What’s the Story: Is It Dance or Theater?

In this article on Matthew Bourne’s “Play Without Words” John Rockwell says:

But my main interest is why Mr. Bourne, like several other European choreographers, seems so eager to market his dance as theater.

Good question. And it’s not just the Europeans or dancers. Many theater artists refer to their work as “dance-theater” or “movement-theater” or even “music-theater” (as opposed to a musical?). What gives?

Part of it may be a “grass is greener” phenomenon. Each type of artist perhaps sees the other discipline as being somehow more legitimate or less sullied by commercialism. Maybe they think the other discipline is currently more innovative. Maybe artists feel that by defining their work as “hybrid” or “hyphenate” it will by definition be more innovative. Which is a bit of a trick and not necessarily a great one at that.

It is probably simpler to just do what you do, in the discipline you’ve chosen, and let the audience and critics sort out whether it is, in fact, “dance” or “theater” or “music”. The artist’s job should be about making work, regardless of genre.

But if people are really worried about it – and for the sake of getting reviews and feedback, being categorized in the appropriate genre is a legitimate concern – then maybe it is time for us to start using the British/European term “Live Art” more regularly. It seems to accurately sum up what’s going on – art is being created live – while resisting traditional formal definition.

And of course, then we can all start using my favorite phrase, “Art Workers”, for anybody involved in the creation of Live Art.

thoughts? opinions? discuss.

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