In 1995 the French conceptual choreographer Jérôme Bel
caused a scandal with his self-titled work in which naked performers peed on the stage. Not a
little frustrated, the clean-up crew
renamed the maintenance fee from
prime de feu to prime de “pipi.” The
avant-garde of dance has always left
its messes. More than a century earlier,
the term prime de feu (or “premium
of the spotlight”) was employed when
dancers would get a little too close to the
then state-of-the-art gas lamps and catch fire,
the supposed price to be paid for the aesthetic
revolution that was Romantic ballet.
Nowadays the Romantic aesthetic is old
hat—no matter how brilliant the lead, every Giselle
is met with nodding heads—as is the 20-year-old
urination brouhaha. So what kinds of messes are being
made today? Where can you find a rioting audience
like the one at the premiere of Le Sacre du printemps?
Or the electric atmosphere of Agon What still has the
power to shock an audience today?
Dance is an art with a tenuous relation to its past.
The studio and stage might be empty, but they are
haunted by the ghosts of everything that’s happened
there before. “When you’re making new work, your
strongest reference point is other works,” says Bal-letCollective director Troy Schumacher. You’d think
that the ephemerality of the form would make it
more conducive to being in and of the present. But
sometimes the opposite is true. Retrospectives are
now commonplace, even in the case of postmodern choreography which wasn’t supposed to
have the technique needed for repertoires to
It’s difficult to remember that these
works were made possible only by the
fiercest acts of courage and imagination.
That which used to be transgressive
Make It New
When little is left to rebel against, it can sometimes seem like
dance has already exhausted all choreographic possibilities.
So what still feels groundbreaking today? BY MADISON MAINWARING
As lines between genres are
erased, the spaces in which
we see dance are also shifting.
Here, flex dancers rehearse at
the Park Avenue Armory.
31 DANCE MAGAZINE