7 a.m.—Departing Bogota airport. I like Bogota in May. The rain cools everything off, but not so much that I need to wear socks in my sandals. The city has a bouncy, enthusiastic...
I'm at a bit of a turning point in my artistic career. I am considering the direction in which to take my work next. Forefront in my mind is the question of the value of art in general, for those that see it, versus the value of art for me alone (even if no one else sees it).
It's an interesting dilemma for a dance director. We spend vastly more time making dances and watching them in the studio than we ever spend watching them performed onstage. I counted up with my dancers in May the number of times we have performed "Leaving Home," our signature dance, over the last three years. We arrived at 18, and will have performed it 20 times by the end of the season. This is a giant number. Many of the dances in which I have performed for other companies were shown only twice. After the weekend show, we would start on our next premiere. Yet even 20 times is a small fraction of the time we have spent in the studio creating or embodying this dance.
I think a dance director must like the rehearsal process--there is so much of it! If I hated my time offstage, I would quickly tire of the whole thing. I am not tired of it; in fact, I thrive on it. I am still delighted to watch "Leaving Home," or to dance in it, even after all this time. Yet, for the dance to truly become art, does it have to be watched by other people?
This question comes home for me as I consider our recent performance in England. There were seven people in the audience, including the musician who performed between dances and the gallery owner and bartender who were essentially paid to be there. (This number also includes my 20-month-old daughter Maya who, to no one's surprise, watched very little of the dancing.) I had hoped for more when we arranged the event! Yet I was still satisfied. I enjoyed myself, enjoyed watching and dancing, enjoyed the music and the paintings, enjoyed the atmosphere of a small group of people delighting in each other's company. It became a kind of artistic dinner party. For me, this counted as a successful performance, even though we were such a small group.
What, then, is the bare minimum attendance rate for a successful performance? Seven? Five? One?
This question comes to mind as I coordinate future gigs. How much time should I spend on PR, in an attempt to fill theater seats, versus time spent creating beautiful dance (my preference)?
It is a question of balance, as weighty questions usually are. I should spend most of my time following my heart and making work in the studio. Yet, I am aware of how lucky I feel when someone comes to me after a show and tells me how moved he or she was by the work. That's the word I would use: lucky. I feel so lucky to have been showing my work at a time and place in which this audience member was able to join us and have a wonderful experience. I would go to some lengths to arrange this opportunity again and again.
Sometimes I feel that this experience is more possible in a smaller setting. People feel privileged to be there when the numbers are few, as if they are being let in on a secret. This is, after all, how I feel in the studio: as if the art were for me alone. I am, finally, so flattered to watch my group make rich choices with their bodies. It keeps me coming back.