Friday, March 11, 2016

Vancouver Dance History (2006-2016): Post 8

Yesterday Justine, Alexa and I talked about the email. That would be the "very intense" screed we received from "someone who has been observing and investing in contemporary dance in [Vancouver] for 25 years." Having heard about our project, he connected some very disconnected dots about our "10 year memory chip" and fired off a salvo in which he excoriated us for our "very problematic" focus on only the most recent "golden age of Vancouver dance," which he claimed did "a great disservice to all the choreographers and dancers who busted their asses here and created this scene."

Never mind the very problematic fact that the email was only addressed to Justine and I, and that our interlocutor didn't seem to know that Alexa is a member of our project; this particular 'j'accuse' was undertaken without full possession of the facts tout court. (I do think indignation registers so much better in French.)

Here is an excerpt from my reply:

Dear __________


Contrary to what your email seems to be suggesting, we are not being willfully blind to all the important work that has been done in dance in this city prior to 2006. Rather, we are trying, on the one hand, to be practical about what we are able to accomplish with this project, and so imposing some arbitrary parameters re the jumping off point for our investigations (the jumping off point, let me stress, but by no means the end). Then, too, the starting point of 2006 was chosen because it also reflects in a very material way each of our own connections with the Vancouver dance community: it was around this time that Justine moved to the city, that I began to become more immersed in and write about the dance I was seeing, and that Alexa began her academic studies at SFU and her dance training at Modus. More than anything our individual personal histories of dance in the city explain the choice of dates.

That said, we have always taken as a given that this story we are telling is not the whole story and that it is also just that--a story. We are neither presuming to tell the definitive history of dance in the last decade nor suggesting that there aren't other histories that might intersect with and/or contest ours. In fact part of our interest in beginning with "present" dance history in Vancouver is to reveal how that story inevitably compels one to look backward. It might surprise you, in the interviews we have conducted so far, just how many of the names on your list of folks we are apparently leaving out have been mentioned. Not, it is true, Pipo Damiano, but to turn around the question you pose to us at the beginning and end of your email: what or who does it serve to suggest one genealogy is superior to another? Foregrounding the necessary subjectivity of our experience in and representation of Vancouver dance has always been a priority for us--this means starting from our own critical and artistic practices and moving outward from there, a process of generating historical context and storytelling content that we hope unfolds in an organic, daisy chain kind of manner.

To reiterate, we admit to being bad ethnographers (and I think I can say that with some legitimacy as I'm currently co-teaching a graduate seminar with a real ethnographer). We are not interested in telling the history of Vancouver dance, whether recent or going back to its origins (wherever that might be); instead, we are interested in what stories about Vancouver dance get told to us: by our interview subjects; by the reviews and critical writing we plan to comb through; by the daily sign-in logs at the Dance Centre front desk; by the posters on the walls at Harbour Dance; by the spaces folks rehearse, hang out, have coffee or gossip in; etc. In terms of the interviews, we have only just started and we have a long list.... We have some prompts, but mostly we're just interested in having people talk.

And from this talk we are further interested in points of connection, and of divergence--especially re the same story that gets told differently. We have an idea to create a rhizomatic installation to map said connections, and also a performance score of some sort--but a score that deliberately abstracts and even overtly fictionalizes what's been told to us. In this way I hope you see that, again, we are not being presumptuous about purporting to tell the definitive history of Vancouver dance. But neither are we being precious about what that history is, or who gets to tell it, and from what starting point.

To that end, we fully understand that others might want to write different or parallel or supplementary or oppositional histories to ours. Personally, however, I do question how resentment can operate alongside respect as a motivator for such interventions.We are also planning on some sort of publication to accompany the project, a kind of scrap book of our process. I hope you might think about letting us include your email.


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