PHILOSOPHICAL PROBLEMS OF DANCE CRITICISM
THE DEFINITION OF "DANCE"
by Julie Charlotte Van Camp
Copyright Julie Charlotte Van Camp 1981
All Rights Reserved
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Definitions of "dance" are of philosophical interest for several reasons, even though definitions are notoriously elusive and may be of limited value ultimately in understanding the phenomenon of dance and in resolving other philosophical issues.
First, a preliminary examination of extensional definitions of examples of dance and a review of the complex characteristics of dance is useful in developing accurate and adequate explanations of the artform as it is practiced, appreciated, and evaluated. At least some of the misunderstandings of dance seem to have resulted from unwarranted assumptions about characteristics of the artform. For example, human movement is almost certainly a necessary condition of dance and its most distinctive characteristic. However, movement is by no means sufficient, and the ontological status and identity of dance performances cannot be understood solely in terms of movement. In addition, understanding the special role of the human body as an instrument of dance is necessary to account for the dance world's interest in factors not perceivable in a performance and the artform's unusual identity standards.
The numerous attempts by dance theorists to define and
describe the artform are thus important articulations of the nature of the elusive artform. Seriously inadequate definitions evidence theories likely to be inadequate with regard to other philosophical claims, such as identity and ontological status. Definitions are intimately tied to more comprehensive theories on dance, as demonstrated in an analysis by Selma Jeanne Cohen of four theorists who, "Because they have variant conceptions of the nature of dance and of its function in society, . . . propose diverse means for achieving their ends." (1) Cohen also makes the important observation that "variety of conclusions is a healthy sign," (2) and that "final validity" is not a major concern at this time in the history of the artform. (3)
A second reason for examination of the definition of "dance" is that it promises to contribute some understanding to the definition of "art" itself. Defining any artform is difficult. Dance is no exception, with its multitude of genres, the diverse components in any dance performance, and puzzling borderline phenomena. Still, definition of an individual artform is a more manageable and possibly more fruitful approach to understanding art than the more commonly attempted definition of "work of art." Further, a definition of "work of art" as a conjunction of the definitions of individual artforms, as has been proposed by Monroe Beardsley, (4) for example, should include definitions of such artforms as dance and opera, along with music, painting, and literature.
A third reason for defining "dance" is that it lays
important groundwork for specifying what critics are, or should be, evaluating. Definition of an artform is not necessarily the same thing as specifying the aesthetic object, understood in the sense of the proper object of criticism. (5) However, identifying the proper object of criticism involves distinguishing those things which are critically relevant from those which are not. Understanding the phenomenon of dance from a descriptive perspective should assist in those normative inquiries, especially for an artform about which so little is understood. For example, whether music is a necessary condition of "dance" is of interest in determining whether auditory images should be included in the proper object of criticism.
A fourth reason why definitions of dance are of philosophical interest is that in much extant writing on dance, "mere" definition is really a statement of normative critical principles, and possibly, as well, views on ontology and epistemology. Such theory-laden definitions are not unique to dance, or even art generally, but they shed important light on a young artform still grappling with the most rudimentary questions of what it is and ought to be. Writers have disagreed sharply on the definition of dance, underscoring the lively interest in the issue.
Several approaches in defining "dance" are addressed here:
A. Specifying necessary and sufficient conditions;
B. Distinguishing dance from other human phenomena; and
C. Distinguishing dance from other performing arts.
A. Necessary and sufficient conditions
Many dance critics, writers, and philosophers over the last several centuries have attempted to define "dance" using a variety of conditions and characteristics:
(1) human movement, that is
(2) formalized (e.g., by being stylized or performed in certain patterns), with
(3) such qualities as grace, elegance, and beauty,
(4) to the accompaniment of music or other rhythmic sounds,
(5) for the purpose of telling a story and/or
(6) for the purpose of communicating or expressing human emotions, themes, or ideas, and
(7) with the aid of mime, costumes, scenery, and lighting.
Most definitions begin with human movement, but differ sharply in further characterization of that movement. Historically, much writing on dance has been by persons intimately involved with the production of dance, often as choreographers. Early examples of definitions of dance are thus both descriptions of the artform at the time as well as normative statements of what dance performances ought to be.
Until the late eighteenth century, definitions of "dance" (or "ballet," in the sense of "the artform of dance") seemed to use only the first four characteristics above. Baldassarino da Belgiojoso, choreographer of Le Ballet Comique de la Reine (1581), (6) wrote that ballet is ". . . the geometrical groupings of people dancing together, accom-
panied by the varied harmony of several instruments." (7) Le Ballet Comique also had a story line, but this was apparently of peripheral concern to the sixteenth-century audience. For some time after Belgiojoso's pioneering work, ballets had at most a loose thematic link between the various dances constituting a ballet. (8) In the seventeenth century, dance consisted primarily of "Court Ballets" (Ballets de Cour):
Created to celebrate special occasions, they included verse, vocal music and danced entrees. . . The dancers were the noble guests, not professionals. The dances included the various court dances of the day. . . . (9)
"Court ballets" centered on elaborate floor patterns in elegant but simple movements, a style which arose because the amateur dancers were encumbered by the heavy clothing of the day and because the audience was seated above the dancers, on galleries surrounding the dance floor. (10)
Claude Menestrier's treatise in 1682, Des Ballets Ancient et Modernes, provides an early example of critical reasoning that currently accepted theories (in this case, regarding the ballet de cour) were inadequate. He argued that the human body itself is the only appropriate vehicle for the expression of certain inner emotions, while such props as masks and costumes are inferior substitutes. (11) In insisting upon human movement as the central expressive vehicle of dance, Menestrier anticipated the rationale of twentieth-century arguments regarding normative standards.
By the first half of the eighteenth century, court ballets were superseded by "Classic Dance" (Danse d'Ecole), using the five positions of the feet and the turn-out of the legs that are still the foundation of classical ballet. (12) Productions used professional dancers wearing less cumbersome clothing and heelless soft slippers, (13) but dance was still thought of primarily as formalized and elegant human movement. In 1712, John Weaver, an English dancer, choreographer, and teacher, wrote:
Dancing is an elegant, and regular movement, harmoniously composed of beautiful Attitudes, and contrasted graceful Posture of the Body and parts thereof. (14)
Consistent with Weaver's emphasis on dance as formalized and elegant human movement, the famous French critic and choreographer Jean-George Noverre wrote, in 1760:
Dancing, according to the accepted definition of the word, is the art of composing steps with grace, precision and facility to the time and bars given in the music, just as music itself is simply the art of combining sounds and modulations so that they afford pleasure to the ear. (15)
In the latter eighteenth century, the narrative/dramatic element assumed increasing importance. Weaver had recognized the dramatic potential of dance; he argued that this should be conveyed through the movement itself, and accordingly de-emphasized the role of costuming, (16) anticipating later reformers. But Noverre is credited with developing, in 1770, "Action Ballet" (Ballet d'Action), ballet with a ". . . plot at least as coherent as that of a play," (17) thus
furthering recognition of the dramatic potential of dance. Anatole Chujoy, in the twentieth century, said of Noverre:
Not technical mastery of steps (dancing for the sake of dancing) alone was important, but a flow of action with gestures and facial expression to fit the plot, . . . Instead of selecting music and setting steps to it, Noverre looked for a story which would offer opportunities for presenting dances, studied expressions, movements and gestures that would best illustrate the theme, and then had music especially written or adapted to fit each situation in the development of his story. (18)
Significantly, Noverre's reforms are considered by some to have altered the very definition of the artform. One contemporary critic writes of this period: "No longer was mere technical execution of steps enough justification for the title of 'ballet.'" (19)
This changing concept of dance reflected the growing importance of the dramatic component of dance, consistent with an increasing tendency in the eighteenth-century to distinguish between dancing per se and theatrical dancing, or dance as an artform. Stepháne Mallarmé, in the nineteenth century, said ballet is ". . . dancing adapted to the theatre; it is pre-eminently the theatrical form of poetry." (20) Similarly, the Encyclopedia of Denis Diderot and Jean Le Rond d'Alembert, published about 1772, defines dancing as "Ordered movements of the body, leaps and measured steps made to the accompaniment of musical instruments or the voice," (21) while ballet is defined as "action explained by a dance." (22)
In the first half of the nineteenth century, theatrical,
romantic ballet gained prominence in France and then Russia. (23) Giselle, the epitome of romantic ballet, first produced in France in 1841, incorporated the elements of formalized and beautiful human movement, music, mime, costumes, scenery, and plot. (24)
In the early twentieth century, Michel Fokine introduced plotless ballets, in which a dramatic mood was expressed without any story line. His reforms were widely accepted and his concept of ballet is regarded today as the norm: ". . . a one-act depiction of character: an atmosphere: a closed dramatic situation: a movement suite as rigid in form as a music-suite." (25) Fokine is an example of how writer-choreographers have actually altered the definition of the artform, by developing critical principles presented to the public (both in the form of choreographic examples and in writing) as statements of the way dance ought to be. His famous five principles, printed in The London Times in 1914, include:
2. The dramatic action of the ballet should be continuously developed by means of movement, rather than having sections of pantomime to relate the story alternating with dance numbers that had no dramatic or narrative significance.
3. The traditional gesture-language, or pantomime, which often was unintelligible to the audience and even sometimes to the dancers, should be abandoned; instead, in its place, the entire body of the dancer should be used to communicate ideas and feelings. (26)
In his rejection of classic mime, Fokine utilizes an appeal made frequently by dance critics in justifying a particular
critical reason: anything which detracts from (as opposed to enhancing) human movement, the central expressive vehicle of dance, detracts from the overall goodness of the work. In turn, this can be justified by a principle of unity, in that elements which detract from the human movement contribute to the disorganization of the performance. Appealing to a principle of coherence, it could be argued that anything which detracts from the human movement obscures the primary raison d'etre of dance as an artform. Fokine's principles can also be seen as a stipulation that pantomime is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition of "dance."
Despite Fokine's arguments, mime continued to play an important role for some time. In contrast with Fokine, critic Mark Perugini wrote in 1915:
The chief elements of Ballet as seen to-day are - dancing, miming, music and scenic effect. . . Each has its individual history and all have been combined in varying proportions at various periods. But it is only in the past hundred and fifty years or so that they have been harmoniously blended in the increasing richness of their development to give us this separate, protean and beautiful art - the Ballet of the Theatre. (27)
Perugini apparently believed that dance is a vehicle or method for presenting a theatrical, or dramatic, performance. In contrast, Fokine viewed dance as primarily human movement which secondarily (although still importantly) expresses a dramatic concept, though not a plot. Perugini's view was widespread in the nineteenth century, while Fokine's is predominant today. (28)
Fokine's innovation of the plotless one-act ballet did not actually eliminate plot as an accepted component, but presented an additional option. Story-ballets have continued in importance, both in the continuing interest today in nineteenth-century classics and in the occasional creation of new story-ballets. (29) Later writers assumed that plots were neither necessary nor sufficient conditions, but might sometimes enhance a production, a view still held today. Perugini wrote in 1935, for example:
A ballet is a series of solo and concerted dances with mimetic actions, accompanied by music and scenic accessories, all expressive of a poetic idea or series of ideas, or a dramatic story provided by an author, or choreographer. (30)
In the decades following, the importance of plot and mime, even in the story-ballets, has declined. In 1938, critic Arnold Haskell made no mention of mime in defining "ballet" and clearly saw plots as optional, although he still considered costuming, scenery, and music necessary to ballet:
Ballet is a form of theatrical entertainment that tells a story, develops a theme, or suggests an atmosphere through the orchestration of a group of costumed dancers trained according to strict rules and guided in tempo and spirit by the music, against a decorative background; music, movement, and decoration being a parallel in thought. (31)
Typical of contemporary definitions of dance is one by dance historian Richard Kraus:
Dance is an art performed by individuals or groups of human beings, in which the human body is the instrument and movement is the medium. The movement is stylized, and the entire dance work is characterized by form
and structure. Dance is commonly performed to musical or other rhythmic accompaniment, and has as a primary purpose the expression of inner feelings and emotions. . . . (32)
Kraus identifies several elements as necessary: (1) human movement, that is (2) formalized, (6) for the purpose of expression human emotions. Music (4) is typical, although not necessary. He does not mention (3) such qualities as grace, elegance, and beauty, (5) the purpose of telling a story, or (7) the aid of mime, costumes, scenery, and lighting. This definition is problematic, as other human phenomena also consist of the three necessary elements, and some currently avant-garde dances do not include all of them; for example, some consist of intentionally random, everyday movements, while others carefully avoid the expression of human emotions.
In summary, important historical figures have agreed that human movement is at least a necessary condition of dance, but there is disagreement about the other factors that constitute necessary or sufficient conditions, or just important characteristics. They have also differed over normative standards implicit in such definitions, and the role of definitions, whether descriptive or normative. Some writers, for example, in asserting that earlier definitions are incorrect, seem to argue that certain phenomena would not count as dance performances at all. Other proposed definitions suggest that a dance performance with certain characteristics is simply not a good performance.
Oversimplifying somewhat, views among historical dance writers on the primary characteristics of dance have shifted from (1) formalized human movement, with a very peripheral dramatic element, to (2) dramatic spectacle using mime and human movement as the vehicles for telling a story, to (3) a re-emphasis on human movement, but with an integral role for dramatic expression, whether or not a narrative is involved.
As in other artforms, avant-garde experiments in dance often seem purposely designed to play havoc with traditional definitions and concepts. (33) Regardless of the intent of the creators, these experiments present an enormous challenge to both critics and philosophers in understanding dance, although it is not necessarily the case that adequate definitions must accommodate any and all such experiments.
The one necessary condition of dance, human movement, is challenged by dances (admittedly rare) with no movement, (34) or an absolute minimum of movement highlighted by stillness. (35) These dances still have a central role for human movement, in that they use a human body capable of movement in intentional non-movement.
More common among avant-garde choreographers is that use of non-formalized movements, in the sense of both "everyday" movements and random movements. Many depart from established dance vocabularies to explore the simplest of ordinary movements, such as walking, skipping, and running. (36) Although traditional ballets sometimes incorporate a few "everyday"
movements into the formalized, ballet vocabulary, they are usually still stylized or exaggerated. (37) Avant-garde experiments use such everyday movements exclusively and without stylization. One choreographer, Anna Sokolow, says she sometimes wonders about ". . . the dividing point between movement and dance. I don't know and I don't really care." (38) Aestheticians and many dance critics, of course, do care about such things. (39) Most would hesitate to call a person walking across a room (even with a radio playing in the background and another person in the room watching) a performance of a dance, although identical movements and accompaniments might be found in a performance.
