2016 is hard. In undeniable and contradictory ways.
And the position of loveDANCEmore is challenging: desiring to comment on vital artistic and political intersections but also being a non-profit, largely unable to comment lest it be rendered ineligible for funding.
In a larger world, an organization may publish a piece with a caveat that it's not necessarily the views of the staff. But loveDANCEmore pieces are written pretty exclusively by staff due to the size and scope of our resources available.
So what to do?
I've settled on what I usually do, which is tell the truth and hope everything else turns out okay.
When I was in graduate school, we had a History/Theory/Criticism course. During a class session we cycled into a conversation on modern dance in Germany during World War II. I don't remember how we arrived there but I remember the result.
Two of my peers said that they understood the position of artists who stayed in Germany during the war and "they were just trying to make their art."
A third peer, Neta Pulvermacher, silently picked up her pencil and threw it (like a dagger) at their faces saying calmly and clearly, "them making their art killed my family."
Having grown up on a kibbutz, Neta was uniquely more positioned than I was to offer a comment of any kind. And truly, until I saw the pencil fly, I was following the previous train of thought, unable to think of any recourse the artists may have had. I was only 22, everyone else in the conversation was much older, returning to receive an MFA having already begun astounding careers as choreographers, performers and educators.
I made a silent agreement with myself in that moment that, if required, I would remember what Neta said and find the fortitude to recall that making art is not excused from political reality.
I receive money from the state government that is filtered down from the federal government. Is this receipt an endorsement of that government, even if it's used to make political work? Is it ethical to accept money from an entity whose leader verbally vows abuses against women, among other abhorrent behaviors? Is it appropriate to wait and see what happens, or is it essential to immediately commit to an alternative revenue stream?
In Utah, and universities across the country, dancers can still become "Certified Movement Analysts," proving that they have completed study of concepts outlined here.
Laban developed "Labanotation" and worked with the Nazi regime in World War II, coordinating festivals funded (and approved) by Joseph Goebbels. Some claim his attachment to Nazi ideology was for his own survival, but he's still accused of removing non-Aryan pupils and promoting other deadly views through German schools of dance.
Although his concepts about movement have been defended to me, my brain boils them down to this: why would anyone want to codify something as individual as human movements if not to reduce their explanations of bodies and therefore people? And why do we give experts in that codification an acknowledgement of mastery? Why does the program training students in the work of Laban make no mention of its inherent genocidal world view?
One of the more potent defenses was from a friend in Salt Lake who learned English as a second language and found the highly verbal process to give him entry points into communicating about dance. The viewpoint that Laban unwittingly gave a gift to a person who would've been eradicated at the time he made his work is not a silver lining, but a painful reminder.
In high school I took a class called "American Problems," which should've been called "Republican Mormon Propaganda in Public Education." To allegedly learn about dictatorships, we were forced to enact one. Football players were allowed to be fuhrers, demanding that we buy them snacks of their choice and giving us our grade based on whether or not we were aggressively heteronormative and deferential enough.
When asked to be the secretary of our new class government, I walked to the Vice Principal's office and asked if, instead of being verbally abused in class, I could write a paper.
In the same year, I advocate, in high school debate tournaments, for the disarmament of the United States nuclear arsenal. At that time I don't actually believe anyone will use nuclear weapons again but repeat aloud over 300 times that the United States is the only country to ever kill anyone with nuclear weapons.
The devastation nuclear bombs cause to Japan births Butoh. In undergrad, I will write a paper on Butoh as the embodiment of a dialectic, that the result of a violent political moment is this distinct dance which holds within it both the pain of nuclear warfare and a suggestion, rendered in the landscape, a body may also carry hope.
There is a story I've heard third- and fourth-hand about a local dancer who gave up a contract with a prominent company because she didn't want to be topless in a performance.
In this debate I've come out largely in favor of the company and not the individual. Part of this is me, internalizing the constant requirement that Utah performance be modest, a requirement which only creates under-rehearsed rebellion.
Why then, am I hopeful that individual Rockettes will protest a required gig at the Presidential Inauguration?
Yes, being made to perform for the sexual predator President-Elect (remember, assault only has to be verbal, although he's accused of sexual battery as well, particularly in the dressing rooms of performing women) does seem like a powerful degree of difference from being asked to perform in a work where nudity is required. Yet, why do I hope for some women to have better agency and others to take it or leave it?
Since writing, the internet tells me the "requirement" may be off, making me arguably more afraid about what women I know who desire to complete such a task.
My body is here, in Utah. Where it's both normative and an anomaly. Where it's both situated in privileges (my demographic helped elect a person) and also denigration (that person doesn't think I am also a full, deserving person).
The common threads of conformity and resistance are woven through performance because it is a tradition carried on the physical bodies of humans who live it.
So, in a spirit of open-endedness, here are interesting winter reads related to the political moment (some of them I've read, others are new to me and I'm putting them here not because I know their content is good, but because the subject they purport to explore is relevant to the now).
If you comment with additional offerings, I will add them.
Ashley Anderson directs loveDANCEmore as part of her non-profit, "ashley anderson dances."