A year ago a friend gave me a sticker that now lives above my refrigerator: “Art is Art and Everything Else is Everything Else (Ad Reinhardt). I laughed when I first saw it and have pondered about it ever since. “What is Art?” or “Yeah, but is it Art?” is an age old question that has been asked by everyone from art historians to museum viewers to second grade teachers to the artists making the work. Does it need to be functional or aesthetically pleasing to be art? Does it need to be on a stage and have an audience? How is art reliant upon craft, vision and technique? What is it that makes art “art”?
I had the good fortune to attend several performances at the Fall for Dance festival in New York during the last couple of weeks. The festival, held at City Center, presents a wide array of dance companies, performers, and genres. On any given night there is a chance to see various companies perform work as wide-ranging as contemporary and lyrical ballet to a fusing of Korean martial arts and hip hop. All festival tickets are $15 for any night, any seat. Accessibility and invitation fuels the festival and the two-week event brings in a full house and broad range of audience from dancers and dance aficionados to those who are seeing a concert dance performance for the first time. The performances included contemporary Sumatran drumming and dance, Hawaiian male hula and Russian folk dance. There were modern dance duets, fiery flamenco pieces and exquisite East Indian Kuchipudi danced with live music. The pieces were all created for the concert stage but many of them evolved from the regional steps and styles found in circus rings, the fields, cultural celebrations, the docks, the bars, and the streets.
As I watched the performances and heard the exuberant audience applause, whoops, and cheers it made me think of the ways we all use the arts to mark occasions in our lives. We tell stories. We dance at weddings, make speeches to toast anniversaries, decorate ballrooms for our proms, and write poems to celebrate birthdays. Those artistic impulses connect us with one another. That sense of personal connection is what makes us thoughtful and well-rounded humans. That level of engagement fuels us and highlights our days.
Art, we know, stimulates different parts of our brains. It makes us laugh, tear up, and run a whole gamut of emotions in between. It gives us ways to consider and create. The arts explore form, content, and context including the ways an artist’s work has been influenced and the ways it influences us. But the arts aren’t found only on stage. The elements of dance and the principles of design are evident in the rhythms and choreography of a hop scotch game. The arts inform our days in the design of our shoes, the graphics of video games we play, the shapes of coffee cups we drink from. We are most familiar with the presentation of performing arts on stage but what about when they take place on the street, in a classroom, a community center, or the kitchen? How are those rhythm games of hop scotch and jump rope the precursors to hip hop popping on concert stages? Rennie Harris, a dance artist from Pure Movement Dance Company who drew his movement vocabulary from street dance says dance traces a path from isolation to connection, from conflict to empathy. A “through-line, “in movement exists in a place where cultures cross. Here’s to the throughlines of connection and challenge.
Fall for Dance Festival