The use of random movements is another rejection of formalized dance movement. Merce Cunningham, who has collaborated extensively with avant-garde composer John Cage, uses random selection methods for the choice of steps and step-sequences in his dance performances. Even in Cunningham's works, however, the movements themselves are usually part of "formal" dance vocabularies, and at least some of his dances, although choreographed using chance, remain fixed for succeeding performances. (40) "Randomness" is used more extensively in improvisational works by experimental dance groups. (41) When the improvised movements are "everyday"movements, without the accompaniment of music, it is difficult to distinguish the performance from theater, especially mime. Randomness and everyday movements again suggest that dance is in part a function of something other than the
characteristics of the movement per se, such as the relationship between spectator and performer and the standards for appreciating and evaluating the movements. The room-walking would be art if the walker did it for the purpose of being observed, appreciated, and evaluated as a performance by the other person, and if the observer also appreciated the movement as a performance, despite the absence of a traditional theater. Standards for appreciation and evaluation as dance might involve unity, meaningfulness, and so forth, rather than non-art standards of, say, how efficiently the walker crossed the room to answer the doorbell or how carefully he walked to avoid toys on the floor.
Traditional assumptions about the role of music are also being challenged. Historically, views on the role of music have shifted from (1) the belief that music should provide only the "beat," but otherwise not "interfere" with the dancing; to (2) the nineteenth-century view that music should complement, but not overwhelm, the mood of the dance; to (3) the twentieth-century view that music and dance should be integrally related, with the dance providing a visualization and expansion of the complex relationships in the music. Avant-garde choreographers challenge all of these views.
Cunningham has experimented with dances to the accompaniment of randomly-selected music, with the intention of creating dances which may not even coincide with, let along express, anything in the music. (42) Examples of dances done in silence exist. (43) Other choreographers are experimenting
with highly unorthodox forms of musical and other accompaniment, such as typewriters, (44) whistling, (45) and electronically tape-recorded music. (46)
Avant-garde choreographers are also questioning the necessity, not only of narrative, but of any expression of emotional or dramatic content. John Cage sums up this exploration of "pure movement":
We are not, in these dances, saying anything. We are simple-minded enough to think that if we were saying something we would use words. (47)
Cage does not develop these tantalizing comments, but he seems to reject all expression of emotion, representation, and meaning because such things can be better communicated with words. Earlier in this century, a major concern of avant-garde reformers was making dance truly expressive of human emotions, in contrast with what they considered to be the emotionally vacuous classical ballet. (48) Some of today's avant-garde have swung to the other extreme, attempting to "free" movement from any dramatic or emotional content at all, (49) a trend making it difficult to distinguish such dance from athletics in terms of emotional content.
Traditional assumptions about scenery, props, and costuming are also questioned. Contemporary choreographers are incorporating into their productions film, (50) closed circuit television, (51) slide shows, (52) and videotapes. (53) Others use such unusual props as oranges which are then distributed to the audience at intermission. (54) Innovations in scenery have ranged from silhouettes behind project screens, (55) or no
scenery at all, (56) to Merce Cunningham's random selection of scenery, (57) and Alwin Nikolais' efforts to make the dancers indistinguishable from the scenery. (58) Contemporary innovations in costuming range from the frequent use of only practice clothes, to the use of designer fashions and formal dinnerwear, (59) to outright nudity. (60)
Some have also rejected traditional seating arrangements, especially the proscenium stage. Selma Jeanne Cohen summarizes several such experiments:
. . . Cunningham . . . [took] his dances into art galleries to find new ways to defocus movements in space. Others tried city squares and parks, some of them devising pieces for such specific environments that they could be done nowhere else. Twyla Tharp did Medley (1969) on a college campus, where she used a tremendous expanse of lawn. . . Rudy Perez choreographed a ballet for automobiles (with drivers) performed in a parking lot . . . James Cunningham's dancers finished a gymnasium presentation by running up to the bleachers and inviting the audience to join them in social dancing. (61)
Even when they do use a traditional stage, avant-garde choreographers are apt to reject traditional uses, emphasizing the corners of the stage, for example, instead of the center front. (62) Notably, however, these changes in physical performing space have not tampered with the traditional distinction between spectator and performer.
Some would say the various avant-garde innovations not only raise questions about traditional definitions of dance, but needlessly erode such definitions. (63) Other critics are more accommodating; Robert J. Pierce has said that
. . . the avant-gardists have not rejected the most basic elements of dance; space, time, energy, human bodies. They are taking those elements and restructuring them in ways that challenge our principles and aesthetics. (64)
It is not clear how much importance should be given to these avant-garde experiments in analyzing and defining dance. The intentional rejection of accepted standards renders almost impossible reliance on a simple listing of characteristics, whether construed as necessary, sufficient, or incidental. However, the fact that experimenters single out certain characteristics as the objects of their rejection implicitly confirms the importance of those characteristics in the artform. A choreographer defiantly designing a dance with no movement in a context centering on the expectation and evaluation of movement is making a bold statement that actually confirms the centrality of human movement in dance.
The difficulty defining dance to include both traditional views over several centuries and more recent experiments is similar to the challenge in all artforms presented by avant-garde experiments. Arthur Danto and George Dickie have developed analyses which seem determined to accommodate all such avant-garde experiments in the arts, although neither addresses dance specifically or in detail. Danto is concerned that "definition is incompatible with revolution, and it is analytical to the concept of art that the class of artworks may always be revolutionized by admission into it of objects different from all heretofore acknowledged artworks." (65) His solution for explaining why an ordinary, real
thing can sometimes be a work of art derives from recognizing that art ". . . puts reality at a distance." (66) But it is not always possible to tell simply by perceiving the thing whether it is ". . . in candidacy for an interpretation, title, and structure;" we can make this determination that "something is an artwork . . . only relative to certain art-historical presuppositions." (67)
Anita Silvers has criticized the attempts of Danto, and also Dickie, to characterize art in terms of something other than the constituents of the object in question by defining ". . . art relative to cultural, social, or historical conditions." (68) Dickie uses "agents" of the artworld to confer the status of art on objects, while Danto's test is whether the object can be subsumed under an aesthetic theory. Silvers notes that the problem with Dickie's ". . . approach is that it makes it much too easy for objects to qualify as art" (69) and ignores the fact that "the point of calling something art is to classify rather than to [merely] individuate it." (70) Further, classifying art is tied up with evaluating art:
. . . when we find ourselves wanting to classify new objects as art, we typically justify our classificatory use of "art" by arguing that, according to the newly formulated theory, the object, odd as it may be, can be shown to possess aesthetic value and therefore should be honored by being called "art." (71)
Silvers does not actually propose a definition of art in terms of criteria such as "artifactuality" or "significant form," but she re-opens the search for such conditions of
arthood, from both criteria for classification and evaluation.
Silvers' criticism of Danto similarly rejects reliance upon some external context, specifically, the application of some art theory as transforming an ordinary object into an art object. She argues that there is no way to preserve a boundary between art and non-art under this approach, because there is no explanation for why a theory should be applied to one object, but not to another perceivably indiscernible from it. (72) Silvers' alternative is to consider the art object as the physical thing plus whatever "activities" by the artist make it an artwork. These activities, she says, ". . . should be counted as elements of his artistic product." (73) She does not attempt to reconcile this with the intentional fallacy, although she admits that her view ". . . count[s] elements which are not immediately present and directly perceivable as constituents of aesthetic objects. . . ." (74) But Silvers' theory is subject to the same criticism she raises against Danto. Art objects are not distinguishable according to whether they are subsumed under an art theory, she says, because we cannot specify a concept of "art theory" that makes the desired distinction. But the notion of "artistic activities" is no more satisfactory. If the activity of putting something on display in a theater makes ordinary walking an example of the artform of dance, why does not the activity of an audience member in walking down
the aisle to show off a new gown makes that walking an example of dance?
I believe the solution is to shift the test of the borderline between art and non-art from the creator or performer to the perceiver. When I perceive an artwork, whether to appreciate it or to evaluate it, I often have no knowledge of the artist's acts of "christening" or of some theorists's subsuming of the object under a theory or of the artist's activities. I might make inferences about those things by the fact that the work has ended up in a situation in which I can raise the question of whether this is a work of art, but I cannot and need not be certain about those things. What is important in my appreciation and evaluation are the activities, theories, and criteria for evaluation I can bring to the work.
Because of established conventions in ballet performances, I do not consider the aisle-walker an object of aesthetic appreciation. But because of different conventions in some avant-garde circles, I might consider activity of people who appear to be audience members in the aisle the proper object of appreciation. The avant-garde choreographer might have planned the aisle-walker's presence and activities. But it is also not unlikely today in dance that the aisle walker was not planned by the choreographer originally, but that critics and audience took it to be part of the performance, leading the choreographer to later accept it as such and perhaps to add that performance element later. Many
things also happen on stage which are "accidents," not intended by choreographer or performer, yet which are appreciated as part of the work by critics and audiences and which might later be intentionally incorporated by the choreographer.
My view does not result in total autonomy for audiences and critics in determining what counts as art, because they do not create situations which are candidates for such appreciation. Choreographers present such candidates and theorists discuss them and bring them to the attention of perceivers. Without those contributions, perceivers would not have the raw materials for making their determinations. But it is a mistake to say that the determination of what counts as the art object is made by those persons behind the scenes, especially since we often cannot know what those persons intended.
Because of the centrality of perceivers, we can account for different definitions of dance in history. What was considered non-art in the eighteenth century might now be considered art because the conventions for appreciation and evaluation have changed. It is also clear why analysis of dance must explicitly identify the context and purpose of the analysis, whether to determine what was considered dance in previous centuries or now.
Critics and choreographers provide definitions not only to describe phenomena as it exists, but also to make normative assertions about what good dance is or what the artform should become. Philosophers discussing dance have limited
themselves largely to the former descriptive function.
Etienne Gilson seems to treat as necessary conditions human movement, with formal beauty and non-utilitarian purpose. He characterizes dance as ". . . a wholly special order of the arts whose aim is to impart a formal beauty to the human being himself: to his body, his soul, or to both taken together," (75) and as ". . . the a rt which orders the natural bodily movement by imparting to them a form which is pleasing in itself, independently of any other end." (76) Gilson characterizes 'ballet" as a distinct type of dance, using several other artforms:
A ballet is a theatrical representation in dance form: it requires a play acted by dancers and mimes. . .; further, it requires the art of painting for the decor and the costumes; at times, as in the opera-ballet, it also requires poetry and spoken or declaimed language; and, finally, music always. (77)
Gilson's understanding of "ballet" is much narrower than current usage, in his requirement of narrative, music, costumes, and scenery, but his definition implies that those things are not necessary for "dance."
Joanne Friesen also characterizes "dance" in terms of the movement itself, rather than any theatrical trappings. Instead of relying on such characteristics of the movement as "formal beauty," she says, "Dance is energy which exists in space and time." (78) This incorporates "spatial design" which, at its best, imparts ". . . unity and balance as well as vitality, clarity, and variety," (79) suggesting that "formal design" is a necessary condition for Friesen. The
temporal element encompasses ". . . the structure of movement patterns and the characteristic rhythms within the dance," (80) including the rhythms of propulsion, breath, unconscious functions, and emotions. To explain "energy," Friesen refers to a certain sort of human movement which conveys a sense of "energy." (81) She thus does not rely on any particular dramatic or expressive element, nor upon such unenlightening concepts as "formal beauty," but her use of "energy" is easily as obscure.
Virgil Aldrich's approach is both more expansive and more restrictive than those of Friesen and Gilson. When he says, "A good dance is a mobilized statue," (82) he links dance with visual, spatial arts, as well as "temporal and rhythmic elements," (83) as does Friesen. He goes farther in suggesting that, necessarily, the ". . . patterns of actions . . . expressively portrays something. . . ," (84) either a story of "almost any subject matter (theme) . . . ." (85) He adds a normative factor in urging that ". . . dance at its best . . . tends to minimize, or discard altogether, narrative content in favor of the fusion of sculptured movement and music," (86) but this leaves the expression of emotion or other non-narrative meaning as a necessary condition. His reference to "pattern" suggests the necessity of some formal design. When Aldrich says, "Dancing is usually done to music," (87) he does not indicate awareness of Friesen's much broader range of non-musical rhythms, nor does he seem to think that music is a necessary condition.
Selma Jeanne Cohen observes, "The designing of the movement of the human body is the unique property of dance as an art medium," (88) but ". . . there is no problem at all to finding forms of rhythmical bodily movement that are not dancing." (89) She thus uses the characteristic of being rhythmical as necessary, but not sufficient. She then tries to identify those properties which make certain kinds of human movement examples of the artform of dance, properties which might be shared with other artforms. "Expressiveness" only partially defines dance, (90) as she notes that this characteristic is shared with the movement of pantomime. She thus considers expressiveness to be necessary, but not sufficient. She also says that dance movement can be appreciated for its own sake, independent of any particular meaning, thus distinguishing dance from pantomime, and implicitly indicating her epistemological views. (91) As with lyric poetry, dance is ". . . both rhythmic and expressive," with ". . . an important sensuous appeal." (92) "Stylized" movement is also a characteristic of some dance, for Cohen, although it might use only "natural gesture." (93) Like Aldrich, she says, "A dance is usually performed to music," (94) but she also considers dance without music, ". . . related, however, by a common pulse, . . ." (95) using an expansive concept of rhythm more like Friesen's. For Cohen, necessary conditions include human movement, rhythm, and expressiveness, but not "formalized" movement or music.
Philosophers seem to avoid labelling characteristics as
"necessary" or sufficient," possibly because of reluctance to re-enter the well-known, inconclusive debate over whether it is possible to specify such conditions for "art" or for a particular artform. Yet several, as just noted, do treat some characteristics as necessary, including human movement (Gilson, Friesen, Aldrich, Cohen), formally-designed movement (Gilson, Friesen, Aldrich), expressiveness (Friesen, Aldrich, Cohen), and music or rhythm (Friesen, Cohen). One source of the reluctance to specify necessary and sufficient conditions in the ease with which exceptions can be found to proffered definitions.
James K. Feibleman, over thirty years ago, very explicitly sought to identify "of what it is that the art of the dance primarily consists." (96) He said "there must be an element common to all sorts of dances sufficient to enable us to recognize that they are dances." (97) He finally concluded ". . . that the dance is an art in which the human body exclusively is employed in order to actualize values beyond the human which were not hitherto actualized, or to enrich such values having but a tenuous hold on existence." (98) This proposal is, of course, fraught with difficulties. He nowhere acknowledges, let alone explains, the role of music and other factors in dance performances, diminishing the explanatory capability of his theories. His proposal also seems to apply to mime and perhaps theater.
