Book review: Four decades of history in 'Through the Eyes of a Dancer'
As a former dancer, choreographer and editor-in-chief of Dance Magazine, Wendy Perron brings a rare perspective to the past four decades of dance in her aptly titled book, "Through the Eyes of a Dancer."
Perron began writing early in her performance career, giving her a unique perch from which to view dance. Assignments from Soho Weekly News, the Village Voice, The New York Times and Dance Magazine granted her access to emerging and famous dance artists while at the same time obliging her to be open to a range of artistic visions. The book's format of 70 essays, reviews, interviews, opinion pieces and blogs can be read straight through or used as a resource for information about dancers, companies and topics.
At times, "Through the Eyes of a Dancer" reads like a memoir, but unlike the loose oral tradition of dance history, Perron's opinions and personal beliefs are fully documented in print. Each essay enjoys an introductory explanation by Perron of her own work, but she seems to apply the same standards of honesty to herself as to those she critiques.
The book comes full circle from childhood to her current position as editor-at-large of Dance Magazine. It begins with Perron's college years at Bennington, where her interest in modern dance displaced her young training in ballet. She went on to dance with the groundbreaking Trisha Brown Dance Company and to produce her own choreography at the Joyce Theater in Manhattan.
As an experienced dancer and choreographer, Perron writes with authority on the philosophy and social constructs that ushered in the postmodern era. She touches on the AIDS epidemic though an interview with Arnie Zane (one of the first very public causalities in the modern-dance world); explains the Soviet Union's perestroika comparing classical ballet with physical theater; confronts racial discrimination by way of the PBS documentary "Free to Dance"; and relates her personal 9/11 experience rushing with Eiko Otake to find their sons Otake is half of the Japanese performance duo Eiko & Koma, whose iconoclastic work emphasizes the vulnerability of humans.
Perron offers insight into the greatest talents of our time: Katherine Dunham, Lucinda Childs, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Sara Rudner, Sankai Juku, Wendy Whelan, Twyla Tharp, Ohad Naharin, Julio Bocca, Crystal Pite, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and many more.
She shares personal regret over refusing a position with Twyla Tharp, right before Tharp blasted to international fame. And she reveals her questionable relationship with J.D. Salinger.
I disagree with Perron's essay asserting that dance critics have some responsibility for selling seats (or at least the failure to sell seats), but agree with her essay that critics' snark is unnecessary. I remain curious if her personal aesthetic was considered in the physical look of the book. The warm, gray pages that divide the text into time periods work practically for clarity and aesthetically for beauty. The two considerations characterize Perron's approach to life and art.
Perron neither overromanticizes dance nor views it dispassionately, which is how we know it was truly written "Through the Eyes of a Dancer."
The eyes have it
Wendy Perron, dance writer and editor of Dance Magazine 2000-13, will read and sign her new book, "Through the Eyes of a Dancer."
When • Monday, Dec. 2, 7 p.m.
Where • King's English Bookstore, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City
More information • kingsenglish.indiebound.com/event/wendy-perron-through-eyes-dancer
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