On the Edge, and Not Apologizing for It
Over the past few days, I’ve had the pleasure of taking a choreography workshop led by Donna Uchizono, a Guggenheim fellow and Bessie award-winning choreographer. She came equipped with exercises designed to challenge and provoke the future dancemakers in the room. The first day, we experimented with tasks and strategies in the space to create short phrases to play with. On the second day, we started off with a discussion of artistic statements, and what each dancer looks to achieve in their work and in performing the works of others. The discussion then turned back to Uchizono.
She addressed the nature of her own work, describing it as “downtown” and “experimental,” still a niche genre in the dance world. She’s been creating and performing work of this nature for her company since establishing Donna Uchizono Company in 1990. As she described her aesthetic interests and artistic pursuits to us, she laughed, reminiscing about a time when she attempted to give a disclaimer to a friend interested in catching one of her performances. “Are you sure you want to run all the way down to Judson, just to see some strange downtown modern dance piece?”
I find myself giving my friends and colleagues disclaimers, too, before I perform or show work. “I just want to let you know, the show tonight might be a little out there,” I warn them. But why do I feel the need to justify the work I’m performing and creating? Why did Uchizono? Why do groundbreaking artists (artists she calls “on the fringe”) fall into that trap, and how do we fight that urge?
Uchizono’s friend, a business-type working for the United Nations at the time, said to her, simply, “You are on the edge. We at the center need people on the edge to move forward.”
This moved me just as it had moved Uchizono years ago. It’s important to remember that many large companies and new ideas now “at the center” were, at one point, led by dancers and choreographers “on the edge.” Starting on the fringe is an essential part of the process for artists trying something new. I thought first about what I’m interested in, the recent trend in immersive work I’ve noticed. When I first moved here four years ago, this strange show that unfolded around you called Sleep No More had just found its home in the city. Now, immersive shows seem to be popping up all over, whether they plan to run for just a few days or are here for the long haul.
Though there’s no guarantee that a company or movement will pick up momentum, that doesn’t mean I can’t move forward with my own ideas. Young artists should continue to embrace their work for what it is, not dismiss it, even if it is a little “out there” or “on the fringe.” It’s yours, and that’s what makes it worth creating.