A very recent effort has been made by Janice Rio to solve these problems endemic to searches for necessary and
sufficient conditions, borrowing from the approach of Peter Achinstein in philosophy of science on semantic and nonsemantic relevance. (99) She summarizes this concept as follows:
If a property is relevant for being an x, then given that an item possesses certain properties and lacks others in such a way that it is a candidate for being an x, the fact that the item possesses (or lacks) the property in question normally will count, at least to some extent, in favor of (or against) concluding that it is an x; and if it possesses (or lacks) sufficiently many properties of certain sorts, the fact that the item possesses (or lacks) the property in question may justifiably be held to settle whether it is an x. (100)
She proposes that "x is dancing" can be understood through a long list of semantic and descriptive features. The former are those which, alone, make someone classifiable as dancing while the later do not, but would contribute to such a finding. Although this is a decided improvement over Feibleman, it is still too easy to find counter-examples. For example, the four semantic factors ("medium of bodily movement which allows x to step from one foot to another," movement lasting "for some substantial interval," travelling "through a space," and using "rhythmical bodily movement" (101)) also characterize everything from mime to wedding marches.
Further, her response to avant-garde experiments is simply to deny that they constitute dancing, because to include them would result in ". . . an almost vacuous use of the term," (102) (dancing). But the increasing frequency of such performances makes this unacceptable. One of the examples she rejects as non-dancing is on an actual program, in
which the dancer ". . . simply walked briskly around the stage in heels and a dress." (103) There are numerous examples more bizarre than this. It is comparatively simple, as Rio has attempted, to develop a list of characteristics that account for Giselle and Rodeo. There are thus two major problems with Achinstein's analysis. First, it does not deal with the troublesome avant-garde experiments. Second, it does not distinguish dance from similar artforms. The alternative approach here is to define dance in terms of two types of factors: (a) necessary and sufficient characteristics of the performance phenomenon, and (b) standards for appreciation and evaluation used by audiences and critics in perceiving the performance.
These philosophical definitions show often disappointing distortions and inadequacies, as well as some sloppy conceptual analysis. Philosophers have been especially interested in the expressive character of dance and the primitive, non-artistic roots of the artform. While the variety of components of dance has been acknowledged, their role and necessity (e.g., the role of music) have been largely unexamined.
B. Distinguishing Dance from Other Human Phenomena
Some definitions of dance are inadequate because they fail to distinguish dance from non-dance movement. Thomas Munro's broad definition is an extreme example of this inadequacy:
Dance is an art of rhythmic bodily movement,
presenting to the observer an ordered sequence of moving visual patterns of line, solid shape, and color. The postures and gestures of which these are made suggest kinesthetic experiences of tension, relaxation, etc., and emotional moods and attitudes associated with them. They may also represent imaginary characters, actions, and stories. Dances are performed by one person or two or more in mutual coordination; some animals can be trained to do simple dances. The movements are usually synchronized with, and partly aided by, musical or other rhythmic sounds. In theatrical forms, they are often combined with appropriate effects of decor (costume, scenery, lighting, and other stage equipment). . . . (104)
Like Gilson, Munro limits "ballet" to a specific type of dance, "story-ballets:"
Ballet is a variety of dance, or of other group movements in rhythm for artistic or entertainment purposes, usually presented in a theater by dancers moving in complex coordination with the aid of music and decor. It usually involves the dramatic enactment of a story through pantomime, as well as the presentation of changing visual designs in ordered sequence. (105)
Munro's definitions are helpful in setting out a wide range of characteristics, and they include almost every conceivable example of dance. Unfortunately, they also describe many examples of human movement that most would hesitate to include in the artform of dance, such as circuses, ice shows, and gymnastics.
Human movement is clearly not a sufficient characteristic of dance, as a wide range of human phenomena involve human movement, as well as many other characteristics asso-
ciated with dance. Although not the only test of an adequate definition, an important function of definition is distinction of the movement of dance from these other types of human movement. (106)
philosopher David Best recently attempted to distinguish movement generally from dance movement. (107) Although he persuasively argues that the difference cannot be specified in terms of inner feelings, which are not perceivable to observers, he concludes, unsatisfactorily, that the difference is solely one of context. (108) That only pushes the problem back one step, as he provides not a hint of the sorts of differences between contexts that make some the context of performances and others not. Similarly, he distinguishes art from sport in terms of the differing conventions of each, (109) but he does not attempt to spell out what those differences are, or examples of what such conventions might be.
Best also reveals a too-narrow view of art, in rejecting claims that some sports are, or are like, art forms, insisting on the potential of artworks for representational content, (110) and claiming that "the arts are characteristically concerned with contemporary moral, social, political, and emotional issues." (111) If that were true, either much avant-garde experimentation must be rejected as non-art, or the terms "moral, social, political, or emotional" must be stretched beyond meaningfulness.
Best also attacks the claim "that there is rhythm in
all movement" (112) by showing how dance theorists have shifted illegitimately between various senses of "rhythm" in defending the claim. Best notes, for example, that a consequence of the claim that all movement is rhythmic is "the loss of a useful distinction" between "rhythmic movements and . . . non-rhythmic movements." (113) But he does not always play fair. To show that a definition of rhythm as "force manifest in muscle action" is inadequate, he notes, properly, that one test of a definition is whether it can be substituted for the word being defined. He then, unfairly, uses a line from a song, "I got rhythm," for his test of sameness: "I got force manifest in muscle action." (114) The test is only fairly applied, of course, to a sentence from ordinary discourse which uses the term in a straightforward sense. His discussion of rhythm includes a rare reference to dance as an artform, a quotation from Alwin Nikolais, that "Movement does not have to be rhythmic at all to be dance." (115) Unfortunately, Best himself leaves unexamined his shifting analyses between ordinary movement and the movement of the artform of dance.
He explains, convincingly, that what is "good" depends on "what category or in which context it is to be understood." (116) A "good" paperweight is evaluated by a different set of criteria than a "good"piece of sculpture. But he tells us nothing about how to determine the criteria within a particular context, or whether those criteria in aesthetic contexts are objective or inherently subjective, or how
one would set about to answer these questions. Because of the explanatory potential of contrasts between dance and similar human phenomena, these are worth exploring in some detail.
An important borderline phenomenon is "floor exercise" in women's gymnastics, which consists of human movement choreographed in advance and performed to the accompaniment of music. The movements are often both rhythmic and expressive, and they are sometimes praised for being balletic. (117) Yet most would hesitate to call floor exercise a clear-cut example of the artform of dance. Acrobatics is also considered a form of sport or athletics, yet it too consists of human movement, usually to the accompaniment of music, and sometimes with costuming and scenery.
Distinguishing the artform of dance from the athletic forms of gymnastics and acrobatics is also difficult because of the twentieth-century trend, in both classical ballet and avant-garde dance, to increasingly "athletic" and "acrobatic" movements. (118) The phenomena presented in dance performances and acrobatic exhibitions may be strikingly similar, although there has been critical disagreement over the value of this trend in dance. Arnold Haskell has struggled with how to explain the difference between such art and sport:
The difference between dancing and acrobatics lies not so much in technique as in a state of mind . . . The pure dancer performs his steps, however complex, with the conception of the dance as a whole, being guided by the music, concealing his difficulties, and making his climax an artistic one. He is depicting
a definite idea. The acrobat performs his steps in such a fashion as to underline the difficulty of the task. In this case the drama is implicit in the physical performance. He is putting a question to the audience: 'will I get through without a tumble or not?' (119)
But if the difference between dancing and acrobatics lies solely in the performer's state of mind, then some phenomenal presentations simply cannot be identified as either dance or acrobatics, unless the contents of the performer's mind can be known. It seems highly undesireable to rest such a crucial distinction solely on one factor which in practice often could not be determined. Contemporary athletes, especially those in floor exercise, might also dispute the claim that they perform without a conception of the "whole" or that they strive primarily to make their movements look as difficult as possible.
Dance theorist Lincoln Kirstein is more sanguine about the similarities between dance and acrobatics, suggesting perhaps that acrobatics are one element of dance, along with others.
By definition, the dance is acrobatic. The dancer's only tool is in his or her proper human body. This tool is a universal instrument, capable of infinite articular use. But all its uses must be watched clearly by an audience seated at some distance from their actual movement. (120)
Kirstein introduces the important convention of distance between performer and audience, although acrobats and gymnasts also have audiences. More informatively, choreogra-
pher George Balanchine suggests the primacy of technical skill and manifest danger to distinguish acrobatics from dance:
[The intention of acrobats] is to prove complete mastery of their own body; to challenge themselves and the imagination of their audience; and to perform with "ease" in the face of danger. The dancer too must show his mastery of muscular coordination. But he does not stress "ease" in relation to the encountered dance. His presentation is an aesthetic manifestation. The element of danger is, in his case, non-existent, or reduced to a minimum . . . [The dancer's movements] should never be a piece of showmanship only to prove the dancer's muscular strength and technical skill. This is the acrobat's domain. (121)
Philosopher Gilson's distinction is similar to Balanchine's especially regarding the emphasis on danger and technical skill in acrobatics:
[Acrobatics] is also an art of the body in motion which has a beauty of its own, but it is not one of the fine arts because its principal end is not to create beauty but to give proof of skill, strength, suppleness and courage pushed, if necessary, to the point of rashness. (122)
These comments suggest that, although acrobatics and dance may contain similar phenomenal presentations, they are presented in different contexts, with differences in both the mental attitude of the performer and the audience's understanding of why the movements are done. In acrobatics, movements are ends in themselves, done for their own sake. In dance, movements are means to a more complex end, such as the conveyance of emotions and dramatic import. This approach has the advantage of being objectively discernible,
in contrast with Haskell's reliance on hidden intentions of the performer, although it is still too simple, for acrobats convey such emotions as fear, pride, and cheerfulness.
Gilson claims that both dance and acrobatics have "beauty," but it is not clear whether he uses "beauty" in the same sense in both contexts, or what he means by "beauty." He says elsewhere that dance differs from sports in that ". . . their end is utility, not beauty." (123) It is not clear whether he means to ascribe beauty to acrobatics at all, what "beauty" would mean in the context of sport, nor how sports have any more "utility" than art.
In sum, dance and acrobatics cannot be distinguished in terms of the attitudes of the performers (although these may in fact differ), but can be distinguished by the performance context, including the attitude and expectations of the audience, the purposes for which performances are given, and thus, the standards by which they are evaluated. This context, at least, is not strictly or primarily the mastery of danger and technical skills, even if these are present.
Figure skating is also on the fringes of dance and sport, with human movement, music, costumes, lighting, and sometimes scenery. A typical ice show has been described as a ". . . mélange of athletics, dance, mime, music, song, circus, variety show, and sartorial spectacle, . . . [falling] somewhere between 'The Nutcracker' and the circus." (124) the movements in figure skating are evaluated according to criteria used in evaluating dance performances, such as
grace, expressiveness, and technical prowess. Figure skating uses special apparatus for the feet (figure skates) and a special surface for performing (ice), but classical ballet uses blocked pointe shoes and a special wooden floor. Differences in apparatus are hardly sufficient to account for the very different categorizations of these phenomena as "art" and "sport."
Thomas Munro's approach is not to draw fine lines, but to stretch the meaning of "ballet" and "dance" to encompass these diverse activities:
. . . recently, the term "ballet" has been extended to organized group movements with artistic purpose, executed by ice skaters, roller skaters, swimmers on the surface, or swimmers under water in glass tanks. The movements of these last seem to approximate flying. The mass evolutions of aviators also resemble ballets in certain respects, and can be performed as a spectacle. Rhythmic movements of abstract forms, as in the film, have been called "dances." Thus the basic ideas of dance as an art of rhythmic movement, and of ballet as an art of group rhythmic movement, can be extended far beyond their narrow, traditional meanings. (125)
The problem with this broadened usage is loss of important distinctions between art and sport which, although difficult to articulate, exist in actual practice.
Critic Clive Barnes differentiates ice-dancing from theatrical dancing in terms of the greater excitement and continuity of the latter:
Why is it that dancers on ice can never quite offer the same excitement that dancers can on land? I think it is simply the lack of friction, which makes it both too easy and too
monotonous. Also, even with the best skaters, jumps become a break in continuity of a movement. . . One advantage they do have over their stage brethren, however. They move backward as easily as forward, and with the same kinetic and dynamic pressure. (126)
This distinction identifies alleged advantages of the respective genres, but not differences which account for one being a central example of an artform and the other being at best a borderline artform.
This same deficiency characterizes Janice Rio's attempt to distinguish ice skating from dance in terms of the necessity of gliding steps in the former and steps in the latter. (127) There are problems, first, with her concept of "steps," as "running, hopping, leaping, turning, etc.," as it seems obvious that at least those four things can all be done by ice skaters. But more important, it is most unconvincing to tie the crucial difference between art and non-art to different variations on human movement wearing different types of special footwear.
Another remark by Barnes is more telling: ". . . ice-dancers do not emote; they only smile." (128) Thirty years earlier, dance critic Edwin Denby made a similar point:
Even if it isn't ballet, there is nothing wrong with a salon style if it has objective dramatic interest . . . But Miss [Sonja] Henie does not seem to be showing a dance, she seems to be exhibiting her proficiency and her own cute person. Her amazingly powerful personality rivets one's attention firmly on her personal attractions. I looked at them attentively for four numbers. Very nice, but no drama. (129)
The expression of complex emotion and drama, central in tra-
ditional attempts to define the artform of dance, is thus used by Denby to differentiate dance from sport.
Another distinction is suggested by Barnes' comment that ". . . an ice show should not be taken too seriously. It is meant for fun and glamour. . . ." (130) Barnes hints at standards for appreciation: viewing skating as an art is misguided; as a society we agree to categorize skating mainly as sport and entertainment, and to evaluate it in those terms.
Joanne Friesen uses a similar approach, the absence in sport of a "symbolic illusion" transcending the physical components of a performance:
. . . for the percipient the dancer with one's human body must become the dance, the art object for aesthetic consideration, symbolically. Perhaps this is one distinct way of explaining the difference between dance and performance sports such as gymnastics, diving, and ice skating. In these sports, the motions of the human body are attended to, and perhaps even aesthetically perceived; however, the performer is not asked to transcend . . . the actual material reality of the body in order to become the source of symbolic illusion. (131)
It is not clear what a "symbolic illusion" is, but she might mean the expression of emotion or drama, not literally present in the movement.
