Thursday, April 26, 2018

Spring Book Corner

Spring Book Corner

Leadership in the Performing Arts
by Tobie S. Stein
published 2016
available now from Allworth Press

Tobie Stein’s Leadership in the Performing Arts introduces its central thesis question in the very first sentence of the Preface – “what does it mean to be a performing arts leader?” But it does not seek to answer only that question. In its extensive ten-chapter study, Leadership in the Performing Arts challenges its reader to consider expectations and assumptions around the term ‘leadership.’ The book is structured like a research paper/lab experiment, which might seem slightly dry, but it isn’t at all. In fact, the introduction, discussion, case study, conclusion format in each chapter makes for a very clear, straightforward, easy to read approach on the complex topic. Through an exchange with leaders from eleven major arts organizations (including Mark Morris Dance Group, New York City Ballet and Stage Directors and Choreographers), Stein introduces an array of concepts around leadership like management, vision, prioritization, differentiation, mentorship (of having one and of being one), facilitating dialogue, diversity and connection with the audience. And underscoring her examination of all these concepts is the importance of having your pulse centered on what is happening in the now, as opposed to what your organization has always done.

I definitely enjoyed how Stein parsed out the idea of leadership, specifically framed for the performing arts. Having said that, it’s important to note that the chosen institutions are huge and well established. While that’s a completely valid approach, I think it would have provided some nice contrast space to also add some small to mid-size organizations to the mix. What might they have contributed to the conversation? How is their experience distinct? What challenges do they face?

And while not at all a criticism of Stein’s investigation, I also wonder how the book would have been different if written even a couple of years later, considering the recent controversies and high-level resignations in the performing arts, even in an organization that is part of Leadership in the Performing Arts’ eleven examples. For instance, chapter 8 is titled “Leading Accountability and Measuring Success” and is primarily focused on finances and budgets. I imagine that chapter, and others, might have different content in 2018.

The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Reenactment
edited by Mark Franko
published 2017
available now from Oxford University Press

I love dance reference texts - whether a history of a specific movement form, a collection of critical writings or a chronology of a particular choreographer’s work. Yes, the information is likely available online, but for me, there is something so satisfying about looking up that information in an actual written volume. Old school, sure, but it provides a connection that just isn’t the same with online reference material.

In 2017, Oxford University Press published The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Reenactment, a new addition to the dance reference oeuvre. Edited by Mark Franko, the lengthy tome (600 pages, nine sections, thirty-one individual articles) brings together diverse academic discourse and opinion on topic of reenactment in dance. Re-staging, re-visioning, re-mounting, revival, reconstruction are common words in the dance ecosystem – used to describe a current presentation of choreographic work from the past, whether far in the past, or not so far. But reenactment, I feel, is less commonly used to describe this process. So it was fascinating to read a number of perspectives that center around this particular term, especially commentary that was not purely logistic (not offering a ‘how to’ guide for reenactment), but instead exploring the additional layers of context around the act of choreographic remembrance.

The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Reenactment is quite long, so I decided to read the introduction (by Franko) and then choose three other articles from the book’s index to get a sense of the book’s scope and breadth. Richard Move’s Martha @...The 1963 Interview: Sonic Bodies, Seizures, and Spells, a chapter from Part I of the book, “Phenomenology of the Archive”, contributed a number of different thoughts around archival material and reenactment: the idea of being in conversation with archival material, viewing it as a living collaborator, how that living material informs the reenactment of an artistic force, and how, through conversing with the archive, the boundary between past and present can shift and change, and become steeped in porousness. From Part IV “Investigative Reenactment: Transmission as Heuristic Device”, Yvonne Hardt’s Pedagogic In(ter)ventions – On the Potential of (Re)enacting Yvonne Rainer’s Continuous Project/Altered Daily in a Dance Education Context examines how reenactment is affected by movement improvisation, something that by nature is not a set entity. This article was of particular interest to me because improvisation as performance (whether reenacted or not) is something that I struggle with. While outlining the challenges and complexities of reenacting improvisation, Hardt injects case study into her discourse, giving a relatable, experiential lens to her line of inquiry. Christina Thurner’s Time Layers, Time Leaps, Time Loss – Methodologies of Dance Historiography (the final article in Part VIII “Epistemologies of Inter-Temporality”) also takes a deep dive into the porous space between history and present-day, positing time and events as a broad collage rather than a linear experience. While maintaining dance as a focus, Thurner also looks to additional fields of study for further insight and understanding. She speaks to a mélange of questions that arise in the connection of ‘then’ and ‘now’, like observation versus analysis or established knowledge versus opinion. And in the final two paragraphs brings the theoretical dialogue back to the book’s core subject: dance reenactment.      

There was one throughline in the articles that didn’t quite add up for me (though I only read four sections, so there’s a good chance this is parsed out more in other parts of the book). I get the academic impetus to distill, discern and distinguish terminology, especially in qualitative disciplines. The desire to show that words accepted as synonyms actually may mean very different things; in this case, reenactment being singled out as distinctive from reconstruction and restaging. However, sometimes that drive for singularity reveals that the examined words are indeed not that different from each other. Maybe they are synonyms after all, and that doesn’t make the discussions any less rigorous.   

SF Ballet - Unbound Festival Program C

The third program of SF Ballet's Unbound Festival, for DanceTabs:

Tuesday, April 17, 2018