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Subject: "Pretentiousness in dance" Archived thread - Read only
 
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Conferences What's Happening Topic #554
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jonathan

01-03-00, 07:45 PM (GMT)
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"Pretentiousness in dance"
 
   Bruce said in the posting about Rambert's choreographic workshop "I'm always in two minds about very avant garde work - after all if you can't experiment when you are young when can you? On the other hand it can be desperately pretentious and you all might wish you were elsewhere".

When something seems pretentious, the feeling is usually unequivocal. But what is it in a work that makes it pretentious? If there were a law against pretentiousness in dance (as you see it), what evidence would you need to prove that a crime had been committed?



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  Subject     Author     Message Date     ID  
  RE: Pretentiousness in dance Stuart Sweeney 01-03-00 1
     RE: Pretentiousness in dance jonathan 02-03-00 3
         RE: Pretentiousness in dance Stuart Sweeney 02-03-00 5
  RE: Pretentiousness in dance Jane S 01-03-00 2
     RE: Pretentiousness in dance Bruce Madmin 02-03-00 4
         RE: Pretentiousness in dance eugene 02-03-00 6
             RE: Pretentiousness in dance Kevin Ng 02-03-00 7
                 RE: Pretentiousness in dance jonathan 02-03-00 8
                     Summary so far jonathan 02-03-00 9
                         RE: Summary so far Jane S 03-03-00 10
                             RE: Summary so far Cath 12-03-00 11
                             RE: Summary so far jonathan 12-03-00 12

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Stuart Sweeney

01-03-00, 09:42 PM (GMT)
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1. "RE: Pretentiousness in dance"
In response to message #0
 
   At risk of subverting Jonathan's question, I'd like to turn the issue of the avant-garde and pretentiousness around. The point that always intrigues me is my perception that audiences in the in the UK are very reluctant to engage with new developments.

It's not that we don't have the artists, but whereas Jonathan Burrows gets smaller audiences in Manchester than he does in Estonia, his nearest equivalent in Germany, William Forsythe not only commands enormous respect from critics, as Burrows does, but also appears to achieve great popularity in Germany, France and beyond.

Pina Bausch (of sheep on stage, dancers spitting water and shovelling earth onto the stage continuously through the performance) receives regional funding to support a company more than twice the size of Rambert and has done a great deal to put German performing arts on the world map. The German businessmen I dealt with had all heard of Bausch. I wonder how many UK businessmen can name one contemporary dance performer.

In France, the leading classical ballet company in Western Europe, POB, has recently premiered a full length avant-garde work from Angelin Preljocaj, which some will love and some will hate. It may survive, it may not. But the point is that the Company feels able to give the chance for new directions and issues to be explored. Whereas we get excited when ENB revive a couple of (excellent) works from 20-30 years ago. But in order to persuade Londoners to come to see this Mr Deane has to halve the ticket prices and apologise to the dancers that they can't do more of this work because the public doesn't like it.

The most imaginative and amusing dance work in London last year was probably 'Shazam' by Decoufle. The Barbican was half full. Chatting to the dancers afterwards, they were puzzled, because the same show has played to full houses throughout Europe.

So rather than try to 'legislate' (even in fun) for a benchmark for avant-garde pretentiousness, I'd rather 'legislate' (certainly in fun) for a restriction on the number of performances of 'Nutcracker' and 'Coppelia' in a year.


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jonathan

02-03-00, 07:31 AM (GMT)
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3. "RE: Pretentiousness in dance"
In response to message #1
 
   Far from subverting the question, I think you have begun to answer it.

Germany has a history of viewing art through the veil of aesthetics ever since Baumgarten, and no review is complete without mentioning Adorno. From personal experience, I have found that many Germans treat art primarily as discourse, not entertainment.

As limited as we may be at engaging with new developments, I think we have suffered less mental abuse from theoreticians, and are able to engage our gut when dealing with art.

Germany is also the home of the Romantic notion of the artist as a kind of God, with prophetic philosophical messages to pass on through the mysteries of art to the hoi polloi. With this history, it would be unthinkable for a critic like Brian Sewell, for example, to throw stones at the artistic establishment - and as recipients of large amounts of state funding, that's what Forsythe and Bausch are, State Art.