Similar problems arise concerning the circus, described as "theater" by at least one drama critic, (132) and by another as an "artform," at least in Russia:
Tightrope walkers here do not just walk - they dance along the wire in the classical ballet movements that they have been made to learn at the Moscow circus school. Acrobats do not simply twist and tumble in the
air and toss each other around - they do all this with a dancer's effortless grace. Clowns do not just kick each other in the pants - they do satire and sleight of hand. (133)
Live animals are sometimes used in ballet productions although, admittedly, on rare occasions, and then only to help set a scene. (134) Avant-garde dance troupes have experimented with "scaffolding, harnesses, trapezes, and tightropes to allow them to be suspended above the floor." (135) The circus, like skating and acrobatics, can be distinguished because of differing agreements for appreciation and evaluation, with emphasis in dance on the expression of drama or emotions, in addition to or in place of mere technical feats.
Foreign cultures present more problems. An American tour of the Wushu ("traditional Chinese sports") company of the People's Republic of China, was described as demonstrating
. . . that battle can be converted into the most elegant of ballets and dangerous weapons transformed into the most beautiful of instruments . . . [T]he troupe blended sport, acrobatics and dance with high dramatic suspense. . . [T]hey moved with the precision of the best-trained corps de ballet. (136)
Because of the dramatic element, Wushu appropriately might be considered art.
American popular culture includes Broadway stage shows, or "musicals," lavish productions with dancing, music, plots, acting, and elaborate costumes and scenery - the sort of spectacle for which classical ballet is noted, as in Swan
Lake and Sleeping Beauty, although some have been criticized precisely for being too elaborate and thus too much like Hollywood spectacle. (137) If the difference between spectacle in dance and spectacle in Broadway shows is the presence or absence of taste, then some ballets would not count as the artform of dance at all, rather than as poor dance. Some Broadway shows are done in excellent taste and with excellent choreography; two of the foremost contemporary choreographers of classical ballet, Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine of the New York City Ballet, have choreographed many Broadway shows, as well as Hollywood films. (138)
The presence of the spoken word in Broadway shows, in itself, does not explain the difference between Broadway musicals and ballet spectacles. The spoken word is used, not only in some avant-garde experimental works in dance, but occasionally in more traditional works. (139) Spoken dialogue is virtually unheard of in ballet, but given the central role of spoken dialogue in plays, spoken dialogue does not seem to detract from a production's status as "art."
Neither do stage shows seem to be distinguishable because of the kind of dancing present, given the incredible variety of genres now found in both dance and Broadway shows. Nor does a special emphasis on dance provide a distinguishing characteristic, with the increasing centrality of dance in contemporary Broadway musicals. Dance critic Deborah Jowitt has noted, for example, "There is a new breed of musicals on Broadway these days - musicals that are built
on a dance impetus instead of conventional plots. . . . 'A Chorus Line,' 'Grease,' 'Chicago,' 'Pippin,' 'The Wiz,' and 'Candide.'" (140) However, current convention dictates that the choreography "must not call attention to itself as Dance or the pace will stall." (141) Even in "A Chorus Line," she says, which is "all about dancing, . . . the choreography doesn't draw attention to itself as Choreography." (142) It is not clear what differentiates choreography which "calls attention to itself" from that which doesn't. Jowitt cannot mean choreography which is simply boring or bland, as that is also common in classical ballet, and would confuse descriptive distinctions with normative considerations. (143)
A close cousin of Broadway musical plays in the musical revue, with the same components as a musical play, except that it has no story-line, and possibly no dialogue. (144) Especially when verbal dialogue is lacking, musical revues present perceptual phenomena strikingly similar to many ballets, yet most would hesitate to call them an artform. (145)
Some philosophers and theorists have taken a somewhat different approach to defining and describing dance by centering their entire analysis on the similarities and differences between rudimentary human behavior and dance, which they seem to see as on a clearly-identifiable continuum.
Historian Curt Sachs notes, for example, that ". . . the dancer shares hit motor impulse and gesture with the nondancer, who far from art conveys ideas, moods, and facts to fellow men." (146) He seems to hold (although it is not
entirely clear) that art is distinguished by its lack of significant ties to life's ordinary activities. (147) This is flatly contrary, however, to the clear importance in much dance in recent centuries of expression of important ideas and themes.
R.G. Collingwood emphasizes the expressive nature of dance: "Every kind of language is . . . a specialized form of bodily gesture, and in this sense it may be said that the dance is the mother of all languages." (148) His main interest is a comprehensive theory of expression in all artforms, his defense of which depends heavily on an analysis of primitive rituals and bodily gestures. Because dance today still centrally involves the human body, his theory leads to a distorted view of dance as a sophisticated sign language, although it is simply not the case that every gesture in the artform of dance is linked with some discrete meaning. Collingwood's theory must thus either distort the art of dance as it is actually practiced or stretch the concept of "expression" to characterize virtually all human activity. Elsewhere, he says that "generating specific emotions" is a "wholly non-aesthetic" function, (149) but he never explains what sort of emotion dance does express, nor why generation of a specific emotion might not be one aspect of an aesthetic experience.
Collingwood also conjectures that primitive abstract art is a distillation of the patterns of ritual dance forms, because, he claims, "the emotional effect of the dance
depends not on any instantaneous posture but on the traced pattern." (150) This theorizing only further illustrates the Procrustean-bed results of using dance to "round-out" an aesthetic theory more concerned with other artforms. It is just not true that a single posture in dance has no emotional effect. The wealth of still photographs of dancers amply demonstrates the emotional power of a single dance pose, frozen in time, as does the important role in a dance performance of motionless poses. Collingwood also does not analyze his use of "traced patterns." Does he mean the locations on the floor traversed by the dancers, or the movement of a limb in relation to the rest of the body in performing a certain dance movement? "Traced patterns" could be either or both, but he does not analyze and distinguish these aspects of dance movement.
Havelock Ellis also ties dance to early human behaviors. "Dancing is the primitive expression alike of religion and love . . . The art of dancing is . . . intimately entwined with all human traditions of war, of labour, of pleasure, of education. . ." (151) Ellis surveys in detail primitive religion and rituals of love. He claims ". . . the transition is gradual" from dancing in those contexts ". . . to dancing as an art, a profession, an amusement . . . ," (152) but he offers as proof only historical descriptions from world cultures without ever describing, characterizing, or defining the artform of dance as distinct from dance in religion and rituals.
Louis W. Flaccus, writing a few years after Ellis, also discusses dance in relation to its historical roots in non-art context, but with more specificity on its character as dance. He proposes first a methodology for this analysis:
(1) to attempt to mark the aesthetic meaning of the dance . . . ; (2) to characterize the different types of the dance; (3) to break up the total effect of the dance into its component elements . . . ; (4) to recapture and restate in intellectual terms the life and spirit of a dance, and the idea - symbolized or otherwise - of which it is the living expression. (153)
He then identifies four "aesthetic elements of the dance . . . : rhythm, pose, gesture, costume and setting." (154) These elements are treated as distillations of what remains in dance as art when shorne of religious and other symbolic functions in early cultures. Although a decided advance over, say, Ellis, the elements still fail at this mission. Much religious and ritualistic dance seems to include these elements, as does mime. The analysis encounters the same problems as so many others, that it does not precisely capture distinctions which are in fact made.
John Dewey also describes the roots of dance in religious ritual and natural gesture. Like many writers, Dewey suggests generally, "Dancing and pantomime, the sources of the art of the theater, flourished as part of religious rites and celebrations." (155) It is unclear, however, what distinguishes such movement from the artform of human movement, dance. On the one hand, he implies that art is distinguishes such movement from the artform of human movement,
dance. On the one hand, he implies that art is distinguished by the expression possible because of the formalized stylized quality of the movement:
Dance and sport are activities in which acts once performed spontaneously in separation are assembled and converted from raw, crude material into works of expressive art. Only when material is employed as media is there expression and art. (156)
Elsewhere, he suggests that natural gestures can also be expressive:
I do not think that the dancing . . . of even little children can be explained wholly on the basis of unlearned and unformed responses to then existing objective occasions. Clearly there must be something in the present to evoke happiness. But the act is expressive only as there is in it a unison of something stored from past experience, something therefore generalized, with present conditions. (157)
Dewey nowhere focuses exclusively on dance as an artform, and these isolated comments do not suggest any systematic thinking about the nature of the artform.
Susanne Langer developed this approach much more comprehensively. Like Dewey, she goes back to primitive ritual, and clearly thinks expression was present in such pre-art activities:
Ritual has always been a natural and fertile source of art. Its first artistic product is the dance. Ecstatic people probably pranced before they danced; but the intuitive perception of expressive form, in that prancing, invited composition, the making of dance. (158)
These rituals became an artform when they became activities performed for others instead of rituals in which all participated, (159) a recent development. (160)
She emphasizes that dance is much more than the mere "materials" of dance, such as human bodies and music: "a dance is an apparition of active powers, a dynamic image," (161) which is created "for our enjoyment." (162) Most important, "A dance, like any other work of art, is a perceptible form that expresses the nature of human feeling." (163) Dance is motion transformed into "expression, gesture." (164) What is confusing in Langer's lengthy analysis, however, is how this expression occurs, and why dance as an artform is any more expressive than natural gesture. For Langer, expressing an
. . . inward or "subjective" process . . . means to make an outward image of this inward process, for oneself and others to see; that is, to give the subjective events an objective symbol. Every work of art is such an image, whether it be a dance, a statue, a picture, a piece of music, or a work of art. (165)
Without rehearsing well-known problems with Langer's concept of "symbol," (166) her discussions of dance in particular never explain how dance movement is symbolic. (167) Is each inner feeling correlated with a distinct bodily gesture, a sort of sign language? Are gestures derived from or inspired by inner feelings, but without being strictly correlated with them? Her meaning is further clouded by her comment that pantomime ". . . is dance material, something that may become a balletic element, but the dance itself is something else." (168) Obviously, her concept of dance does not account for dances which do not express "human emotion," unless that concept is stretched beyond meaningfulness.
Langer has similarly unorthodox views on other aspects of dance. She rejects the ". . . view of dance as a gestural rendering of musical forms. . . , " (169) and emphasizes, "Neither musical rhythm nor physical movement is enough to engender a dance." (170) She adds, however, that they have an "obvious" relationship; "Whether a dance is accompanied by music or not, it always moves in musical time; the recognition of this natural relation between the two arts underlies their universal affinity." (171) But she does not explain why musical time plays an essential role in dance, nor why it is essential to the expression of inner feelings.
In sharp contrast with Aldrich, Langer rejects attempts to understand dance in terms of the visual arts, as ". . . one of the plastic arts, a spectacle of shifting pictures, or animated design, or even statues in motion." (172) She has a confusing view of the difference between drama and dance, saying that, although dance ". . . probably preceded drama. . . , and though it uses dramatic plots after its own fashion, it does not give rise to drama - not even to true pantomime. Any dramatic action tends to suspend the balletic illusion." (173) It is unclear how the portrayal of emotion by actors in dramatic presentations differs from the expression of emotion by dancers in dance performances.
Rudolf Arnheim has made a few observations on the meaning of dance movements which contrast with Langer's:
. . . all motor acts are expressive, even though in different degrees, and . . . they all carry the experience of corresponding
higher mental processes, if ever so faintly . . . the dance, for instance, does not have to endow movements with a symbolic meaning for artistic purposes, but uses, in an artistically organized way, the unity of psychical and physical reaction that is characteristic for human functioning in general. (174)
He thus holds that all movement is expressive, and that "artistic" movement is distinguished from "natural" movement by being "artistically organized." It is not clear what it means for movement to be "artistically organized," nor whether it is possible for movement to be "non-artistically organized" or "artistically disorganized." Nor is it clear what it is that all movements are expressing or what characteristics of the movement make it symbolic, but he notes that more psychological studies are needed of "perceptual patterns with regard to the expression they convey." (175) He applauds one study which attempted to correlate the expression of "sadness," "strength," and "night" with dance movements characterized in terms of "speed," "range," "shape," "tension," "direction," and "center." (176)
Arnheim also mentions the "stylized," "formal" nature of movement in dance, urging that it should not be allowed to overshadow dance's "half artifact, half nature" character, shared with such hybrid artforms as theater, photography, motion pictures, and landscape design. (177) Although this remark was not presented as a comprehensive definition of dance, it clearly includes a normative principle of what dance movement should be, which is justified by analyzing what dance "really" is.
One obvious conclusion from this survey is that merely listing components is inadequate for distinguishing the artform of dance from similar movement phenomena. A more promising approach is identifying the relative importance of these components in the appreciation and evaluation of different phenomena. A continuum can be constructed according to the relative importance of more intellectual and mental components, such as (5) telling a story and (6) expressing human emotions, themes, or ideas, as opposed to more sensual and physical elements, such as (7) costumes, scenery, and lighting, and perhaps (3) grace, elegance, and beauty. Friesen implicitly uses a continuum of seriousness, placing at one extreme "Popular art . . . which is consumer, appreciated, and enjoyed, but is not studied." (178) At the other extreme is modern dance, ". . . probably the most serious of the artforms in dance . . . focus[ing] not on how to perform given movements, but on the ways in which movement can happen in space, time, and energy." (179) In between these extremes she places "ethnic" dance, in which ". . . the viewer is asked to include in his perception an awareness of the culture of the particular group," (180) and ballet, which combines "virtuosity" and "skillful movement" with ". . . aesthetic experiences which transcend the physicality of the performers." (181)
The more comprehensively a movement phenomenon addresses the complexity and universality of the human condition, both mental and physical, the more nearly is it an artform. The
artform of dance is distinguished from other movements by, among other things, its complex intellectual, non-sensual dimension. Although some phenomena, both art and non-art are quite close on such a continuum, a sharper distinction prevails in the practices for presentation, appreciation, and evaluation of the movement. For example, the experiences of ballet presenters and audiences are shaped by the intent to explore the non-physical dimensions of the movement presentations, while the experiences of circus-goers are not. This distinction thus depends on contemporary assumptions about the role of art generally as a cultural phenomenon, exploring the complexity of the human condition in non-verbal ways.
C. Distinguishing Dance from Other Performing Arts
The previous discussion contrasted the artform of movement with non-art movement, a distinction resting on more fundamental differences between art and non-art generally. Dance can also be analyzed by distinguishing it from other performing artforms, including opera, theater, and mime.
Theodore Meyer Greene used this methodology for analyzing dance by contrasting its elements ("the human body in motion and at rest," "human emotion and conation," usually "music" (182)) with similar artforms, especially pantomime, public speech, and acting. Mime is distinguishable because of its primary emphasis on imitation, (183) although other writers have stressed the importance of imitation in dance as well. (184) Public speech and acting are distinguishable
because of their use of "the medium of the spoken word," (185) the fact that, in both, ". . . bodily movement is not as basic to it as it is to the dance," (186) although it is still important, and the absence of the accompaniment of music. (187)
A major weakness in Greene's careful detailing of dance is the tendency to fall back on an unsatisfactory and unexplained difference between "artistic" and "non-artistic" activities, as when he says, without elucidation, that the "raw material" of "bodily motion and rest" of dance ". . . is non-artistically exploited in such activities as calisthenics, eurythemics, gymnastics, acrobatics, etc." (188) Another major flaw in Greene's analysis is his lack of understanding of the important role in the twentieth-century of choreographers. He says that ". . . the choreographer can, after all, do little more than provide the mise en scene" (189) and occupies a much less significant place than composers, a view that is more typical of the nineteenth century in its emphasis on interpretations by performers over the design of works by choreographers. This distortion helps account for his difficulties distinguishing dance from non-artistic movement. The formal design of the choreographer using certain movement vocabularies is an important element of artistic movement.
