Dance artifacts

November 15, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

“Dance is really the only art form without an artifact…” said dancer and choreographer Tywla Tharp in a recent NPR interview (http://www.npr.org/2015/11/14/455898346/if-twyla-tharp-is-dracula-dance-is-her-lifeblood). I’ve had that thought for years but have never been able to put it as succinctly as Tharp.

Photographing dance for the last 10 years has led me to think about the relationship of photography to dance and what photography can do to create an honest artifact of dance. I have admired the extent to which most dancers embrace the ephemerality of the dance performances. They can work for weeks perfecting a 5 minute piece but when the shows are over, they are immediately thinking about what’s next - not concerned with how or if their work will be remembered. Choreographers and dancers put their work out for the public to enjoy and ponder during the show. It’s not created to be viewed in a museum or on a DVD or a theater months later. It’s for the here and now - for whomever is in the theater at that moment.

So photographing a dance performance immediately is at conflict with that idea.  A photograph of dance is obviously not dance, it’s an abstraction of a dance that at best can remind the viewer of dance, can help you appreciate dance, or maybe help you see something from a show that you missed in person. But photography from the start is one of the most “artifact” focused art forms - it’s singularly focused on capturing moments to be viewed later.

Maybe that’s why photography is such a natural partner to dance - it’s helping dance create that historical record for what may be the most fleeting of art forms. I don’t feel like I’ve philosophically concluded on this pairing of dance and photography, I feel like there is something else there I have yet to discover. So I’ll continue to take dance pictures and let you know as I learn more!


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