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'Dance' Covers--and Misses--a Lot of History

June 03, 1996|LEWIS SEGAL

The PBS "Dance in America" series throws itself a 20th anniversary party tonight and it's a mighty conservative shindig with a highly restricted guest list.

Titled "A Renaissance Revisited," the hourlong telecast offers a capsule history of dance in this century, roughly structured around issues of narrative, music visualization and movement invention. There are glimpses of Mikhail Baryshnikov dancing "Prodigal Son," Rudolf Nureyev as "Petrushka," choreographers Kurt Jooss and Robert Joffrey discussing "The Green Table" and, of course, plenty of Balanchine.

Martha Graham and Paul Taylor are also prominently represented--along with many of the other A-list choreographers you'd find on a syllabus for 20th century Dance History 101. "Dance in America" thus depicts itself as an archive or museum, with host Joanne Woodward proclaiming that "the great dancers and choreographers of our time will live on, their performances preserved on videotape."


Say what? Exactly how and where will these performances "live on," when only a third of the ones on this show can be currently rented, bought or legally screened by anyone other than PBS researchers? Woodward doesn't raise the issue, but preservation in a vault somewhere scarcely contributes to the dance literacy of this generation of viewers.

Obviously, you can cram only so many clips into an hour, but the absence of Twyla Tharp, Pilobolus and other fusion innovators does leave this "Renaissance" awfully sedate. Moreover, its academic, New York perspective virtually excludes a whole body of work: pieces drawing their inspiration from minority cultures.

No Katherine Dunham, no American Indian Dance Theatre. Only a few moments from Alvin Ailey's "Revelations" to remind us of how "Dance in America" celebrated realms of American expression beyond the mostly white, mainstream achievement showcased in this slickly crafted compendium.

* "A Renaissance Revisited" airs at 9 tonight on KCET-TV Channel 28.

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