Posted by: trailerpilot | 07:27::2010

On blogging choreographers.

On her blog at Dance Magazine yesterday, editor-in-chief Wendy Perron posted an item titled “Blogging About the Process of Choreography — Ugh!”

I met Perron in February at a talk at Northwestern University, “What is Dance Journalism?” Many of the points she made then about the changing media landscape were forward-looking and in touch. As a Dance Magazine reader since the age of five, it was very interesting to hear where the publication was headed, straight from the top.

Which is why I’ve been scratching my head.

In the post, she describes self-publishing online about the creative process as “an annoying new trend,” followed by the caveat that she is “not talking about Tere O’Connor, who writes very considered contemplations about dance making, based on his decades of experience.”

I am talking about young choreographers, anxious to be in the public eye, who think that writing about what happened that day in the studio will somehow 1) bring them a wider audience and/or 2) make them a better choreographer.

To her first point: When we’re talking about young choreographers, “a wider audience” often means “people besides friends and family.” Emerging choreographers often don’t pay their dancers, don’t pay themselves, have no internal or external marketing support and, on top of these limitations, may create in a community where there are no working dance writers and/or no publications covering local, small scale dance projects. If there are working dance writers in the area, and venues in which their articles are published, coverage is almost assuredly confined — I can explain if needed — to established companies producing known work.

I’ll get to her second point.

explaining how you make a dance, the problems you encounter and how you solve them, is not going to help either you as the choreographer or your potential audience. To dig into your imagination enough to make a dance, you need to be embroiled in a place where there is no explanation. As Igor Stravinsky once said, you have to dig underground, in the dark, like a mole, groping for what comes next.

I’ll use myself as an example. The act of putting my creative process into words is immensely helpful to me as I seek to solve the problems I encounter therein. I agree wholeheartedly with both Perron and Stravinsky that the depths of some aspects of creation are dark, murky, inexplicable and, like dance itself, outside language. But there are many stages to dance making. Again, in my own work, I spend about a third of my time generating material, and the other two thirds editing, manipulating and organizing it. It’s during this longer phase of my process that I often find translating it into words — whether for my blog, someone else’s blog, a conversation or feedback session — insightful.

Everyone, of course, has his or her own process. I have worked with choreographers whose creative methodology is exceedingly clear and open, and mad scientist types with processes as incomprehensible as a cuneiform tablet in a dark room. Some have written during the rehearsal process and some haven’t. There’s no pattern or correlation. There are good and bad choreographers, good blogs and bad blogs.

Dance, as Perron knows, is changing rapidly. Many choreographers, especially here in Chicago, are incorporating text into their work, some in very advanced and excitingly new ways. “What if you’re in the studio working on a piece,” she asks, “and you’re thinking about what you’re going to say about it in your blog? Wouldn’t that compromise your process?”

Maybe. It depends on the artist’s process, and it depends on the work. The artist’s decision to make public his or her journal is beside the point.

I think this rush to explain is part of a larger trend of people thinking a simple how-to set of instructions can make them into an artist. In The Atlantic’s Fiction 2010 annual issue, the novelist Richard Bausch says, with dismay, that there are 4,470 titles under the rubric “How to Write a Book.” He thinks they are pretty much useless.

The problem with this statement is, of course, that Perron equates artists who write with people who want to become artists by reading about how to do it. Besides,

During that beginning period, putting it into words denies the groping phase. You should be utterly at a loss for words, just feeling your way. After a while, you can start to justify your decisions to yourself, to your dancers, or to your audience if your presenter so wishes. But first, you have to be willing to be lost in that pre-verbal place.

sounds awfully “how-to” to me.

Choreographers aren’t always great writers, and what they say about their work can sometimes be bewildering, inaccurate and/or misrepresentational. But if they want to blog about their creative process—

—especially if there would otherwise be no public record of their work, before or after the fact—

—they can (and should) knock themselves out. Only they can say whether or not it helps them. As a dance writer, I can say for a fact that artists who blog about their work help me do my work. They help me write my listings, research their performances, and prepare for interviews.

Everyone decides for his or her self what to write. And everyone decides for his or her self what to read.

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Responses

  1. I agree with you that Wendy was way off base in chiding choreographers from sharing their process online. I think that she’s just out of touch with the current scene.

  2. As a writer herself, I’m sure she started somewhere? Surely she remembers her own beginnings as a dance writer. What a wonderful response to an irresponsible, snobby blog-post.

  3. […] trailerpilot replies: The act of putting my creative process into words is immensely helpful to me as I seek to solve the problems I encounter therein. I agree wholeheartedly with both Perron and Stravinsky that the depths of some aspects ofcreation are dark, murky, inexplicable and, like dance itself, outside language. But there are many stages to dance making. […]

  4. YES! I’m so glad glad glad you wrote that. The more I thought about the article, the angrier I got about it. Example: when I go to Chicago’s Millennium Park, I feel so happy that there is so much art, music, theatre, dance right there, accessible for everyone (accessible meaning, it’s there – they can engage with it or not). And if we start restricting any aspect about art, then it stays this precious thing in a glass box that people feel removed from and to me, that’s not the point. The cool thing about a blog, any blog, is that you can get inside the process. It’s fascinating.

