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Legacy. (Starting Here).

HUMANS HAVE ALWAYS WORRIED THE DIVIDE BETWEEN BEING MORTAL AND IMMORTAL, BETWEEN FINITUDE AND INFINITY. THE DESIRE TO BELIEVE THAT SOMETHING TRUE AND OF VALUE WILL CONTINUE AFTER DEATH SEEMS to be universal, but it is called into high relief in these unsettled times. In his book First Things First, Stephen R. Covey writes about four fundamental human needs and capacities: to live, to love, to learn, and to leave a legacy. The latter is much under discussion lately in dance circles.

In May, James Kudelka, artistic director of National Ballet of Canada, was host to the directors of nine North American and European ballet companies for "The PPF Summit" (watch for News, September 2002). They discussed the past, present, and future of ballet, and talk of the directors' guardianship role in the great choreographic and pedagogic legacies was prominent. There was an acknowledgment that though works may be preserved, they do not remain the same. Dancers' bodies and their training change over time and geography; musical interpretation changes, and most of all, culture changes.

The fact that the White Oak Dance Project is restaging modern dance works from another era so that dancers and audiences might know them is a great gift. But when Erick Hawkins turned with his arm rigidly down and his hand angled out sharply in Early Floating, it was so unballetic and so un-Grahamesque; when Baryshnikov did the same movement, it was so czardas-like. What we know of the artist colors each performance, like it or not.

No modern middle-class dance schooler, raised before a mirror in an air-conditioned studio, is likely to understand being swept away by the holy roll of religious ecstasy that washes all sins away in Revelations--nor the pecking-order politics that determines who gets to take the preacher home for dinner on Sunday. So the Ailey company dancers now reflect the cross-training of ballet, jazz, and Latin styles that leaves them pretty far from the river.

When the dance department of Hunter College sponsored the "Sharing the Legacy" conference in May (see page 46), experts spoke of ways to preserve important dances, and of how the work can be taught but must be enlivened by the artist dancing it. They not only talked about it; students performed restaged seminal works.

Perhaps a living legacy is best. Katherine Dunham, 90, who conducted a workshop at the "Legacy" conference, has lived so long and produced so many generations of dancers and choreographers that her work is often unidentifiable, having been absorbed into the choreographic gene pool. And when you see Reginald Ray-Savage and his company, you see a style with one foot in Chicago but the other anchored in East Saint Louis, where Dunham held the line for so many years (see page 28).

Another Missouri-bred boy, Gus Giordano, 79, also studied with Dunham; his technique and style of jazz dance has been so widely taught and performed that it too has been absorbed into the dance movement vocabulary. Beyond the style, there is a repertoire and a working concert dance company that carries his name. Nan Giordano, now artistic director and teacher, adapts the technique and the music and the art for the dancers and audiences of today (see page 24). It is too soon to tell whether Gus Giordano's grandchildren will make dance. One thing is sure: They will honor the man and the legacy; but in a different time and culture, it just won't be locked in sameness.

Editor in Chief K.C. Patrick has worked for Dance Magazine, both in New York and California, since 1998.
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Author:Patrick, K.C.
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:Aug 1, 2002
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