This weekend I saw Big Dance Theater’s production of their 25th anniversary show called “Short Form”. It was presented at the ICA in Boston, MA. This performance was a collection of short form dance piece ranging from 2 mins to 14 mins. These pieces involved beautiful uses of light, sound, projection, and motion. The creators of Big Dance Theater Annie- B Parson and Paul Lazar have spent a career of dance, theater, and lighting using literature and pieces of text to inspire their work and this piece captured the essence of their 205 year career in doing so.
This weekend I also read a review for this dance piece called “Big Dance Theater comes up ‘Short’ at the ICA” written by Jeffrey Gantz. Gantz is extremely dismissive of the work that he saw citing it as “flat” and describing one of the pieces as “Not the most gracious way to celebrate an anniversary.” Gantz’s grapples with his lack of understanding of the piece and innate confusion about the non dance, dance piece he saw. Gantz spends each section of the article describing the various pieces and finding witty ways to dismiss the choices made as if they were non-specific and a grave mistake.
My issue with this review, besides the lack of understanding of the genre “dance theater”, lies in the way in which dance as a whole is still so readily compared to ballet as the norm and everything straying from that is an affront to the pointed toes and ballet slippers. Dance in gerneal has undergone many changes especially during the New York 1960s Avant Garde movement. It was during this time that names such as Merce Cunningham and Yvonne Rainer started to shape the way that we saw dance. Dance was no longer about the human body as a means of perfection but it turned into an expression and exclamation that everything is dance and anyone can dance.
Dance theater follows in that same lineage but often times adds more performative elements and starts at a different source point for creation. Dance theater, and specifically the work of the Big Dance Theater uses dance but then goes off on a journey so far away from the constraints of traditional balletic dance and into a world that is specifically an exploration of text and lights.
Dance theater is not something that is stand alone but rather exists in the container of the evening. It is not something to “get” or not. It is not an academic feat but made for everyone to have a different experience. Just because a story is not linear or the source material is a poem in a different language, does not mean it is not valid; just because a dance does not include the pointiest of pointed toes and loud house music blares from around the space, does not mean it is not dance.
So, to Mr. Gantz, while I respect your place in the literary world and understand the platform on which you are able to critique and review dance around Boston, I encourage you to approach each dance piece from the world which it comes from. It is really okay if a piece does not speak to you, it can actually be more fun if it does not. But, please let your platform serve as an opportunity to introduce readers into the fun and challenging world that dance theater can provide than turn them away from ever experiencing something other than the Nutcracker. Dance theater demands the right to not be held to any traditional standard and we should not perpetuate these ideas either.
If you would like to learn more about the work of the Big Dance Theater please click here!