. This privilege also feels like a big responsibility as I know that their training, what informs their bodies now, will at least in part shape what’s coming as they move into the future. At the same time, I despair of national arts policy and arts funding which has failed them badly. Hence, the importance of Dancehouse which, I imagine, will not continue to exist only at 150 Princes St, North Carlton but will keep extending itself virtually and concretely towards many other real and imaginary venues and points of connecting.
Dancehouse: a becoming in space and time.
Read More:Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. Chicago & London: Chicago UP, 1958. Daly, Ann. Done into Dance: Isadora Duncan in America. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1995. Duncan, Isadora. The Dance of the Future in The art of the dance edited and with an introduction by Sheldon Cheney. New York:Theatre Arts Books, 1970 (originally publishedin 1928)