the end of dance writing

Around the time I was thinking about i want your dance, I stumbled across this excellent article on ImPulsTanz by Elizabeth Zimmer, the former dance editor at The Village Voice. (As an aside, I spent much of that afternoon reading the entire features archives on ImPulsTanz; I’m such a sucker for well-written essays on dance.)

She dissects her hopelessness with the dance scene in New York that for people living in Australia is gut-wrenchingly familiar. The death of serious, intellectual coverage of the arts in the mainstream media of English speaking countries is almost tedious to watch, better perhaps to put it out of its misery than maintain the pretense.

The legitimacy of an artist’s performance and consequently their reputation however, is inextricable from column inches obtained in the press, a press that will only review work that has received presentation funding from whatever arts organisations, in turn having a not inconsequential influence on gaining subsequent funding. All round, it’s unhealthy for the people making art.

It’s frustrating then that artists here seem so categorically glacial in their adoption of technology that could make this issue more-or-less background noise. As much as I abhor MySpace, it’s really not that arcane to set up, or WordPress, or … yes, as Elizabeth says, PodCasts. The lack of engagement from artists in what they are doing as a consumable entertainment product – yes that sounds dirty, get over it – is baffling. The model ever since I was a student making work was email+jpg flier, print some A6 fliers if you have the money, and word-of-mouth. Little has changed in eight years, and really, when it’s so easy to participate in the endless swirl of new media, a media that primarily is about communication, there’s not much excuse.

And lets not forget blogs. There are some people, like Alison at Theatre Notes, who I think are singularly responsible for my not reading the papers anymore – and check out her Arts Blog Primer. But artists writing about their work, especially in the performing arts, and doubly so in dance – it’s like the map of the world connected to the internet, and while Europe and the first world blazes with light, everywhere else is black.

It was not Elizabeth’s intention to paint a facile death-of-print account, though death-of-dance is something that still looms large. Certainly if more artists here attended to and were responsible for their own appearance in a media that has long ceased to be passive and one-way, I would feel more confident that it wasn’t all a grave-digging exersise.

And someone should be running courses – free courses – for artists to learn how to use this stuff. It’s actually really easy. (I think I just volunteered myself, no?)

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