>The German businessmen I dealt with
>had all heard of Bausch.
>I wonder how many UK businessmen
>can name one contemporary dance performer.
>

I bet they could name one if their tax were paying for her to spit on stage.

>The most imaginative and amusing dance work
>in London last year was probably
>'Shazam' by Decoufle. The Barbican
>was half full. Chatting to
>the dancers afterwards, they were puzzled,
>because the same show has played
>to full houses throughout Europe.

Perhaps we just have too much art going on to expect every visiting company to get full houses.

>So rather than try to 'legislate' (even
>in fun) for a benchmark for
>avant-garde pretentiousness, I'd rather....

Don't take this personally Stuart, but you've just provided me with a guide to pretentiousness in art: an unwillingness or inability to include fun as an aspect of the human condition, and the annoying habit of knowing what the audience wants, and deliberately giving them what you want instead.


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Stuart Sweeney

02-03-00, 09:07 AM (GMT)
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5. "RE: Pretentiousness in dance"
In response to message #3
 
   No offence taken Jonathan, but au contraire, I love fun pieces. The Decoufle was the real goods and I had a silly grin on my face for much of the show. Ironically, Bausch's 'Viktor' was quirky fun for most of its 3 hours. Incidentally, my impression (sample of 1) is that the good citizens of Wuppertal are pleased that their town has been put on the world map by Ms Bausch.

My primary point is that this is a difficult country for artists keen to try out new ideas and encouragement rather than cold water is welcome. Thankfully innovative UK artists can sometimes survive by touring Continental Europe, where they are often greatly appreciated.

Whilst my epigram on light, classical ballet was not meant to be taken seriously, I am keen to see more innovative work in this country and companies and venues have a role to play in this, otherwise in an extreme case we'd have perpetual seasons of 'Riverdance' to the exclusion of all else. God bless Sadler's Wells which has enabled us to see large scale innovative work in London and gave the RB a chance to do more adventurous programming.



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Jane S

01-03-00, 09:58 PM (GMT)
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2. "RE: Pretentiousness in dance"
In response to message #0
 
   I find that pretentiousness resides not so much in the dance works themselves as in the accompanying programme notes. Provided that the dance doesn't give hostages to fortune by including speech, I find one can usually make something out of most pieces - the incompetent always excepted; and possibly also excluding the work of some artists who think their very presence is enough to satisfy an audience.


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Bruce Madmin

02-03-00, 08:42 AM (GMT)
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4. "RE: Pretentiousness in dance"
In response to message #2
 
   >I find that pretentiousness resides not so
>much in the dance works themselves
>as in the accompanying programme notes.

Yes, yes. And flyers often feature some desperate stuff that probably turns more off than on.

>Provided that the dance doesn't give
>hostages to fortune by including speech,
>...

Speech and multi-media in general can be very painful. I guess the idea is that the various media can all complement one another and give a more powerful experience. But the reality, too often, is that poor choreography, is complimented by poor media leading to a powerfully *bad* experience. Multi-media often comes over as trying to run before you can walk. This is all a gross oversimplification to make a point of course...


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eugene

02-03-00, 11:24 AM (GMT)
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6. "RE: Pretentiousness in dance"
In response to message #4
 
   I am reluctant to attack works that I do not understand. Nevertheless at the back my mind is very much the view that a lot of modern art is pretentious.

But I think there is no doubt that many of these works are difficult and require a lot of familiarity with the art form to really like. It is obvious that I and many other poster do not have the familiarity to appreciate this art form. But I am not convinced that lack of understanding is the ENTIRE reason for our dislike for alot of modern dance. I suspect that alot of it is pretentious but I can never certain as I am not sufficiently familiar with this art form.

Regarding the view that German businessman are more cultural then our counterpart. There are many possilbe reasons for this. Part of it is due the much broader and longer University/high school eductation in German whilst in England University tends to be more focused on the courrses you are specializing in. Also in England I think many businessman take that view that arts etc is not "manly" enough. Aslo to be interested in culture shows that you are outsider and unwilling to work with your mates in a team.