    I mean, imagine having a blog from Alvin Ailey 25 or 50 years later.

    I guess I just feel like dance and theatre and visual art and, and, and…are all about an exchange, a moment. And it shouldn’t be restricted by anything – not price (I mean, who can afford to go to a Broadway show these days?), not availability, and certainly not by some self-imposed restriction artists place on themselves because of an editorial by the “premiere” dance publication in our country.

  5. “…the fear, I’m sure, is that if somehow dancers start reading, thinking and expressing—both verbally and with their bodies—something else will get erased.
    But when dancers are writing about dance, they’re not erasing it. It’s not even speaking _for_ dance. In the words of Trinh Minh-Ha, they’re speaking _alongside_ of it…

    (Interviewer): A century ago, Gustav Mahler famously said that if composers could say what they had to say in _words_, they wouldn’t bother trying to say it in _music_.
    All I can say is, that must have been a really sweet deal for them.
    One century later, none of us are so easily excused. That almost ornamental exceptionalism that once held that dance artists didn’t need to possess the ability to write and speak, articulately and with some insight, about their work is falling by the way.

    — from an interview with ADF Dean Donna Faye Burchfield (on her decision to leave the ADF): http://bit.ly/DFBadf

  6. Thank you for recognizing the importance of removing the barriers that others try to throw up around art.

  7. Excellent rebuttal!

  8. How odd that as a choreographer and writer herself that she can’t understand that it’s OKAY for her two artforms to overlap, even if they’re used in different ways for different reasons.

    On the one hand, I understand where she’s coming from – it’s too often that dance talk online is really immature and unorganized – but, honestly, who is she to judge? If it helps the choreographer, great.

  9. […] Zachary Whittenburg wonders why Wendy Perron is against choreographers blogging about the artistic […]

  10. […] Meanwhile, at least one blog has taken Perron to task for this whole topic. It’ll be interesting to see if Perron responds. […]

  11. Hear, hear!

    Her article comes across to me as a very scared outcry from someone whose media is in a very rapid form of decline.

    Nonetheless: arrogant, ignorant, and not well supported.

  12. Bravo Zac!

  13. I don’t blog about my process, but I believe Perron’s belief that dance processes should remain ‘pre-verbal’ is what Susan Foster once referred to as dancer-imposed “sanctimonous mutism”. Not to mention Perron’s elitism in asserting that she (whose writing is often less than brilliant) and Tere O’Connor (who I agree with Perron is a brilliantly articulate guy) are more entitled to express their experiences verbally, than others. (Tere writes of the ‘sub-linguistic’ rather than Perron’s cliche of the “pre-verbal.” )

    When Perron conjures her perceived dark “pre-verbal” source of ‘le danse’ I can’t help but imagine Graham in her long skirts, searching for universal archetypes, over-layed by an image of an early (so-called po-mo) late-60s minimalist still looking for inner ‘Truths’.

    Sometimes the blogosphere feels like one place in the world not still dominated by the boomers.

  14. […] written in response to her lament (notably, on Dance Theater Workshop’s blog, Culturebot, and trailerpilot – Perron responds here) so I won’t (as i had originally intended to) pick it apart […]

  15. […] blogged about young choreographers blogging about their creative process. I personally love the rebuttal written by Zachary Whittenburg […]

  16. Thank you, Zac for an eloquent response. Wendy has clearly removed herself from the art making process and from the current funding cycles. Writing in the midst of a creative process is essential – we all write grants and proposals, pitch to presenters, and market our work mid-process.

  17. I’m so glad that you posted this, both her opinion and your own very eloquent rebuttal. I think she has a point that we all need to be careful, no matter what our profession, in over-exposing ourselves, especially if aspects of blogs become frustrations with the dancers and other artists because while it can be cathartic to write about those things, they can be hurtful. But to poo-poo the entire power of the writing process is ridiculous. Has she never heard of a to-do list? Or a grocery list? There is an incredible organizational power for the mind in writing and I can only imagine that is helpful in moving forward as a choreographer. I have blogged about some of my choreographic experiences and processes and found it indeed, helpful. I also think it is rude that she shake the finger at anyone trying to reach a ‘wider audience’ or even just their friends and family. Blogs are a great way for friends and family who live far away to keep up with loved ones. And you never know who will read about something and suddenly take interest. I think she is out-of-touch with what is it to be an aspiring young artist especially in places that aren’t as supportive of the arts as New York is. Anyways, great blog, and perhaps you’d like to check out mine. http://jessruhlin.wordpress.com -best wishes to you 🙂

  18. […] think the best retort that I’ve come across is from this dance blog. I pretty much just want to call her an ugly pepper-ann look-alike snob who isn’t that great […]


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