Organizing bodies: Creating and funding experimental dance in the United States, 1965--2000
Marcus, George E.
Doctor of Philosophy
Avant-garde artists are among the most broadly theorized sub-groups of cultural producers. Artistic vanguards been theorized in two opposing ways---either as uniquely able to change social conditions through artistic invention and intervention, or, alternatively, as destined to recuperation into mainstream artistic and social structures. Anthropological theories and methods can contribute to a deeper understanding of the relationship between self-proclaimed artistic experimentalists and broader social, economic and political trends. This dissertation illuminates these relationships by focusing on the cultural ideals, artistic traditions and economic and organizational structures that undergird the production of contemporary experimental choreography in the United States. While avant-garde dance is my primary case study, I also aim to capture some of the overall dynamism and mobility of cultural processes. I do so by means of this ethnography of relationships that tracks the movement of both cultural ideals and resources (including capital in the form of public and private funding) in the production of experimental dance. The sites I examine are the National Endowment for the Arts (both in 1991--92 at the height of the funding controversies and then during the 1995 funding cuts and restructuring), the New York City-based 'alternative spaces' that house and present experimental choreographers, and finally, and the networks of choreographers that perform in these spaces. This research revealed that funding patterns and trends have deeply affect avant-garde choreography in the United States, especially since the founding of the NEA. Not only have artists' career narratives and the organizations they build up around themselves become increasingly professionalized, but the aims and content of their art-works have also responded to the agendas of funding agencies. And yet, I argue, the lived experience of seeing and making experimental dances still offers the possibility of real social critique even (or perhaps especially) if that critique is only implied through the multi-vocal, ephemeral, and non-commodity quality of this contemporary art form.
American studies; Cultural anthropology; American history; Dance