The Art of Making (Books About) Dances

Doris Humphrey’s 1959 book The Art of Making Dances is part of the bedrock of modern dance, a work that has functioned as a how-to guide for untold choreographers in the 50 years since it was published.

So it’s no surprise that Chase Granoff, a Brooklyn-based choreographer, would be reading it in the months leading up to the premiere of his new performance, which runs Thursday through Saturday at The Kitchen as part of a split bill with Nancy Garcia. It’s called, naturally, “The Art of Making Dances,” and so is the book Granoff created as part of, “a project that has different outputs” in conversation with — but independent of — each other. (Does this sound familiar? Remember last week’s post on Karinne Keithley’s performance press?)

Jennifer Sullivan’s Humphrey Huddle. 2009. Mixed-media and collage on paper.

While Humphrey’s compositional ideas and techniques informed the show’s creation, Granoff wasn’t interested in making a dance (or a book…) following her guidelines in a strict or didactic sense.

“I have been for awhile interested in citational performances. How do you cite somebody through ideas?” he said during a recent interview in a Williamsburg cafe. “I was interested in her book as a tool.”

And he was interested in it alongside another dance book: postmodern choreographer Simone Forti’s 1974 text, Handbook in Motion. Granoff wanted to tease out relationships between these women, each so associated with particular, sometimes antagonistic periods (and contested, especially when it comes to postmodern dance, which some see as a misnomer). I love how Jennifer Sullivan’s collage above positions Forti’s “Huddle” dance under Humphrey’s expansive wingspan, suggesting a more complicated relationship than the typical linear, historical one.

“I started looking at dates; it’s not like modern dance ended and postmodern dance began. They all overlap,” Granoff said. “We’re playing with the tensions between modern and postmodern ideology.”

Chase Granoff and company at work. Photo by Bill Durgin.

These ideas are further teased out in a lengthy interview between Granoff and dramaturg Jenn Joy, included in the book (which will be available for $10 at the shows). I’ve only just scratched the book’s surface, dipping into essays by Mårten Spångberg and Matthew Lyons and collages and photographs by Sullivan and Bill Durgin. It feels wonderfully luxurious to have this collection as an extension, and maybe even a complication, of the ideas Granoff and company (mainly Jennifer Sullivan, but also some guests…) will be exploring this week at the Kitchen.

“Can live performance very literally be a site for the circulation and distribution of accumulated information?” he asks.

This project is one answer. I think it’s a good one.