Another Look at the IED.
In the interest of fairness I should confess that I have not read all 4,000 pages of the International Encyclopedia of Dance. I also suspect that no one at Oxford University Press has, either. There is no other way to explain the frustrating inconsistencies, omissions, and many instances of editorial indirection on display here. In truth, there is much pleasure to be had in simply dipping into this extravagantly uneven work. The shame is that there is so terribly much in this vast farrago of a reference work to discourage the gratitude and praise that might have been easily deserved. That it is dated is perhaps unavoidable, given the project's checkered publication history. That it is at once confusing for the general reader and exasperating for the dance professional is, however, a pity.
With the intellectual laziness that has become the rule in arts-funding circles, the IED makes few aesthetic judgments and performs precious little editorial selection. You will find more information here on bedouin dance than on Roland Petit's Les Intermittences du Coeur (1974) or William Forsythe's Orpheus (1979). There is, in fact, a blanket policy at work of including often fine, if limited, bibliographies at the end of biographical articles, but no list of dances created by each choreographer with the appropriate date of premiere, production credits, and number of dancers required. This would not be too much to ask; the New Grove Dictionary of Music managed its equivalent for composers, to the eternal gratitude of music lovers. Lovers of dance, and especially of ballet, will find no such satisfaction in the International Encyclopedia of Dance.
There is also little in the way of critical evaluation. It is not that one expects a reference book to be a compendium of reviews, but surely some appreciation of a choreographer's distinctive biographical and artistic features would have been in order. Arlene Croce's fine article on Balanchine--with, unfortunately, no list of his ballets and precious little in the way of straightforward chronology and history--is the exception to an editorial rule that squelched any critical description of either substance or style in the IED's biographical entries. No dance subject is valued over another, it seems, for this reference book. The trouble is that when anything goes, nothing is worth much. Criticism could Shed light on details worth rescuing from what Nathalie Sarraute called the magma of everyday banality. The IED seems perversely intent on an alliance with the banal.
A few quibbles, in no special order. The article on Sonja Henie does not notice the cultural importance of the Henie-Onstad Center that the Norwegian skater founded on Oslo Fjord in 1968, just before dying of leukemia. The correct name of Brian MacDonald's lovely pas de deux that ends with an ecstatic promenade on a bridge of light is Remembranza. It is, of course, difficult to decide whom to include among dancers who are still active, but if Sylvie Guillem does not rate an entry in a dance encyclopedia, who does? The book's retrograde coyness in describing the loving longtime partnerships of Merce Cunningham and John Cage and Antony Tudor and Hugh Laing--even of Rudolf Nureyev and Erik Bruhn--seems at least silly and at worst homophobic. The author of the entry on La Fille Mal Gardee seems unaware that dialogue and song, many believe, were features of the original 1789 production (both figured prominently in Ballet du Rhin's reconstruction, also neglected by IED), and also operates under the mistaken impression that Frederick Ashton's version is virtually alone on the contemporary ballet scene. There is no mention of Fernando Alonso's adorable revision for his Ballet de Camaguey; Oleg Vinogradov's revolutionary staging for the Kirov Ballet is mentioned, but under his own entry.
Alicia Alonso was born in 1920, not 1921. This common mistake dates from a misprint in the Cuban passport that the ballerina used for her first travels to the United States in the 1930s, but surely a reference work carrying the Oxford imprimatur should know better. There are no entries here for the other Alonsos, by the way. Overlooking Fernando and Laura might be excusable, but Alberto certainly rates an individual entry, both for his preperestroika choreographic venture into the Bolshoi with Carmen and for his pioneering work in fusing classical syntax and Cuban folk and social rhythms. The entries on Cuban dance, incidentally, blithely parrot the communist party line, playing down the Spanish Catholic influence while treating the minority African religions--which happen to fit the current regime's approved folk kitsch--as the only factor in the development of both social and folk dance in Cuba and Latin America. The danzon, the basis for most if not all Cuban social dances, is scandalously shortchanged. Entries on Soviet ballet, incidentally, strangely reflect the Soviet-era party line and overlook the influence of Makarova's and Nureyev's staging of ballets in the West.
There is no entry on Michael Smuin, the Tony and Emmy winner who has, among other things, directed San Francisco Ballet and his own Smuin Ballets/SE Jerome Delamater's entry on Bob Fosse fails to give even the :vaguest impression of the American showman's influential style. There is no mention of the "Fosse clump," for instance, or of the considerable influence that the Fosse touch has had on the watered-down jazziness that is such an uncomfortable fit for rock videos, from the tame Michael and Janet Jackson offerings to the aggressively vulgar Fosse parody in Backstreet and Dr. Dre's "No Diggity."
For all its multicultural, pluralist, amoral inclusiveness, IED remains surprisingly unhip. Surely MTV, a showcase for much new dance, deserved an article. It is fascinating to have entries on non-Western dance and dancers, but the same inclusive care was not lavished on mainstream modern dance. There is no entry for Ginette Laurin, for example, though her O Vertigo Danse is surely among Canada's most interesting and consistently challenging dance troupes. Margaret Jenkins, the precocious doyenne of California modern dance and an innovative choreographer of considerable integrity, also did not rate. Nor did San Francisco's Joe Goode, who has created what are probably the dance world's most powerful responses to the AIDS crisis this side of Bill T. Jones. There is, in fact, no entry on AIDS and its decimation of the cultural landscape.
Whether on 1789's Fille or 1997's Maverick Strain, this book is out of step with the times.
Octavio Roca is the dance critic of the San Francisco Chronicle.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Feb 1, 1999|
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