Lately, I’ve been wondering if we could put Margot Fonteyn in a Tardis and bring her from 1960 to 2019 what she would have to say about the dance performances of today. No doubt she’d be in awe at the technique and skill dancers have, but I have to wonder how she would feel about the current state of dance artistry.
Put on a DVD of Margot Fonteyn, Antoinette Sibley or Darcey Bussell and more than likely you’ll see the watcher sigh with content, and see a pleasant glaze fall across their eyes.
The ballet dancers of yesteryear had a certain je ne sais quoi when it was time to step on stage. Call it presence, otherworldliness, call it superb acting; whatever it was, it drew audience members in and made us fall in love with their performances. And while the technique of yesteryear isn’t as dynamic or extreme as it is today, few people can look back and say that the older generation of dancers didn’t know how to embody a role, feeling or emotion.
But time has marched on, and virtuoso dancers have raised the bar with gravity defying jumps and leaps, turns that seem like they number in the thousands, and hairline level extensions. Certainly there’s a wow factor that audiences young and old love; who doesn’t enjoy seeing amazing feats of movement? Yet I can’t help but feel where the technique is masterful, there’s a gap in the artistry and it makes me ask…
Where has the joy gone?
Especially in contemporary dance, it seems like most dances fall into two categories: serious and traumatized or glitzy hip bopping. Dances at competitions and on TV shows feature solo and group dancers writhing and contorting, feeling all the (negative) feels, or pouty and winky faced dancers (many of them seemingly too young to really understand the concept of flirting or sensuality).
My beef isn’t with these two emotions, my beef is with the fact that these seem to be the only two emotions many choreographers are asking dancers to portray. As humans, we have a whole rainbow of emotions we experience – daily and in our lifetimes. Dance then, should reflect that spectrum of highs, lows, and in betweens. While serious, deep emotions and playful, sensuous feelings certainly are worthy of being present onstage and in performances, so too are joy, confusion, connection, sickness, health, fear and passion.
We live in a tumultuous time – politically, emotionally, environmentally, just to name a few. And our art is absolutely a sign of our times. But while dance continues to explore and ride the waves of our tumultuous climate, I hope she doesn’t forget to find joy, peace and love. I’d love to see a wider variety of expressions on all dancers, across all genres, because while experiencing the lows of life bonds us all as humans and as dancers, so do the amazing and soul inspiring highs.