Barbara Mettler's discussion of dance in terms of its relationship to other phenomena, both artistic and non-artistic, has similar problems. She says, for example, that "the experience of body movement raised to the aesthetic level
becomes the art of dance," (190) but never explains what makes a level "aesthetic" or "nonaesthetic." Indeed, most of her writing showing that "Dance is the integrating factor among all the arts" (191) is devoted to showing how each person's consciousness of space is related to his or her own bodily movements, which of course need not have anything to do with art.
John Hospers suggests that the arts be differentiated by the primary medium in which each is created: sound, two- or three-dimensional visual presentations, human movement, and so forth. (192) This is considerably more difficult for complex arts involving several media, such as opera and ballet. Hospers suggests that
. . . opera includes music, words and visual designs, although the music is predominant. Stage plays combine the art of literature with stagecraft and visual design. In the dance, visual patterns normally take precedence, while the music is an accompaniment. In motion pictures, all the elements are present. (193)
However, dance often includes an extremely important role for music, especially works by such contemporary choreographers as Balanchine. Dance can also include visual design, stagecraft, and literature, in the sense of scenario and plots, and several ballets use famous works of literature, including Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, and Hamlet. At least some dance performances present "all element," as in motion pictures.
Opera is even more complex than dance, at least in terms of the number and diversity of its component parts or
artistic materials. It is tempting to assume that opera is the artform that uses singing, while dance uses human movement, but this is too simple. Some dances, both traditional and avant-garde, include singing, and dance plays an important role in many operas. (194) Both opera and ballet typically include integral roles for music accompaniment, dramatic expression, plot, costumes, and scenery.
Traditionally, at least three elements were considered essential to opera: music, primarily singing; plot; and dance. Choreographer Antony Tudor has written of the importance of dance in many operas:
In the earliest operas, song and dance complemented each other; prior to the innovations credited to Gluck, many such musical spectacles consisted more of ballet than of song . . . in Gluck's operas, the earliest to be found in today's standard repertory, ballet is integrated in such a way that at certain points it is the action. The best examples of this is the Hades Scene in Ordeo; in many productions of the chorus is banished into near invisibility, or even (as in the recent Metropolitan production) completely in the wings, leaving the stage open for the conflict between the Singing Orpheus and the corps de ballet monsters. (195)
He explains that, in France,
. . . dance has kept a foremost role in opera. The role of the ballet there was formalized into an obligatory performance during the second act, in which the action of the opera was entirely suspended for as much as half an hour while dancers took over the stage. (196)
Dance continues to play an important role in many operas today. (197) Some phenomena assumed to be dance performances include an important role for singing. (198) Other works, such as Peter and the Wolf, defy categorization as either dance
or opera. (199)
Ballets-with-singing and operas-with-dance underscore the inadequacy of distinguishing the artforms by simply listing components, or by labelling one as "most important" or "predominant," because of the many things that could mean. If the "most important" aspects are simply those that use more time, then an opera might be "less" of an opera if it had a relatively smaller proportion of time devoted to singing. The "most important" aspect is not simply the central vehicle for conveying the dramatic import of a production either, as the dances can be essential vehicles for conveying the dramatic or other import of the production, not just divertissements inserted to fill up time or vary the pace.
Dance critic George Borodin distinguishes opera and ballet in terms of the conventions for evaluation. Both provide visual images; both use acting and/or mime; both have a similar relationship to music, in that ". . . both seek to elaborate and illustrate purely musical conceptions by other means." (200) But the standards for evaluating those elements differ in opera and ballet. Opera audiences are not as concerned with stilted acting and miming as with singing ability, but dance audiences consider acting ability absolutely essential for a first-rank dancer. (201) Borodin also mentions the idea (although he does not develop it) that "Every art has its conventions which have to be accepted." (202) This suggests that dance can be distinguished from opera in
terms of conventions for understanding and evaluating the phenomenal presentations, a more promising approach than simply characterizing the phenomenal presentations per se.
The theater presents similar problems. Almost all dance performances have a strong dramatic element, (203) in the sense of the expression of human emotions and sometimes also of narrative expressed through dancing and mime. Skill in (non-verbal) acting, as well as mime, has long been considered essential for a first-rate dancer. (204) Actors in the theater use human movement, and, in some productions, movement is almost as important as the spoken dialogue. (205) Avant-garde productions blur the distinctions between theater and dance still more. In many dance productions the spoken word has been used. (206) some dances have no musical accompaniment. (207) Others have a minimum of movement and a very strong dramatic or expressive element. (208) Some performances are so borderline that critics and creators call them "dance-dramas" (209) or "music-dance-theater events," (210) although dance critics still seem to treat them as dance performances with unusual characteristics. The difference between dance-with-elements-of-theater and theater-with-elements-of-dance is by no means clear.
These problems can also be addressed in terms of practices for understanding and evaluation. Dance audiences subscribe to the belief that the rhythm of the movement is central in perceiving and evaluating dance; rhythm in the physical movements of actors, though present, is of
secondary importance to theater audiences. A dancer might speak in some productions, but skill at speech is of minor importance in evaluating his ability as a performer, while non-verbal acting skill is extremely important. Music may be present in a play, to set a mood, but not in a major role to convey the dramatic import of the play; its inadequacy in a theater production is thus less devastating in critical evaluation of the production than it would be in dance.
Most problematic of the performing arts are mime performances. Different kinds of phenomena, all centrally involving human movement, are considered "mime":
(1) Classic mime consists of an artificial "language" of gestures and movement, analogous to the sign language of the deaf. (211) A few gestures from this language which dates back to Imperial Russia, are still used occasionally in such nineteenth-century classics as Giselle and Swan Lake. (212) Until this century, it was assumed that classic mime was indispensable in a dance performance, and much greater reliance was placed on it for conveying the dramatic import of a ballet. (213) As no non-dance theater performances exclusively or even primarily use this sort of mime, it is best viewed, not as a separate performing artform, but as a set of traditions which still play a minor role in some dance productions.
(2) Contemporary theater mime performances use human movement in more naturalistic, less artificial ways. In reviewing the famous French mime Marcel Marceau, Clive
The art of mime is the art of dramatic expression freed from both the beautiful tyranny of words and the gorgeous suggestiveness of music. It lacks the specifics and the sustained argument of the theater, and it lacks the musical architecture of dance. What it has is the silent image of nature distilled into an artform. (214)
Mime, in this broader sense of "dramatic expression," is very difficult to differentiate from dance performances, as the dramatic expression of human emotion through human movement is central in both. The portrayal of characters and narrative may also be present in both. Mime of any sort renders hopelessly inadequate such definitions as James Feibleman's that dance is ". . . that art which deals with the motions of the human body." (215)
Barnes' comment indicates several inadequate ways of distinguishing dance from mime. Both share an absence of specifics and a lack of sustained argument. The cliche that "There are no mothers-in-law in ballet" summarizes the difficulty of expressing complex interrelationships in dance, but it applies equally to mime. Nor can a distinction be made that mime conveys meaning literally while dance is only symbolic, although both involve human movement invested with meaning. The mime on stage is not literally doing the things he pantomimes; conventionality and stylization are at the heart of mime, as they are in dance. The dancer of Giselle symbolizes such things as innocence and youthfulness, but the mime can also symbolize such things; neither the dancer
nor the mime must be literally innocent or youthful.
The absence of music in mime is also not decisive, in part because some ballets are done in silence. If the distinction between dance and mime were solely a function of the presence or absence of music, then dance could be defined as "mime with music," and mime as "dance without music," which is clearly uncomfortable.
Barnes makes the promising suggestion that mime "lacks the musical architecture of dance," an implicit reference to the rhythmic and acrobatic qualities of dance, present even in dances without music. Mime does seem to be more closely related to theater and literature, while dance (at least contemporary dance) is more closely related to music. Both mime and dance are artforms which use the medium of human movement to abstract from and draw out the implications of literature or music, respectively. The standards for evaluation also seem to correlate with these other artforms, respectively.
Some contemporary experimental works squarely straddle the border between mime and dance, with major roles for the movement of both dance and mime, and possibly the accompaniment of music. (216) These examples raise the same problems and warrant the same treatment as dances-with-singing and operas-with-dancing.
Clearly, dance cannot be differentiated from other performing arts in terms of the presence or even the importance of human movement. Adequate distinctions must rest instead
on a more complex analysis of the precise nature of the role of human movement, including its relative importance in conveying dramatic or emotional import, and, ultimately, standards for understanding and evaluating the movement. Earlier, the human movement of dance was distinguished from the movement of athletics by the dramatic/emotional dimension of dance, but this fails to distinguish the artform of dance from the artforms of theater, mime, and opera. Definitions informative in one context may be quite useless in another, and thus it seems futile to attempt a comprehensive definition independent of some particular purpose.
This survey of a broad range of historical, critical, and philosophical definitions and related characterizations of dance makes clear the diversity in the artform as it is practiced, appreciated, and evaluated, and provides the groundwork as well as the constraints on issues raised in subsequent chapters. Theories regarding ontological status, identity, and proper aesthetic object must be framed to account for these actual practices.
It seems clear that the numerous attempts to define dance in terms of its components, or elements, fail ultimately by failing either (1) to encompass all and only those instances and types of phenomena which generally are called dance, or (2) to fully distinguish the movement of the artform of dance from other human phenomena, or (3) to fully distinguish the artform of dance from other artforms. Thus,
accounts of dance which accomplish all of these goals will have to be developed on additional grounds, such as the types of standards used to appreciate and evaluate dance. However, it should also be clear that definitions can be and are very useful for limited purposes in particular contexts. For example, a definition may be quite useful in explicating differences between artforms, where that is the purpose of the inquiry even though it may fail to adequately distinguish dance from other phenomena.
This survey also shows that there is an intimate link between definitions and critical standards. Fist, definitions are frequently expressions of views on critical standards; conflicting definitions reflect conflicts in critical standards. Second, and more fundamentally, definitions, to meet any test of full adequacy, must incorporate both such components as human movement and standards for evaluation (e.g., grace and harmony as opposed to efficiency at getting to work). Reputable writers of the last several centuries have had glaringly inconsistent viewpoints. Mime has been thought by some to contribute to the goodness of a performance and by others to detract from it. A dramatic, expressive element is a virtue to some, a liability to others. The same disagreements exist regarding the role of scenery, costumes, athleticism, and plots.
However, this survey also illustrates the development of considerable agreement on many issues. One fundamental principle according to which critical trends have evolved is
that dance uses, above all, human movement, and thus, that anything which lessens the potential of that movement, or is used as a crutch to develop that potential, detracts from the value of the performance. Reliance on mime, scenery, costumes, and masks to convey dramatic import has been increasingly recognized as de-valuing or underestimating the potential of dance movement itself for conveying dramatic import. Similarly, experimental works with no dramatic or expressive qualities can be seen as explorations of the value of human movement itself, experiments dependent on the existence of the contrasting traditions.
Increasingly, dance has been recognized as a separate, independent artform, with a diminishment of its parasitic role on the values and conventions of other performing arts, especially theater. Earlier critical principles which conflict with these views need not be considered false, however, but only as no longer useful in evaluating dance from this more sophisticated perspective.
Several quite different purposes have been studied here: (1) definition of dance as an evolving artform through history, including current avant-garde challenges to those definitions; (2) definition of dance to distinguish it from phenomena which share perceptual elements, but which are intuitively or in common usage non-art; and (3) definition to distinguish it from other phenomena agreed to be artforms but with perceptual similarities to dance. It is not proposed here that an adequate theory of dance must include
three distinct definitions, but rather than a fully adequate definition must survive these three different types of challenges. Numerous definitions proposed by philosophers and others have been shown to fail at least one of these tests. Further inadequacy has been shown in all contexts of a definition that consists solely of elements, whether necessary and sufficient conditions or more loosely-grouped sets of characteristics of the phenomenon of dance itself. But reliance on the intent of the creator in christening the work as dance or an art theorists in subsuming the work under an art theory have also been seen to be both unnecessary and inadequate. Instead, in all three contexts here, the more promising route has been to make the necessary distinctions in terms of elements of the perceptual phenomena, which, in turn, are appreciated and evaluated by dance artistic standards, as opposed to either utilitarian or other non-artistic standards or non-dance artistic standards. This also leaves the artistic object intact as a candidate for such appreciation without burdening the very definition of the object with tests of artistic intention which might never be known or knowable.
(1) "Some Theories of Dance in Contemporary Society," JAAC, IV (December, 1950), 117. Cohen analyzed the theories of Rayner Heppenstall, Lincoln Kirstein, John Martin, and A.V. Coton, whose definitions of dance were in terms of, respectively, "a finished work of art," "an acquired technique," "a natural mode of activity," and a "process of artistic creation." Ibid., 112. Return to text
(2) Ibid., 118. Return to text
(3) Ibid. Return to text
(4) Monroe C. Beardsley suggests such an approach: Definitions of individual artforms are ". . . narrower questions that offer more hope - and have not been very much dealt with. We want to know (and this is the broad question) whether all aesthetic objects have common features that could be used to give a definition of 'aesthetic object.' But before we can answer this broad question, let us divide it up and ask about the species: Do all musical compositions have certain common features? All literary works? All paintings? And so on." "The Definitions of the Arts," JAAC, XX (Winter, 1961), 177. Although Beardsley's article carefully analyzes several artforms, it unfortunately does not address dance. Return to text
(5) This sense of "aesthetic object" has been prompted by Beardsley in Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1958). (Hereinafter referred to as "Aesthetics.") For a recent, concise discussion of his views, see George Dickie, Art and the Aesthetic: An Institutional Analysis (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1974), pp. 147ff. (Hereinafter referred to as "Art and the Aesthetics.")
Beardsley suggests: "It seems to me useful for aesthetics to have a generic term to mark out, though vaguely, the objects within its field of interest. And perhaps with proper qualifications, the term 'work of art' will do," although he prefers the term "aesthetic object." "The Definitions of the Arts," 177. Return to text
(6) This production by Baldassarino (also sometimes referred to as Baltasarini, or Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx) has been called "the most important early attempt at creating an extended choreographic spectacle." Jack Anderson, Dance (New York: Newsweek Books, 1974), p. 11. It has also been described as "The first dramatic ballet of importance from which the history of the art may be said to begin. . . ."
