Photo by Robert Yager for the New York Times
I had all kinds of conflicting feelings reading Brooks Barnes’ article Giant Steps for Dance in Los Angeles in the New York Times when it was published this week. Most of it stemming from the fact that I think Los Angeles arts leaders have some flawed thinking about how to “improve” the city’s dance offerings. They imported a European artist from New York who assembled a group of New York dancers and called itself the LA Dance project (which does not reflect anything about LA at all). It is also a reminder that in this company town, to be noticed and supported on this level you need to be married to a star power like Natalie Portman. I am not under any delusion that the dance world is somehow pure and just judges work on merit. Sometimes it is about leveraging your contacts and artistic lineage to do the kind of projects you want to do, but I can’t help feeling disappointed by the choice of Benjamin Millepied to represent dance here. I feel like this choice fulfills all the negative stereotypes about Los Angeles – that we are so easily swayed by Hollywood.
Why do cities have to follow the same cultural formula? In the article, Millepied asks, “How is it possible that here is this huge city, and it doesn’t have a big ballet company?” LA is not a ballet town. Shouldn’t that be ok? Shouldn’t LA develop it’s own flavor and stop trying to copy other cities? Why should there be a formula for a city’s culture? Doesn’t this thinking seem outdated? Shouldn’t we encourage a city’s cultural individuality?
I hope cultural leaders here realize that there are local dance companies and choreographers that worth supporting whose dreams and points of view are rich, complex and varied.