Dance As Activism
Shanghai Dance Theatre's Soaring Wings, photo courtesy Keith Sherman & Associates

Lunar New Year brings celebratory Chinese dragons, drums and dance to the streets and stage. But throughout the year, Chinese dance-theater productions have become a frequent presence on American stages. In New York City, the visits are so regular the Chinese seem to outpace dance from much closer nations.

Behind the frequency is a cultural-diplomacy effort designed to increase trust and understanding. What's unclear, though, is whether or not contemporary Chinese creative output is actually reaching a diverse group of Americans. Ironically, the New York-based dissent group Shen Yun may be reaching a broader audience—with a message opposed to the Chinese regime.

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Dance As Activism
Dancers interact with the sculpture for FishEyes. Photo via heididuckler.org

Dancers are taking over Culver City's Baldwin Hills this Saturday. The scenic overlook is playing host to a day's worth of site-specific performances, free dance workshops and other events, all curated by Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre for a festival called Ebb & Flow: Culver City.

The purpose? To use dance to highlight society's impact on the environment.

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Dance As Activism
Matthew Neenan used images of silencing and control in let mortal tongues awake. Photo by Bill Herbert.

From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.

New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.

A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.

Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.

In San Francisco, choreographer Margaret Jenkins facilitated a panel of artists about the role of activism within their work.

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Dance As Activism
Arthur Mitchell in class, 1960s. Photo by Milton Oleaga. Arthur Mitchell Collection, Rare Book & Manuscript Collection, Columbia University.

Throughout his remarkable career, the fiercely determined, intelligent and energetic Arthur Mitchell has become accustomed to being called a trailblazer. "Being a typical Aries, I like being the first," he says, laughing. "That's what I've been doing all my life."

This is true, especially when it comes to the discussion at the forefront of today's national dialogue about dance: diversity in ballet.

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Dance As Activism
Photo via unsplash.com

Last Saturday night, Dance/NYC, Gibney Dance and the Actors Fund hosted a conversation on sexual harassment in the dance world. The floor was open for anyone in attendance to share whatever they wanted: personal stories, resources, suggestions.

The event brought to light some of the questions the dance world is facing, and though we don't yet have all the answers, it helped lay out the areas we need to address:

What would dance-specific sexual harassment training and policies look like?

Corporate harassment trainings tend to tell employees to avoid touching coworkers and to not wear revealing clothing in the workplace. Obviously, these rules aren't applicable to the dance world. Many in attendance agreed that everyone in the dance world should undergo training, so what should it include?

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Dance As Activism
Camille A. Brown & Dancers. Photo by Matthew Karas, Courtesy The Kennedy Center.

If The Nutcracker just isn't doing it for you this season, stay #woke with these three shows.

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Dance As Activism
Gert Krautbauer, Courtesy AAADT

In 1960, America was in the midst of a social transformation. The Supreme Court had ruled "separate but equal" unconstitutional six years prior, but the country's response was slow and turbulent as desegregation incited violent responses. Surrounded by powerful civil rights momentum, a 29-year-old Alvin Ailey created an ode to the resilience of the human spirit: Revelations.

"Alvin was making a statement about African-American cultural experience, saying, 'Hey, this is who we are, we live here, we were born here,' " says Judith Jamison, artistic director emerita of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. "It was a brave action. Civil rights were roaring, and our protest was our performance."

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Dancers Trending
Wall's piece for SYTYCD

Last week for "So You Think You Can Dance," Travis Wall choreographed a routine to Nina Simone's "Strange Fruit." It had beautiful dancers, liquid movement and subtle lighting. The concept no doubt had good intentions. But the execution was troublesome.

My complicated relationship with "So You Think You Can Dance" will never cease. I was in the second row when the "SYTYCD" Season 2 tour hit my city; I've taken class from Season 1 winner Nick Lazzarini; I saved Melanie and Marco's duets to my "Favorites" on YouTube.

The show creates opportunities for dancers and choreographers, yet consistently holds the artistic integrity of dance to such a low standard. The nature of this competitive dance show is quick-paced, where choreographers set several dances on performers in one week or less. The repercussions of this learn-dance-eliminate cycle are such that the process, research and discussion of the dance—namely the work in spotlight—are condensed into a week.

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