Arnold Haskell, Ballet (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin books, 1938), p. 17. For more detailed descriptions of the ballet, see Mark Edward Perugini, The Art of Ballet (Philadelphia: The J. B. Lippincot Company, ), pp. 52; 56-60, and Selma Jeanne Cohen, ed., Dance as a Theatre Art (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1974), p. 8. (Hereinafter referred to as "Theatre Art.") Return to text
(7) Balthasar Beajoyeulx, "Ballet Comique de la Reine," Mary-Jean Cowell, trans., in Cohen, Theatre Art, p. 19. [originally published, Paris, 1582]. Return to text
(8) Cohen, Theatre Art, p. 8. Return to text
(9) Anatole Chujoy, The Dance Encyclopedia (New York: A. S. Barnes and Company, 1949), p. 55. (Hereinafter referred to as "Encyclopedia.") Return to text
(10) Cohen, Theatre Art, p. 7. Return to text
(11) Ibid., p. 38. Return to text
(12) Chujoy, Encyclopedia, p. 139; see also, Cohen, Theatre Art, p. 38. Return to text
(13) See, e.g., Chujoy, Encyclopedia, p. 230. Return to text
(14) Quoted from Weaver's Essay Towards a History of Dancing, see Lincoln Kirstein, Ballet Alphabet (New York: Kamin Publishers, 1939), pp. 14, 22. Also quoted in Chujoy, Encyclopedia, p. 125; Richard Kraus, History of Dance (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966), p. 5. Return to text
(15) Jean-Georges Noverre, Letters on Dancing and Ballets, trans. By Cyril W. Beaumont (London: C. W. Beaumont, 1951), p. 3. See also, Chujoy, Encyclopedia, p. 125; Kirstein, Ballet Alphabet, p. 22; Kraus, History of Dance, p. 5. Return to text
(16) Cohen, Theatre Art, p. 41. Return to text
(17) Susan Lester, ed., Ballet Here and Now (London: Dennis Dobson, 1961), p. 28. Return to text
(18) Chujoy, Encyclopedia, p. 38. A similar characterization is made by Cyril W. Beaumont in his introduction to Noverre, Letters on Dancing and Ballet, p. xi. Return to text
(19) Lester, Ballet Here and Now, p. 28. Return to text
(20) Quoted in Arlene Croce, "Dancing: The Two Trockaderos," The New Yorker, February 14, 1974, p. 182. Return to text
(21) Chujoy, Encyclopedia, p. 125. See also, Kirstein, Ballet Alphabet, p. 22; Kraus, History of Dance, p. 5. Return to text
(22) Chujoy, Encyclopedia, p. 125. See also, Kirstein, Ballet Alphabet, p. 22; Kraus, History of Dance, p. 5. Return to text
(23) See, e.g., Cohen, Theatre Art, pp. 66-70. Return to text
(24) See, e.g., Horst Koegler, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Ballet (New York: Oxford University press, 1977), pp. 221-2. Return to text
(25) A. V. Coton, "Looking Back and Around," in Lester, Ballet Here and Now, p. 45. Return to text
(26) Quoted in Kraus, History of Dance, pp. 171-2. Return to text
(27) Perugini, Art of Ballet, p. 21. Return to text
(28) Contemporary critic Arlene Croce writes, for example, that "International trends in story ballets decree that dancing shall replace mime. . . [I]n the best examples we have of mimeless drama the dancers fill the dramatic purpose of mime." "Dancing: Royal Jitters," The New Yorker, May 27, 1974, p. 80.
Similarly, critic Anna Kisselgoff is critical of ". . . Soviet Socialist Realist ballet, which imbued movement with meaning and turned dancers into silent actors, [while] the new Chinese ballet has kept the separation between dance and mime." "The Dance Boom In China Resounds Here," New York Times, July 23, 1978. Return to text
(29) Perhaps the best-known among the contemporary choreographers of new story-ballets is the late John Cranko, choreographer for the Stuttgart Ballet. See, e.g., Anna Kisselgoff, "Stuttgart Ballet: Tetley Era Begins," New York Times, May 28, 1975. She describes Cranko as having successfully revived ". . . the full-evening, full-company, story-ballet with straightforward narrative." Return to text
(30) Quoted from Perugini's A Pageant of Dance and Ballet (1935) in Chujoy, Encyclopedia, p. 36; Kirstein, Ballet
Alphabet, p. 14; Kraus, History of Dance, p. 71. Perugini makes a similar characterization in Art of Ballet, p. 24. Return to text
(31) Haskell, Ballet, p. 36 (italics omitted). Return to text
(32) Kraus, History of Dance, p. 13. Return to text
(33) Critic Anna Kisselgoff says, in a review of an Experimental Dance Series, "the works on these programs would not fit the traditional definition of dance. That is the whole point, in fact of the series." "Experimental Steps at Brooklyn Academy," New York Times, February 15, 1975.
In a review of Trisha Brown, Kisselgoff notes that ". . . the new choreographers have challenged the traditional definition of the discipline in which they work. They have, in effect, stretched the definition of dance to include elements of movements that were previously not considered dance." "Wall-Dancer Adds a New Dimension," New York Times, January 8, 1976.
In a review of Merce Cunningham's Winterbranch, Kisselgoff says that it ". . . is not a ballet by conventional standards or even a dance by everyone's definition." "The Dance: Merce Cunningham's 'Winterbranch,'" New York Times, November 11, 1974. Elsewhere, Kisselgoff says that "A dance performance is what Merce Cunningham says it is." "Dance: 'Event No. 131,'" New York Times, April 29, 1975. Return to text
(34) See note 106 below. Return to text
(35) Anna Kisselgoff says of Midi Garth, e.g., that ". . . she works with a great deal of stillness." "The Dance: Midi Garth," New York Times, April 25, 1976.
Selma Jeanne Cohen notes that Yvonne Rainer made ". . . movement as minimal as possible and discovered that, after a period of sparseness, an elbow wiggle looked positively virtuosic." Theatre Art, p. 195. Return to text
(36) Examples abound of contemporary choreographers using such everyday movements. Laura Dean, described by Anna Kisselgoff as a "minimalist" in dance, uses a "vocabulary, deliberately restricted to movements such as stamping, strutting, hopping, and spinning, played seriously and cheerfully with basic repetitions and a steady pulse." "The Dance: 'Drummin,'" New York Times, April 5, 1975.
Critic Robert J. Pierce describes Dean's work as "choreography built on simple, ordinary kinds of movement unrelated to traditional dance techniques, and repetition." He describes her work Song as ". . . composed of various permutations on hopping, jumping, stamping, shuffling and especially spinning steps. . . ." "'Everyday' Movement As
Dance," New York Times, April 4, 1976.
Choreographer Paul Taylor has also made extensive use of such ". . . ordinary, everyday movements - running, walking and falling." Carol Lawson, "Paul Taylor Dance Company At the Billy Rose, Marks 20th year," New York Times, June 11, 1976. See also, e.g., George Gelles, "Paul Taylor: Back in the Spotlight," Washington Star, April 4, 1976.
Avant-garde choreographers Yvonne Rainer, Lucinda Childs, and Judith Dunn have also experimented with such "non-dance" movements. See, e.g., Erica Abeel, "The New New Dance," in Nadel, Dance Experience, pp. 119-20; Berman, "Four Breakaway Choreographers," p. 45. Return to text
(37) E.g., Jerome Robbins, in Summer Day, which he choreographed in 1947 for American Ballet Theatre, ". . . has woven these dance comments together with seemingly natural but carefully choreographed movements, such as a walk, a yawn, a passing gesture, a glance. . . ." Selma Jeanne Cohen and A. J. Pischl, The American Ballet Theatre: 1940-1960 (New York: Dance Perspectives, Inc., 1960), p. 56. Return to text
(38) Anna Kisselgoff, "In Anna Sokolow's Dance, Her Beliefs," New York Times, December 2, 1975. Return to text
(39) Lincoln Kirstein says flatly, "All action is not dancing. . . ." Ballet Alphabet, p. 15. Return to text
(40) See Merce Cunningham, "Two Questions and Five Dances," in Cohen, Theatre Art, pp. 201-2. See also, discussions in Abeel, "New New Dance," pp. 117-8; Anderson, Dance, p. 126; Cohen, Theatre Art, p. 194. Return to text
(41) These problematic sorts of improvisation can be found, e.g., in performances of the Grand Union. Critic John Rockwell describes the group as an ". . . improvisatory dance/theater collective. . ." and discusses whether this is "art," noting that Grand Union, and several other contemporary groups, ". . . have been attempting to bring down the boundaries between art and life." Rockwell also quotes a sculptor and performer Robert Morris as saying about the group: "'Always art but close to life; as much life in the art as possible; more life than anything else around that is art.'" "Disciplined Anarchists of Dance," New York Times, April 18, 1976.
Improvisation in dance has, in fact, been around for some time. E.g., Anatole Chujoy notes that Isadora Duncan (1878-1927), one of the first of the twentieth-century "modern" dancers, ". . . avoided definitely set movements and steps and transformed the dance into seldom, if ever, repeated improvisations which were never solidified into an unchangeable formal system." Encyclopedia, pp. 161-2. Return to text
(42) See Abeel, "New New Dance," pp. 116-7; Anderson, Dance, pp. 126, 131; Cohen, Theatre Art, p. 194. Return to text
(43) See note 207 below. Return to text
(44) See Don McDonagh's review of Jessica Fogel's Untitled Work, "3 Choreographers Spanning 3 Eras Share a Program," New York Times, February 16, 1976. See also McDonagh's review of a dance concert by David Varney and Steven Witt, "Odd Dances Given by Varney and Witt," New York Times, February 2, 1976.
In fact, a typewriter was incorporated by artist Jean Cocteau into the production of Parade, choreographed by Leonide Massine for Diaghilev's Ballets Russe de Monte Carlo. Such sound effects as ". . . the wail of a ship's siren, and the droning of an aeroplane engine" were also used in the production. Leonide Massine, "The Creation of 'Parade,'" in Cohen, Theatre Art, p. 110. Return to text
(45) Part of the performance of Since You Asked, by avant-garde choreographer Senta Driver, is accompanied by music from Giselle whistled from off-stage. Anna Kisselgoff, "The Dance: Senta Driver in 2 Premieres," New York Times, February 28, 1976. Return to text
(46) The use of electronically taped music is becoming extremely common (although often criticized), even by such companies as New York City Ballet, Paul Taylor Dance Company, and the Pennsylvania Ballet. See, e.g., Don McDonagh, "City Ballet in 'Porte et Soupir;'" Anna Kisselgoff, "'Cloven Kingdom' - A Mad, Mad Whirl," New York Times, June 11, 1976. Interestingly, Clive Barnes once praised the use of electronically recorded music in Alvin Ailey's The Mooche because it added to the authenticity of the piece. "Dance: Spring Gala Day," New York Times, April 18, 1975. Return to text
(47) Quoted in Abeel, "New New Dance," p. 117. Return to text
(48) This subject is widely discussed in dance literature. See, e.g., Abeel, "New New Dance," pp. 116-7; Kraus, History, p. 222. Return to text
(49) Abeel says, e.g., that ". . . a Cunningham dance has so thoroughly shed any vestiges of emotional derivation that it comes as close to being 'abstract' as a medium whose material is the human body can come . . . The triumph of the Cunningham idiom is that it broadens and renews the vocabulary of dance by making movement unrecognizable as gesture." "New New Dance," p. 118.
Choreographer Alwin Nikolais is described as "deliberately [seeking] to wipe out vestiges of personal emotion." Cohen, Theatre Art, p. 195. Return to text
(50) See Anna Kisselgoff's review of The Possessed by the Pearl Lang Dance Company, "Dance: 'The Possessed,'" New York Times, January 16, 1976. Return to text
(51) See Deborah Jowitt's review of Marjorie Gamso's Thread, "Can You Solve This Dance?" Village Voice, February 2, 1976. Return to text
(52) Ibid. See also, Anna Kisselgoff's review of Mimi Garrard's Brazen. "Dance: A Step Beyond Mixed-Media," New York Times, February 29, 1976. Return to text
(53) Videotape has been used by Merce Cunningham in Westbeth, Mike Steel, "Dance: Merce Cunningham," Minneapolis Tribune, March 24, 1975; Don McDonagh, "Cunningham Dance Combines images," New York Times, May 30, 1975. Return to text
(54) See Anna Kisselgoff's review of Jennifer Muller's Winter Pieces. "Dance Umbrella Season Opens With Muller Work," New York Times, February 20, 1976. Return to text
(55) See Anna Kisselgoff's review of the Dance Theater of Harlem's production of Carmen and Jose. "Dance: A Spicy 'Carmen,'" New York Times, March 4, 1976. Return to text
(56) Many of George Balanchine's ballets for the New York City Ballet are done without any scenery at all, as well as with only practice clothes for costuming. Return to text
(57) Anderson, Dance, p. 131. Return to text
(58) Ibid., p. 126. Return to text
(59) The costumes for Paul Taylor's Cloven Kingdom are ". . . elegant jersey gowns by the fashion designer Scott Barrie . . . [and] white tie and tails by After Six Inc." Anna Kisselgoff, "'Cloven Kingdom' - A Mad, Mad Whirl." Return to text
(60) Even classical ballet companies are experimenting with nudity, as in the Royal Danish Ballet's production of The Triumph of Death and the Netherlands Dance Theater's production of Reflections. Clive Barnes, "Oh, Copenhagen," New York Times, March 7, 1976. Return to text
(61) Theatre Art, pp. 195-6. Return to text
(62) Merce Cunningham, e.g., has experimented considerably with the use of stage space. Anderson, Dance, p. 131. Return to text
(63) Erica Abeel, e.g., makes such an assessment. "New New Dance," p. 120. Return to text
(64) "'Everyday' Movement As Dance," New York Times, April 4, 1976. Return to text
(65) "The Transfiguration of the Commonplace," JAAC, XXXIII (Winter, 1974), 141. Return to text
(66) Ibid., 145. Return to text
(67) Ibid., 140. Return to text
(68) "The Artworld Discarded," JAAC, XXXIV (Summer, 1976), 441. Return to text
(69) Ibid., 443. Return to text
(70) Ibid. Return to text
(71) Ibid., 444. Return to text
(72) Ibid., 446. Return to text
(73) Ibid., 450. Return to text
(74) Ibid. Return to text
(75) Etienne Gilson, Forms and Substances in the Arts, trans. By Salvator Attamasio (New York: Charles Scribner's Song, 1966), p. 184). (Hereinafter referred to as "Forms and Substances.") Return to text
(76) Ibid., p. 186. Return to text
(77) Ibid., pp. 199-200. Return to text
(78) "Perceiving Dance," Journal of Aesthetic Education, IX (October, 1975), 98. Return to text
(79) Ibid. Return to text
(80) Ibid., 99. Return to text
(81) Ibid., 100. Return to text
(82) Virgil C. Aldrich, Philosophy of Art (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1963), p. 65. Return to text
(83) Ibid., p. 66. Return to text
(84) Ibid. Return to text
(85) Ibid., pp. 66-67. Return to text
(86) Ibid., p. 67. Return to text
(87) Ibid., p. 66. Return to text
(88) "A Prolegomenon to an Aesthetics of Dance," in The Dance Experience, ed. By Myron H. Nadel and Constance Nadel Miller (New York: Universe Books, 1978), p. 9. Return to text
(89) Ibid., p. 4. Return to text
(90) Ibid. Return to text
(91) Ibid., p. 5. Return to text
(92) Ibid., p. 4. Return to text
(93) Ibid., p. 7. Return to text
(94) Ibid., p. 11. Return to text
(95) Ibid., p. 12. Return to text
(96) "The Art of the Dance," JAAC, VIII (1949), 47. Return to text
(97) Ibid., 48. Return to text
(98) Ibid., 50. Return to text
(99) "The Notion of Dancing," (mimeographed article, 1980; publication forthcoming, Auslegung), p. 2. Return to text
(100) Ibid., pp. 2-3. Return to text
(101) Ibid., pp. 10-11. Return to text
(102) Ibid., p. 2. Return to text
(103) Ibid. Return to text
(104) Thomas Munro, The Arts and Their Interrelations (New York: The Liberal Arts Press, 1949), pp. 496-7. Return to text
(105) Ibid., p. 497. Return to text
(106) This assumes that human movement is a necessary characteristic of the artform of dance, although there are alleged performances in which dancers do nothing but stand motionless on stage. In order to accommodate these isolated phenomena, dance could be characterized as using a living human body capable of movement, usually to move but occasionally to affirmatively not-move in a context of movement. The presence of the body distinguishes this from literary works, which include only references to human movement.
