Being New Again

Turn up the volume kids…

Okay, you can turn it down again.

At times, the Cowboy feels that New York City Ballet, in whose arms the legacy of Balanchine was adoringly placed like a bouquet of roses during the curtain call, is trapped by those very roses, like a lovely dancer upon whom the roses keep being piled until they engulf her.

Pilobolus, so amazing when new, threatens to become a greatest hits’ tape stuck in the eight-track.  How do they outdo themselves?

Judith Jameson is leaving Alvin Ailey, after keeping the flame alive for many years.  Where will things turn?  Is there a place for black dance theater anymore.  Ailey was astounding in his day, but his work is merely pleasant and entertaining today — an institutionalized revolution.

It is a difficult balance: how do you capture and preserve the soul of an innovator as time continues its march?  Is there room for further innovation?  Can the museum look forward as well as back?

The Cowboy had a delightful conversation on this very topic a few weeks ago with Ann Williams, one of the most significant forces in African-American dance in the last several decades.  Sitting in her office, located in the company’s new home — a lovingly renovated former city-center YMCA that lodged a laundry list of inspiring leaders including the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Cassius Clay, and Ray Charles — one can’t help but be amazed at the fortitude and tenacity of leaders like her, using their talents to fight the good fight, in their own way, against the odds.  Ms. Williams, as everyone addresses her, didn’t have a ready answer to the problem of relevance for the past innovator, but acknowledged it knowingly.  It is one step at a time, the Cowboy supposes, like walking a tightrope.  And as for Ms. Williams, a thriving school, multiple touring companies and a fabulous facility, are testament to the power of tipping the tightrope.

And the creativity keeps flowing.  Watching Janelle Monáe’s creative energies and synthesis of high culture and pop culture, sci-fi and retro, the Cowboy can’t help but think of Alvin Ailey and George Balanchine pushing boundaries.  As the iTunes review says: “Monáe might not have much appeal beyond musical theater geeks, sci-fi nerds, and those who like their genres crossed-up, but no one can deny that very few are on her creative level.”  Well, the Cowboy counts himself as all of the above, but he expects that her appeal will continue to widen.  Whether you’re high or low, have a listen.  She’s touring with Erykah Badu, who herself tries to pay homage to the past while stripping it bare and walking into the future. (NSFW)

Here’s to Mr. B, Robert Battle (Judith Jameson’s successor), Ms. Williams, and to Android 57821 (Monáe’s alter ego).  And here’s to pushing boundaries, mixing things up, and putting one foot in front of the other.

The Cowboy probably will be at Jacob’s Pillow again this summer, enjoying the museum and hoping to see someone walk the tightrope.  Or at least take their clothes off.

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Published in: on May 25, 2010 at 21:47  Leave a Comment  
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