and the Lost History of Rehearsals
My flying instructor was emphatic. “Fly the airplane. Don’t let the airplane fly you!” How, I wondered, could an airplane fly me?
A few weeks later, a student, coming in for a landing, angled toward the control tower. I watched hypnotized as the plane, a good 100 yards off course, headed straight at the little building, to zoom up at the last second, circle the field and land. The instructor had waited to see if the cadet, frozen at the stick, would take control. He never did. It was his last flying lesson. The army found him another job.
Because an airplane is shaped to fly, heading into a wind, it must fly. But it will quickly crash if its pilot does not take control. An airplane pilot is taught to be a control freak. After I’d graduated to a four-engine bomber, I was drilling my own co-pilot in landing, and on our final approach we drifted in a crosswind. He corrected by crabbing into the wind, but when he straightened out maybe 100 feet off the ground, we drifted again. He shook his head and turned the controls over to me. We spent several days practicing landings until I felt he was enough of a control freak. No pilot dare let the plane fly itself although now, with computer-guided automation they can.
Dancers are control freaks too, but with a difference—it is themselves they train to control. Dancers must have as much control of their bodies as pilots of their planes. Then they turn themselves over to a choreographer who uses their control to control them. When a trained dancer meets an inventive choreographer, something miraculous can happen. Or sparks can fly
When I heard Paul Taylor tell a young choreographer, “Use the music. Don’t let the music use you,” it was déjà vu all over again. But choreography allows leeway. You hear a musical spike, you respond. Too much and you are Micky-Mousing, the music is using you. Merce Cunningham went to the other extreme; he’d tell a composer to write 30 minutes of music, he’d make 30 minutes of dancing, then run them together. It is said he once did that for the first time at a performance before an audience. Cunningham did keep control of his moves, however. Some choreographers yield control of this basic element in creative ways. Martha Graham occasionally did, and when something useful emerged she’d call it “a small miracle.”
Dance writers, some deeming themselves historians, write about everything but this most important thing that happens in dance—the interactive miracle between choreographer and dancer, the moment of creation. Maybe because it happens in the rehearsal studio where few of them stay very long. The result is a huge vacuum in dance history--the lost history of rehearsals. It’s a subject about which I have written more than can appear here.