In Duet (1957), Paul Taylor and his partner do nothing but sit on-stage, in silence, for three minutes. Deborah Jowitt, "Rebel Turned Classicist," New York Times, March 10, 1974. See also, Faubion Bowers, "Dance: A Review," in The Dance Experience: Readings in Dance Appreciation, ed. By Myron Howard Nadel and Constance Gwen Nadel (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970), p. 113. Appropriately, Louis Horst, a critic for Dance Observer, responded with a blank review. Ibid. footnote.
Yvonne Rainer has also experimented with "non-movement." "In 'New Untitled Partially Improvised' she comes on in leotard and blackened face; stares at the audience, who naturally stare back at her. . . ; and at very wide intervals performs a cluster of rapid, fluid movement - all to a Bach toccata. Although initially irritating . . . the piece is nonetheless intriguing, for it is playing with the idea of suggesting movement without actually moving." Erica Abeel, "The New New Dance," in Nadel, Dance Experience, p. 120. Return to text
(107) Philosophy and Human Movement (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1978). Return to text
(108) Ibid., pp. 79ff. Return to text
(109) Ibid., p. 120. Return to text
(110) Ibid., pp. 115, 117. Return to text
(111) Ibid., p. 115. Return to text
(112) Ibid., p. 39. Return to text
(113) Ibid., p. 45. Return to text
(114) Ibid., p. 44. Return to text
(115) Ibid. Return to text
(116) Ibid., p. 67. Return to text
(117) See, e.g., Linda Bird Francke's description of women's gymnastics, "On the Beam," Newsweek, May 19, 1975, p. 93: "Requiring grace, poise and coordination, gymnastics is more akin to dancing than to other rougher, contact sports." Francke also quotes a gymnastic coach as saying "It's a show sport . . . you have to be a little actress." Return to text
(118) Although ballet historically was an outgrowth, in part, of roving troupes of tumblers and acrobats in the sixteenth century (see, e.g., Haskell, Ballet, p. 19), during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, any hint of athleticism was shunned as antithetical to the spirit of ballet. It was not until the twentieth century that "athleticism" became a positive attribute in ballet performances. At present, athleticism is widely accepted as a virtue, within limits, and examples abound in critical descriptions.
For example, the dancing in Jerome Robbins' classical ballet The Goldberg Variations for the New York City Ballet has been praised by Alan M. Kriegsman as ". . . invested with an athletic, crisply contemporary vigor." "Ensemble Work - With Fireworks," Washington Post, February 26, 1976.
Critic Don McDonagh refers to the "gymnastic tumbles" in the New York City Ballet's production of Variations pour une Porte et un Soupir, choreographed by George Balanchine. "City Ballet in 'Porte et Soupir,'" New York Times, June 11, 1976.
Critic Anna Kisselgoff refers to "the gymnastic choreography" of Gerald Arpino's The Relativity of Icarus, "The Dance," New York Times, October 25, 1976.
Chichicastenango, a modern troupe, has been described as "pleasantly athletic" by Don McDonagh. "Chichicastenango Gives Dances in Athletic and Eccentric Style," New York
Times, April 6, 1975.
Twentieth-century Russian ballet has also been especially noted for its emphasis on athletics, to the considerable extent of contemporary American ballet. Selma Jeanne Cohen notes, e.g., that "In the state-supported schools [in the Soviet Union] the legacy of the danse d'ecole was maintained but extended; jumps reached breathtaking heights; the body became incredibly flexible; a partner supported his ballerina with a single hand and held her high over his head. The Bolshoi did all this with athletic exuberance; the Kirov was softer but no less spectacular." Theatre Art, p. 154.
Clive Barnes has noted the considerable impact of this Russian athleticism on American ballet: "Before the Soviet invasion of some 20 years ago, in the West it would have been regarded as vulgar for a man to lift a ballerina above his head to the full extent of his arms - today it is the custom -- while one-handed lifts and spins in the air were regarded as acrobatics and not part of the dance vocabulary. The Russians changed all that, and weightlifting in a gymnasium became part of the training regime for quite a number of Western dancers who needed simply to develop more physical strength." "True Partnering - when Two Dance as One," New York Times, October 19, 1975. See also Lincoln Kirstein, Blast at Ballet: A Corrective for the American Audience (New York: Marstin Press, Inc., 1938), p. 99.
Significantly, not everyone in classical ballet, including the English, has accepted this increasing athleticism so readily. Reportedly, e.g., when American Ballet Theatre performed in London during the season of 1945-46, "London was . . . unenthusiastic about the virtuoso pas de deux and the general American approach to the classics, which the English found rather too athletic for their taste." Cohen, American Ballet Theatre, p. 51.
Avant-garde troupes have pushed even beyond "athleticism" and border more on "athletics." For example, the Pilobolus Dance Theater originally utilized primarily acrobatic and tumbling movements, then branched out into more traditional dance movements, but the group is still sometimes characterized as providing "an acrobatic tumbling feat." Dena Davida, "Pilobolus: A Re-View," Many Corners III, February, 1975. Clive Barnes notes that "They are not really trained dancers; rather, they have brought to dance a background in sports and gymnastics. This can perhaps best be seen in . . . 'Pseudopodia' [which] consists of crawling, twisting, somersaulting, cartwheeling and general progressing across the stage." "Two Young Troupes - off and Running," New York Times, March 14, 1976. See also, Peter Altman, "Dance program entertaining but lacking," Minneapolis Star, January 13, 1975; Clive Barnes, "Dance: Pilobolus Images," New York Times, March 7, 1976; Anna Kisselgoff, "Pilobolus Dancing its Way to Togetherness," New York Times, March 5, 1976; Allen Robertson, "Pilobolus Dance Theater,"
Minnesota Daily, January 17, 1975; Jack Anderson, "Pilobolus at American Dance Festival," New York Times, July 31, 1978. Performance seen by this writer, National Theater, Washington, D.C., April l11, 1977.
Another experimental modern group, the Zero Moving company, has used a giant white rubber mattress, first, deflated, as a floorcloth, and then, inflated, as a trampoline. Anna Kisselgoff, "Dance: Zero Movers," New York Times, April 20, 1975. Return to text
(119) Ballet, pp. 42-3 (italics omitted). Return to text
(120) Blast at Ballet, p. 99 (underlining added). Return to text
(121) George Balanchine, "Marginal Notes on the Dance," in The Dance Has Many Faces, ed. By Walter Sorrell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1966), pp. 96-7. Return to text
(122) Gilson, Forms and Substances, pp. 196-7. Return to text
(123) Ibid., p. 185. Return to text
(124) Lawrence Van Gelder, "The 'Ice Capades' at 35," New York Times, January 9, 1976.
More recently, skater John Curry has attempted to ". . . integrate skating and ballet into a separate artistic category . . . [which] exists between competitive figure skating and the Ziegfeld Follies-like extravaganzas of the touring ice shows." Jack Egan writes, "Curry seemed to prove that dance on ice could uphold the highest values of ballet movement while exploring a new territory that transcends the possibilities of ballet because of the freedom of movement ice offers." "John Curry-Skating on the Edge of Ballet," Washington Post, July 2, 1987. Return to text
(125) The Arts and Their Interrelations, p. 496. Return to text
(126) "'Ice Follies' Good Example of Genre," New York Times, September 27, 1974. Return to text
(127) "The Notion of Dancing," pp. 5, 7. Return to text
(128) "'Ice Follies.'" Return to text
(129) "Skating as a Form of Ballet" (January 23, 1944), in Edwin Denby, Looking at the Dance (New York: Horizon Press, 1949), p. 381. Return to text
(130) "'Ice Follies.'" Return to text
(131) "Perceiving Dance," 102. Return to text
(132) John Simon, "The Theater or The Tiger," New York Magazine, April 14, 1975, p. 72. Review of Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Bailey. Return to text
(133) Christopher Wren, "In Russia, The Circus Is an Art Form," New York Times, December 14, 1975. Return to text
(134) In American Ballet Theatre's production of Giselle, a hunting dog is brought on stage in the first act just before the royal hunting party enters. Performances seen by this writer, October 4, 1975; April 4, 1976; March 23, March 24, April 9, December 18, 1977, Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.; January 11, 1976, Uris Theatre, New York, N.Y. A large dog is also brought on stage in ABT's production of Swan Lake. Performances seen by this writer, April 11, 1976; March 14, March 19, 1978, Kennedy Center. Return to text
(135) See Anna Kisselgoff's review of Rebound by Batya Zamir, "Dance: Above the Ground," New York Times, March 8, 1976. Choreographer Stephanie Evanitsky's Buff Her Blind - To Open the Light of the Body uses ". . . a scaffold . . . with nine elastic tightropes stretched across at three levels." Anna Kisselgoff, "Dance: Miss Evanitsky," New York Times, March 12, 1975. Choreographer Trisha Brown uses harnesses on pulleys to enable her dancers to literally walk on walls during some of her dances. Anna Kisselgoff, "Wall-Dancer Adds a New dimension," New York Times, January 8, 1976; see also, Susan K. Berman, "Four Breakaway Choreographers," Ms. Magazine III (April, 1975), p. 44. Even the traditional American Ballet Theatre once had ballerina Nora Kaye ". . . swinging head down on [a] rope ladder." Quoted from John Martin's review of The Sphinx in the New York Times on April 22, 1955. Cohen, American Ballet Theatre, p. 82. Return to text
(136) "Chinese Fireworks," Newsweek LXXXIV (July 15, 1974), p. 52. Return to text
(137) American Ballet Theatre's production of the Petipa classic Raymonda, e.g., was described by critic George Gelles as ". . . cosmetic pattern-making that was kept alive in a transformed version in the Hollywood dance extravaganzas. . . [Raymonda and the movie "The Gang's All Here"] derive a good deal of a common tradition that's concerned with eye-filling balance and order." "'Raymonda' Falls Prey
to a Few Pitfalls suffered by Most Revivals," Washington Star, April 9, 1976.
A similar criticism was made by John Martin of a production of Giselle in 1946: "'Last night at the Broadway Theatre the Ballet Theatre presented the premiere of two settings, plus two additional act-drops, and some fitly ornate and elaborate costumes that would have graced any of the better editions of Ziegfeld's "Follies" . . . '" Quoted in Cohen, American Ballet Theatre, p. 54. Return to text
(138) "His basic theatricality has made Robbins a vigorous choreographer and director on Broadway, where his successes include West Side Story, Gypsy, and Fiddler on the Roof." Anderson, Dance, p. 144.
". . . the dance sequences that Balanchine composed for such musicals as On Your Toes (with its 'Slaughter on Tenth Avenue' gangster ballet), Babes in Arms, and The Boys from Syracuse - and for such films as The Goldwyn Follies - were enormously popular." Anderson, Dance, p. 100. Return to text
(139) Fall River Legend, the story of Lizzie Borden choreographed by Agnes de Mille in 1948 for American Ballet Theatre, begins with a spoken monologue by the Speaker for the Jury. American Ballet Theatre 1976 (souvenir program). Performances seen by this writer, January 24, 28, and 30, 1976, Uris Theatre, New York, N.Y.
Martha Graham also sometimes used the spoken word throughout her dances. Chujoy, Encyclopedia, p. 215.
See also, note 206 below. Return to text
(140) "Dance Makes the Musicals Go 'Round," New York Times, November 23, 1975. Return to text
(141) Ibid. Return to text
(142) Ibid. Return to text
(143) John Martin, formerly dance critic of the New York Times, once coined the term "spectacular dance" to encompass both "ballet and the dance in musical comedies, revues, etc." Chujoy, Encyclopedia, p. 448. This, of course, does not resolve our problem either. Martin's term notes the similarities between ballet and such musical productions, without explaining why we continue to distinguish between the genres and without explaining why we hesitate to call musical shows and revues artforms. His remark is puzzling since Martin elsewhere has criticized ballets by characterizing them as "revue dancing." See his review of Ballet Theatre's Quintet, New York Times, February 2, 1940. Quoted in Cohen, American Ballet Theatre, p. 15. Return to text
(144) Theater critic Walter Kerr describes a recent production, Bubbling Brown Sugar, as part of the "strange breed" of musical revues: "Since by definition they lack narratives to push them along . . . and since they're composed of bits and pieces supplied by many hands . . . , revues need something to glue them together . . . A revue is an artfully designed collage of personality or it's nothing." "'Bubbling Brown Sugar,'" New York Times, March 7, 1976. Unfortunately, the same characterization can be made of many plotless ballets.
