In the interview excerpt above, New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay discusses the challenges of writing about dance, using examples of moments in the ballets Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty that made profound impressions on him.
The theme of interpretation—in essence, how movement creates meaning—goes to the heart of dance as an art form. Interpretation comes center stage in Speaking of Dancing, a new series of interviews recorded by the Oral History Project of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division. The Speaking of Dancing project was made possible through a generous gift from Anne H. Bass.
Since March 2011, I have had the exciting opportunity to assist in the creation of seven new oral history interviews for this project, five of which were recorded on video. The interview subjects are dancers, choreographers and critics who have had significant and dynamic careers in the New York dance world.
Looking for a way to give the project a unifying theme, I worked with Susan Kraft, Coordinator of the Oral History Project, to develop the focus on interpretation in these interviews. At once a creative and critical process, interpretation is the bridge that carries ideas from choreographers to dancers and from dancers to audiences. Over time it shapes the evolving relationships between mentors and students, artistic collaborators, critics and performers, and between dancers and the works they perform.
In the Speaking of Dancing interviews, conducted by distinguished dance critics and historians (Deborah Jowitt, Nancy Reynolds, Brian Seibert, and Rose Anne Thom), the interviewees speak about their creative processes and artistic growth; the influence of teachers, mentors and colleagues; career trajectories and transitions. The interviewees address questions like:
- How do dancers develop their interpretations of dramatic roles vs. roles in non-narrative ballets?
- How does the art of dramatic expression relate to the rigors of technique that today’s dancers master?
- What methods do choreographers use to communicate their ideas to dancers?
- What are the challenges for dance critics interpreting a non-verbal form in words?
- How do audiences interpret the dance movement they see on stage?
Students and scholars of dance have few chances to hear dancers and choreographers speak at length and in depth about their art. Over the past 38 years, the Dance Division’s Oral History Project has created an unparalleled trove of oral documentation of dance. The interviews created for Speaking of Dancing demonstrate once again how articulate, engaging and insightful dance artists are in discussing their craft, as well as the extraordinary knowledge and passion that dance critics and historians bring to the field.
The other Speaking of Dancing interviews are with Karin von Aroldingen, Lupe Serrano, Holly Hynes, Wendy Whelan, Julie Kent, Kevin McKenzie, Karole Armitage, Carolyn Brown, and Ethan Stiefel. All are or will soon be available for viewing or listening on-site at the Library for the Performing Arts, and excerpts from five are available on the new Dance Oral History Channel.
The Jerome Robbins Dance Division gratefully acknowledges Anne H. Bass for inspiring, advising on, and underwriting the Speaking of Dancing project.