Inspired by critic and poet Edwin Denby, this season’s Danspace Project platform explores the overlap of ballet, modern and postmodern dance. On February 19, the performance component of the series begins with pairings of Kaitlyn Gilliland and Will Rawls, and Silas Riener and Adrian Danchig-Waring. Here, curator Claudia La Rocco shares some thoughts.
It was a set of ongoing conversations with Judy [Hussie-Taylor, Danspace Project’s executive director]. I don’t think there was one, This is what it’s going to be. The closest was coming across a paragraph on the Poetry Project’s history page, which talks about three nodal points [Balanchine, Cunningham and the Judson Dance Theater] and Denby as someone who taught people how to look. She and I had been talking about two things and for me at the beginning, they felt super separate. I was talking about the poet-critic tradition and about other modes of being a critic. At the same time, we were also talking about this stubborn gulf between various worlds within the New York dance world. I thought, Critics are not embedded in any one area if we’re surveying the field. So we don’t know anything as deep as the practitioners, but what we do see is how there could be connections and how what somebody is experimenting with at New York Live Arts could make sense with what somebody’s doing at Ballet Theatre.
I wanted people who were really grounded in particular worlds, so people who had a strong sense of a certain tradition or set of traditions and, at the same time, were open and curious. And also people who would be open to the idea of an untypical way of working. One of the things that has been frustrating for me is when you do see artists who have been set up with people from outside of their particular tradition. It can feel like a vanity project or like something product oriented. This is more about research and conversation and process. It’s an entirely artificial thing that I set up, so if these things don’t come off, I am the one to blame.
There are different times that are better in a way because it’s not the season, but also then people are away or are in full-on rehearsing mode. Some of it was just what Danspace’s schedule was. But one thing that’s really interesting is the extreme differences of working. In the downtown world, it can be a year or two years of making something that you perform for three days, and then it’s gone. Then, at City Ballet, they have to make something so quickly and then that piece could be performed for years. There are parts of both of those systems that could be examined and shifted. On a conceptual level, there is something really interesting to me about pairing people. One of them is like, “A year isn’t really enough,” and the other is saying, “What do you mean you want to work for three weeks? That’s way too much time.”
I know you’ve been meeting with all the artists periodically. What have those encounters shown you?
It sounds really hokey to say, but I’m really struck by how generous and open people have been, but also just that there are such differences and that those differences are exciting and not to be pushed aside. The places where there are different ways of working or of understanding what dance is, what the body is—those are the most exciting places. I think I maybe started out thinking more along the lines of, Oh but there’s so much that these people have in common, and it’s true: Of course, there are all of these common threads, but I’m more excited by the differences right now.