Another problematic case is the Radio City Music Hall precision dancers, the Rockettes, and the Music Hall Ballet. Anatole Chujoy describes them as "the only resident ballet company in U.S. (sic) which performs fifty-two weeks a year." Encyclopedia, p. 397. But although many are uncomfortable with considering the Rockettes a legitimate artform, surely it cannot be simply on the grounds that they "appeals to the masses," as this would also exclude Anna Pavlova. Return to text
(145) Some have directly addressed the question whether these phenomena should be considered artforms, but usually with unsatisfactory results. Dancer Gene Kelly said, e.g., that "We considered what we did an art form, even though it was popular." Robert Lindsey, "Astair, Kelley to Be Honored Tonight," New York Times, May 10, 1976. Clive Barnes once noted that "The difference between art dance and pop dance [in Broadway shows] . . . is vast." But his main points of differentiation are that the choreography in Broadway shows is ". . . undemanding, and not even particularly inventive . . . simple, even stereotyped." "Choreographers Cast Their Spell Over Broadway," New York Times, April 11, 1976. This again leaves us in the uncomfortable position of not being able to explain why certain ballets with "undemanding, uninventive, simple, stereotyped" choreography are still ballets, albeit poor ones. Return to text
(146) The Commonwealth of Art (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1946), p. 225. Return to text
(147) Ibid., see, e.g., p. 227. Return to text
(148) The Principles of Art (New York: Oxford University Press, 1938), pp. 243-4. Return to text
(149) Ibid., pp. 76-7. Return to text
(150) Ibid., p. 55. Return to text
(151) The Dance as Life (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1923), p. 35. Return to text
(152) Ibid., p. 48. Return to text
(153) Ibid., p. 76. Return to text
(154) Ibid., p. 86. Return to text
(155) Art as Experience (New York: Capricorn Books, 1934), p. 7. Return to text
(156) Ibid., p. 63. Return to text
(157) Ibid., p. 71. Return to text
(158) Problems of Art (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1957), p. 121. Return to text
(159) Susanne K. Langer, Feeling and Form (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1953), p. 199. Return to text
(160) Ibid., p. 207. Return to text
(161) Langer, Problems of Art, p. 5. Return to text
(162) Ibid., p. 6. Return to text
(163) Ibid., p. 7. Return to text
(164) Langer, Feeling and Form, p. 174. Return to text
(165) Langer, Problems of Art, p. 9. Return to text
(166) See, e.g., Bernhard F. Scholz, "Discourse and Intuition in Susanne Langer's Aesthetics of Literature," JAAC, XXXI (Winter, 1972), 215-26; Curtis L. Carter, "Langer and Hoffstadter on Painting and Language: A Critique," JAAC, XXXII (Spring, 1974), 331-42. Return to text
(167) She apparently thinks her discussion clarifies the meaning of "symbol." See, e.g., Langer, Problems of Art, pp. 9-10. She does admit that she has not attempted in that context to explain "the meaning of dance gesture." Ibid., p. 11. Return to text
(168) Langer, Feeling and Form, p. 173. Return to text
(169) Ibid., p. 169. Return to text
(170) Langer, Feeling and Form, p. 172. Return to text
(171) Ibid., p. 198. Return to text
(172) Ibid., p. 172. See also, p. 56. Return to text
(173) Ibid., p. 322. Return to text
(174) Toward a Psychology of Art (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1966), p. 69 (emphasis added). Return to text
(175) Ibid., p. 70. Return to text
(176) Ibid., pp. 70-1. Return to text
(177) Ibid., p. 127. Return to text
(178) "Perceiving Dance," 102. Return to text
(179) Ibid., p. 104. Return to text
(180) Ibid., 102-3. Return to text
(181) Ibid., 103. Return to text
(182) The Arts and the Art of Criticism (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1947), p. 35. Return to text
(183) Ibid., p. 64. Return to text
(184) See, e.g., Selma Jeanne Cohen, "Dance as an Art of Imitation," JAAC, XII (1953), 232. Return to text
(185) Greene, The Arts and the Art of Criticism, p. 64. Return to text
(186) Ibid., p. 65. Return to text
(187) Ibid. Return to text
(188) Ibid., p. 66. Return to text
(189) Ibid., p. 200. Return to text
(190) "The Relation of Dance to the Visual Arts," JAAC, V (1946-7), 203. Return to text
(191) Ibid. Return to text
(192) See, e.g., John Hospers, "Aesthetics, Problems of," in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. by Paul Edwards (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1967), vol. I, pp. 40, 52. Return to text
(193) Ibid., p. 40. Return to text
(194) Critic Clive Barnes considers operas which include ballet inappropriate "two-headed monster(s)." he argues, "One difficulty is the timing - dance moves so much faster than opera, so that to combine the two on the same stage is contrary to the interests of each." But while Barnes' remarks constitute arguments for a normative definition of what good opera ought to be, it is still the case that these opera-ballets do exist. The question thus remains on what grounds we distinguish operas-which-include-ballet from ballets-that-include-singing. "Operas Should Sing and Ballets Should Dance," New York Times, November 3, 1974. Return to text
(195) "Movement in Opera," in Nadel, Dance Experience, p. 180. Probably the most extreme case of emphasis on dance in this opera occurred in 1936 when George Balanchine, then choreographer of the American Ballet (predecessor of the present New York City Ballet, and, at the time, the ballet company of the Metropolitan Opera), staged Orpheus as a ballet, with the singers in the orchestra pit. It was reportedly quite unpopular with the tradition-minded opera audience. Chujoy, Encyclopedia, pp. 8-9. Return to text
(196) Tudor, "Movement," p. 180. Return to text
(197) Dance is also important in the Chinese Peking Opera, described by dance critic Jack Anderson as ". . . that uniquely Chinese mixed-media form that combines dancing, acting, singing and acrobatics in an unusually robust manner." "Chinese Troupe Dances Peking Opera Excerpts," New York Times, July 8, 1978. Return to text
(198) The ballet Le Baiser de la Fee (The Fairy's Kiss), choreographed by John Neumeier in 1972, includes the complete singing of Tchaikovsky's "Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt" (None but the Lonely Heart ) by a member of the cast on stage. The singing of the song is an integral part of the dramatic narrative, and not just a device to set a mood. Performance seen by this writer February 1, 1976, American Ballet Theatre, Uris Theatre, New York, N.Y.
New York City Ballet's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream includes two vocal soloists and a chorus of eight. Performance seen by this writer, Kennedy Center, March 12, 1977.
Senta Driver has also made extensive use of song, as well as speech in her modern dances. Anna Kisselgoff, "Dance: Senta Driver's 'On Doing,'" New York Times, July 18, 1978. Return to text
(199) Peter and the Wolf has been described by dance critic Cyril W. Beaumont in Supplement to Complete Book of Ballets (London: C. W. Beaumont, 1942), as ". . . not a ballet, but a spoken tale with music, commentary, underlined with actions or decorated with brief dances and phrases of dancing." (p. 159) Note, however, that this production was reviewed by a dance critic in a book about ballets.
Another contemporary work, Gian Carlo Menotti's The Unicorn, The Gorgon, and the Manticore, defies categorization. The one-act score, calling for ballet, chorus, and chamber orchestra, has been in the repertoire of the New York City Ballet, the Washington Ballet, the Opera society of Washington, and the Paul Hill Chorale. Paul Hume, "The 'Unigorticore' With Music and Ballet," Washington Post, July 2, 1975. Performance seen by this writer, November, 1977, Washington Ballet and Paul Hill Chorale, Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.
Carl Orff's score for Carmina Burana, for orchestra, chorus, and soloists has been choreographed by several contemporary choreographers. The Pennsylvania Ballet, using John Butler's choreography, locates the chorus in the orchestra pit. Performance seen by this writer, Academy of Music, March 14, 1974. The Washington Ballet uses James Clouser's choreography, with the Paul Hill Chorale seated on stage across the entire width of the stage and the dancers in front of them. Performance seen by this writer, Kennedy Center, November, 1977. Return to text
(200) Invitation to Ballet (London: Werner Laurie, 1950), p. 220. Return to text
(201) Ibid., p. 221. Return to text
(202) Ibid., p. 222. Return to text
(203) See, e.g., Clive Barnes' comment that "Not all of drama is found in drama. Quite a lot can be found in dance." "Critic's Notebook: Camera, Lights, Action," New York Times, July 15, 1975.
Another of the many persons emphasizing this strong link between drama and dance is the contemporary German choreographer Kurt Jooss, who describes himself as "a playwright of movement" and has been a proponent of "Bewegunssprache, literally 'movement speech,' a theory which maintained that dance, drama and music were derived from a single root and should be taught together." Roy Koch, "'I'm a Playwright of Movement,'" New York Times, March 14, 1976. Return to text
(204) E.g., critic Arnold Haskell has said that ". . . it is wrong to consider dancing purely from the point of view of the movements of the legs. The dancer must be completely expressive from head to foot. The face is as much a part of the dancer's instrument as the feed and arms." Haskell, Ballet, p. 38. Return to text
(205) Carol Egan writes that "It is not only in Germany and Poland, however, that one finds the movement-oriented actor. Performances by the Piccolo Teatro of Milan are as perfect choreographically as they are theatrically. The actors seem literally to dance their roles. Has one ever seen Sir Laurence Olivier take a 'false step'? Every nuance of his gestures gives evidence of years of discipline and training." "Movement and the Theatre," in Nadel, Dance Experience, pp. 176-7. Return to text
(206) Eugene Loring choreographed a "balletplay" for American Ballet Theatre in 1940 called The Great American Goof with dialogue by William Saroyan. The work, which combined dance and speech, was described by critic John Martin that year as ". . . strik[ing] out boldly in the direction of a new and authoritative idiom." Cohen, American Ballet Theatre, p. 9
A work for American Ballet Theatre in 1956 called The Enchanted had major passages of spoken drama. Cohen, American Ballet Theatre, pp. 86-7.
Another ABT production, On Stage, produced in 1945, made "sparing, piquant use of speech." Cohen, American Ballet Theater, p. 47.
Contemporary experimental dance performances have also made use of the spoken word in their productions. Don McDonagh describes a production by Grand Union as "Words, movement and music whirl[ing] about as members reacted to one another in movement or verbal commentary." "Grand Union's Skits Now More Formula Than Improvisation," New York Times, April 25, 1976.
Anna Kisselgoff wrote that "Valerie Bettis' Theater
Dance Company is presenting a one-act play and some poems. . . There is . . . a considerable amount of movement by the actors that not only accompanies the text but also, fortunately, rounds out a picture the dialogue alone dies not always fill in . . . . The poems . . . were enacted rather than 'read.'" "Dance: Bettis Troupe Presents Drama." New York Times, February 16, 1975.
Don McDonagh describes the performer of Bettis' work The Desperate Heart "As a simultaneous speaker and performer of poetry. . ." "Wayne Group Dances at Jacob's Pillow," New York Times, August 14, 1975.
Poetry is also read in The Winter Calligraphy of Ustad Selim by Randolyn Zinn. Don McDonagh, "Dances are Shared by Francis Petrelle and Randolyn Zinn," New York Times, February 11, 1976. Return to text
(207) Moves, by Jerome Robbins, was created in 1959 for the Spoleto Festival in Italy and was given recently by the City Center Joffrey Ballet in New York in the spring of 1976. Clive Barnes, "Ballet: Timeless 'Moves,'" New York Times, April 2, 1976. See also, Anna Kisselgoff, "Musicless 'Moves' Danced by Joffrey," New York Times, October 16, 1975.
Carlota, choreographed by Jose Limon, is performed in silence. Clive Barnes, "Dance: 'Mexican Tribute,'" New York Times, April 6, 1975.
Session, by avant-garde choreographer Lar Lubovitch, and One Good Turn, by Sara Rudner, are also done in silence. Clive Barnes, "Dance: Lar Lubovitch," New York Times, April 25, 1976.
Early modern dance pioneer Mary Wigman also experimented for a time with dances done without music or other audio accompaniment. John Martin, Introduction to the Dance (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1939), p. 234.
Other ballets done without music include David Lichine's La Creation, and Walter Gore's Eaters of Darkness. Clive Barnes, "'Moves.'" Return to text
(208) The Stuttgart Ballet's production of The Taming of the Shrew is described by Alan M. Kriegsman as demonstrating "how far a ballet can go on the barest minimum of dance." Washington Post, June 27, 1975.
Black Ritual, choreographed by Agnes de Mille for American Ballet Theatre in 1940, was described by John Martin as having "comparatively little movement . . . [H]er moments of stillness are potentially exciting in themselves." Cohen, American Ballet Theatre, p. 13. Return to text
(209) Don McDonagh, e.g., has characterized work by Bob Bowyer as "dance dramas." "Dance by Bowyer Are Small Dramas With Core of Truth," New York Times, January 28, 1975. Return to text
(210) Clive Barnes characterized Quarry, an experimental work by Meredith Monk, as a "music-dance-theater event." Barnes notes that Monk has described her own works variously as "operas, opera-epics, theater cantatas, live movies, composite theater, non-verbal opera, visual poetry, image dance and mosaic theater." "Meredith Monk's Tapestry of Music and Dance," New York Times, March 28, 1976. Return to text
(211) E.g., ". . . the pointing of the index finger of the right-hand to the first joint of the ring finger of the left hand, where the wedding ring is usually worn, . . . indicate[s] wedding, married, husband, wife, etc." Chujoy, Encyclopedia, p. 352. Return to text
(212) Many contemporary productions of such classics still incorporate some simple mime gestures. Performances seen by this writer, including: Giselle, American Ballet Theatre, Ballet Nacional de Cuba, London Festival Ballet; Sleeping Beauty, American Ballet Theatre, Stuttgart Ballet, Royal Ballet; Swan Lake, American Ballet Theatre, Royal Ballet, 1975-81. Return to text
(213) Thomas Munro also seems to assume that mime is essential for conveying a narrative through human movement. See note 20 above. Return to text
(214) "Marceau's Lyric Poems of Movement," New York Times, April 6, 1975. Return to text
(215) Quoted from Aesthetics: A Study of the Fine Arts in Theory and Practice (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1949), p. 302, in Kraus, History, p. 6. Return to text
(216) See, e.g., Clive Barnes' review of Frank Wedekind's Menagerie of the Empress Phylissa, which Barnes describes ". . . as danced and mimed, or mimed and danced, by Henryk Tomaszewski's Polish Mime Ballet Theater." "Dance: Mime of Poland," New York Times, February 24, 1976. Alan Kriegsman says of this same production that "the troupe seemed expertly schooled in mime, acting, dance and acrobatics" and notes that the production includes imaginative "decor, music and lighting," familiar elements, of course, in ballet productions. Washington Post, March 1, 1976. Return to text
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