Thursday, August 12, 2010

Portland Dance: Linda Austin's video solos

By Barry Johnson

This morning's buzz about the internet was arrested by a Twitter from Linda Austin that linked me to Vimeo and a set of videos she's been stashing there. The ones I watched were silent, short bursts of movement, a couple of minutes each. "Bursts of movement" doesn't quite capture it. Sure, there's a bit of "bursting," but it's movement of all sorts, a choreographer working out, warming up, trying some phrases or stringing some phrases together.  If I hadn't been in such a hurry to tell you about it, I would have stayed longer. After my work here is done, I intend to go back. Here's a sample:

7-28-2010c from Linda Austin on Vimeo.

I read a story about how dance vanishes on the BBC 3 site the other day. Last year, both Pina Bausch and Merce Cunningham died, and their work instantly started to evaporate.

Well, actually it had been evaporating all along, but their deaths accelerated the process.  Our ability to recreate such dances as Cunningham's Biped or Summerspace, Ismene Brown points out in the story, without Cunningham is greatly diminished.
"The main obstacle, it emerges, is the choreographers’ own, almost pathological worship of the ephemeral. Cunningham said approvingly, “Dance gives you nothing back. No MS to store away, no paintings to show on walls, no poems to be printed and sold - nothing other than that fleeting moment when you feel alive.” He had made 200 works on his death at 90 last summer, of which only a quarter have any chance at all of being staged in the future since only they have enough materials, notes and videos to pack into “capsules” to offer any company wanting to try. (Even then they'll need one of his dancers to interpret them.)"
I think this is true, especially for the older work of Cunningham's -- before video was everywhere.  Here's a longer video of part of his Changing Steps, culled from YouTube.  I'm not sure that you could recreate the dance based on this video -- you could be inspired by it, though, especially if you were a dancer or choreographer. I'm inspired by it, and I'm neither.

Sometimes, I think the art work of the past should be just that -- an inspiration -- in whatever form it survives.  I would love to be in that studio watching those dancers, instead of having my perspective confined by the camera.  And if I were a dancer, I'd want to contract and shudder like that, just to see what it felt like. In some crucial way, that's enough, isn't it?

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