Twyla Tharp, a MacArthur choreography "genius grant” recipient, speaking on the Dick Cavett Show, said, “Which technique you use isn’t important. We use ballet.”
Tharp, a choreographic genius, was shooting from the hip—and she missed. Dance techniques rise from human experience, reflect it, and are not really interchangeable. Classical ballet, from kingly courts, strove to assure lords and ladies that they were more than mere mortals. Baratya Natyam and other Indian forms reflect a rich mythology. Spanish Dance projects a conqueror’s steely machismo. The Royal Watutsi danced in sensuous synchrony with the Earth. Jazz is a flashy hybrid of Irish step dancing and African rhythms.
Martha Graham’s technique projects her struggles with the soul. Merce Cunningham ventures into implacable serenity. Erick Hawkins blends with creation. Alwin Nikolais peers through an infinite kaleidoscope. Jack Cole captures the impersonal power of the machine age. Doris Humphrey, Jose Limon and Alvin Ailey evoke aspects of Everyman.
Dance pundits dubbed the last Big Thing, “Modern Dance,” embraced by fiercely creative second and third generations: Merce Cunningham, Jose Limon, Hanya Holm, Alvin Ailey, Anna Sokolow, Pearl Primus, Erick Hawkins. Some wobbly experiments encouraged them to pontificate about “Post-Modern,” but the real practitioners soon saw beyond it and went on to produce forceful dances not post anything.
Today’s next Big Thing is out there already seen by millions, the street form called “breaking.” From its reputed origins on the streets of Harlem and Spanish Harlem it spread into the world. Some fragments can be detected in the pop TV show, So You Think You Can Dance, but are swallowed up by banal shake-your-ass kick-over-your-head trash.
Dance as a theater art needs what break-people are inventing—a new vocabulary that looks like no other and glistens with theater potential. (Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey would have grabbed it.) Dancers on the streets and in studios are learning the moves even while they create new ones, and a few institutions, the American Dance Festival for one, hires them to teach it.
Will it attract masters like Bill T. Jones and Robert Battle, or will it take some young genius to recognize and capture these eerie, other worldly, de-constructed, re-constructed moves with their creaturely physicality, black hole intensity, elusive grace-under-pressure mystery that bursts out of their bodies and strains through confining skin? Can it be tamed, codified, taught in dance classes, given to the world, made into stage or TV or Internet choreography, the next shape-shifting Big Thing? Will it generate dances inspired by dark energy, string theory, solar flares, global warming, rising oceans, life on Mars, asteroids on collision orbits with Earth? It’s already worldwide. Click the link for a short clip taken on the streets of Oakland, CA. Street Dancers of Oakland, CA