When I go to a Wagner opera or any 20th century most of the audience tend to be anoraks and low achieving quasi intellectuals. There are very few high powered businessmen and definitely no entrepreneurs!


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Kevin Ng

02-03-00, 11:41 AM (GMT)
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7. "RE: Pretentiousness in dance"
In response to message #6
 
   Eugene, this is not dance. But surely a Wagner opera, as you mentioned, would attract a lot of businessmen because there's a lot of corporate entertainment of business clients at such opera performances, especially if it's at Covent Garden. And even if it's a 20th century opera at Covent Garden, there would still be seats for the corporate sponsors, I would have thought.


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jonathan

02-03-00, 11:24 PM (GMT)
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8. "RE: Pretentiousness in dance"
In response to message #7
 
   Well, I guess this all proves my point - we all know when we think something's pretentious, but just try and define it. I want evidence, lists, words and factors that define this thing that we all feel but can't describe.

Eugene's response typifies the Germanic aesthetic masochist attitude - my knowledge is not great enough, I do not understand enough about art to allow my gut to respond.

Will someone please bite the bullet and define pretentiousness? Oh, thank you, I don't mind if I do. A work of art (or a programme note thereof) that makes the viewer feel as if they are not allowed to react to it except in the terms laid down by the artist.



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jonathan

02-03-00, 11:43 PM (GMT)
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9. "Summary so far"
In response to message #8
 
   The situation so far:

* an unwillingness or inability to include fun as an aspect of the human condition

* knowing what the audience wants, and deliberately giving them what you want instead

* some artists who think their very presence is enough to satisfy an audience

* pretentiousness resides not so much in the dance works themselves as in the accompanying programme notes

* flyers often feature some desperate stuff that probably turns more off than on

* poor choreography, is complimented by poor media leading to a powerfully *bad* experience

* not convinced that lack of understanding is the ENTIRE reason for our dislike for alot of modern dance

* A work of art (or a programme note thereof) that makes the viewer feel as if they are not allowed to react to it except in the terms laid down by the artist.


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Jane S

03-03-00, 03:26 PM (GMT)
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10. "RE: Summary so far"
In response to message #9
 
   How about: a pretentious work is one that claims, explicitly or implicitly, a significance (moral, political, artistic or just plain old cosmic) which is not justified by what we actually see on stage.


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Cath

12-03-00, 00:57 AM (GMT)
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11. "RE: Summary so far"
In response to message #10
 
   How about, What is pretentious for one is not for another.
It depends on one's background and current interests. Personally, I think most ballet is complete pretentious twaddle, (now that's laying open the door isn't it) BUT, not all ballet is.I also think a lot of contemporary dance is twaddle too, yet that is what I do for a living.
It takes real strength of commitment and character to make a dance work and then expose it to all for demolition, as it would appear. It is much more nerve wracking and self exposing to choreograph work than it is to just perform it. I have known choreographers who have to hide in the bar during the show as they can't bear to watch it.
Regarding those dreaded programme notes - most choreographers I have worked with do not wish to write them as they would like the piece to be viewed as it stands - for individual interpretation, (apart from a couple of egotists down DV8 way),and the only reason programme notes appear is often because the theatres insist on some as the audience have continually requested some hook that they could use to access the piece. I suspect this is from people who can be bothered to fill in those audience surveys. I for one never did and would rather find my own way into a piece than be fed some line that sounds awfully like a soundbite.
There -I'm done.
for the time being
Cath


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jonathan

12-03-00, 09:35 AM (GMT)
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12. "RE: Summary so far"
In response to message #11
 
   Yes, I agree that what is pretentious for one person may not be pretentious for another. What I am interested in finding out is, what aspect of a work (or our personality) flicks the "urgh! Pretentious" switch in our brains, even if the works in question are completely different.

For example, you might say that ballet is pretentious twaddle because it's archaic period-piece nonsense and that dancers are not expressing anything genuine or interesting, just performing steps which went out of fashion in 1890. I feel the same way about a lot of "contemporary" music which drags music kicking and screaming into...er...the 1960s avant-garde.

In both cases, though the works may be different, the principle is essentially the same.



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