Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Natural law vs. statutory law

The Asolo Repertory Theatre Company recently toured a production of "Antigone Now" throughout the City and at local high schools. This was a stirring production, particularly the stand-out performance by Devereau Chumrau, who played Antigone; and I was so moved by the story that I went to see it twice and asked the Education Director to send me a copy of the script.

The simple version of the story is that Antigone's brothers, who had been alternating the role of King upon the death of their father, waged a war with one another for control of their City. Following the death of both brothers, their uncle, Creon assumed the role of King and brought a tepid peace to the City. He decreed that traitors could not be afforded a proper burial. Perhaps because of the human drive to find a hero and a villain, he determined that one of Antigone's brothers could be buried and that the other was the cause of the war and must be left in the street to be consumed by buzzards. He meted out a stiff punishment, execution, for anyone who attempted to bury a traitor. Antigone could not bear to see such a fate befall her brother, so she decided to defy her uncle and ignore the pleadings of her older sister and bury her brother.

I was the most moved by Antigone's interchange with her uncle Creon, which is as follows:

Creon: Antigone. Look at me. Did you bury the body?

Antigone: Yes, I did. I buried my brother.

Creon: Did you know the law?

Antigone: I knew. Of course, I knew. Everyone knew.

Creon: And you deliberately chose to break the law?

Antigone: It wasn't a real law, just something you said. God didn't make it. Only you did, and unjust men make unjust laws. Why should I do what is wrong? Because you say so? Your law is nothing, if it goes against God. What are you anyway? Just a man, like any other. There are other laws, you know, that don't change from week to week, or king to king. Laws that no man made, and none should break. They have no beginning and no end. These are the laws I follow and no man can make me break them.

This is among the most powerful interchanges I have ever heard on stage. As an attorney, specializing in the field of ethics, and now as an instructor of constitutional law, this has particular resonance for me, especially Antigone's declaration that "unjust men make unjust laws."

Basically Antigone has beautifully articulated the notion of placing natural law above statutory law. Our Constitution has some elements of natural law, but ultimately it was written by a group of men on a sweltering summer in Philadelphia in 1787 and involves a great deal of political compromise. The law to which Antigone refers is the law of right and wrong which each of us can determine within ourselves, and which for the most part we all share as a deeper human understanding. We all know fundamentally that a proper human burial, when possible, is something that is owed to every living being. And yet, Creon felt that duty to the kingdom should override basic human decency. He decided that by virtue of his role as king, he ought to be the arbiter of who is worthy of respect and dignity.

In times of war, security is often placed above basic civil rights. In fact, on the first day of my constitutional law 1 classes, I ask the students to decide whether they agree with the following statement, "I am willing to give up some of my basic rights in order to feel safe and secure." This leads to a very interesting discussion and helps to frame much of the case law covered during the semester, particularly cases arising during a time of war.

In the name of "security," we have forced homosexuals to lie about who they are, and we have allowed our government to keep secrets. We have permitted citizens and non-citizens to be deemed "enemy combatants" and denied them a speedy trial. Not to mention the fact that in our not-too-distant past, we have interned American citizens of Japanese descent.

Now after 17 years, an unjust law, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is about to be officially repealed. As we close out the year, the fate of the wikileaks whistle blowers remains unclear, but many are calling their acts treasonous. And, of course, Guantanamo Bay remains open.

When must we adhere to "unjust laws by unjust men" and when can we, like Antigone, see a different path and choose to follow "the laws that have no beginning an no end?" It seems to me that the least we can do as citizens is determine which laws are unjust and work toward their repeal. Antigone faced death to follow her principles. Surely we can become engaged in the process and right the injustices we see.

It is crucial that we understand the law-making processes in our country and that we examine our laws with a critical eye. Antigone knew intuitively that her uncle was motivated by factors other than a clear understanding of justice. Her speech serves as a reminder of our obligations as citizens.

I salute all the men and women who fought the long and seemingly-hopeless battle to ensure the repeal of a law that forced those who are sworn to uphold the constitution to dissemble. For me, that is the greatest service they could provide this country.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


I had the pleasure of seeing the latest S/ART/Q Invitational exhibit on State Street last weekend. Instead of displaying their own work, the S/ART/Q collective members each invited an artist that inspired him or her. I was very impressed with the uniformly high-level of quality of the artwork on display. After the Jonathan Greene gallery closed a few years ago, the downtown area seemed to have lost its edginess. The S/ART/Q artists have begun to fill the vacuum. They are young, well-recognized local artists who are working to create a new "Sarasota school" of art.

I had two favorites in the exhibit, Paul Matkowky whose thick delivery of paint on each canvas, particularly in his very sensual renderings of plant life, were masterful; and Michael Panarella, who uses oil paint for portraits of women that are so messy and smeared that they appeared like watercolors that had yet to dry. Panarella's work reminds me of Egon Schiele, one of my favorite artists (http://www.egon-schiele.net/). Although the "pin up" women Michael depicts are beautiful, his work made me think about women using make-up to create an illusion. His deliberate smearing of rouge and lipstick drew attention to the seamier side of the painted face.

I started to think about a group of high school girls I saw interviewed on a morning news program recently who formed a club called "Redefining Beautiful: One Girl at a Time," which now has 200 members all of whom spend the day bare-faced once a week. The movement has spread to other nearby schools. I admit I thought they had given up make-up altogether, but apparently, they all look forward to the one day when it is sanctioned among their peers not to engage in the morning ritual of donning make-up. The girls who founded the club looked so happy, and their skin was radiant. They all talked about how empowered they felt to have the confidence to look how they wanted to look at school and not to feel the need to succumb to what one of them referred to as the "fashion show" of high school. I remember when I was finally allowed to wear make-up as a young person and how important that was to me at the time. As I have gotten older, make-up has become less significant with each passing year. Perhaps by the time, my daughter (due in two months) is in high school, the girls her age will decide that the freedom they feel from the societal expectation to wear make-up, is so liberating that they won't limit "redefining beautiful" to Tuesdays.

Long after I left the gallery, I kept thinking about women using make-up to achieve a certain pre-conceived notion of beauty. This even gives new meaning to the "lipstick" debate that seemed to dominate the airwaves after Sarah Palin burst onto the scene in 2008. It's entirely likely that Michael did not have this intention when he created his work; but it is thoughtful and provocative, exactly the kind of work we need in downtown Sarasota.

I love that S/ART/Q is displaying such high quality work on a regular basis, and I am grateful that the members have chosen to showcase other talented local artists that inspire them. It's encouraging to have such creative young artists in our midst.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Music as religion

A few weeks ago, I went to a Snatam Kaur concert as part of the local "Caravan of the Beautiful" festival. In addition to enjoying this angel-voiced singer's music, which is ubiquitous in spas and yoga studios, I was touched by a comment made that music will someday be the universal religion. As an American who was raised in a minority religion, the Jewish faith, I have always been keenly aware of my "otherness" in American culture. Now as we watch a resurgence of anti-Muslim sentiments from the "Ground Zero mosque" controversy to the koran-burning fire storm to the recent firing of NPR/Fox News contributor Juan Williams for his apparently out-of-context comments about his fear of Muslims when he boards a plane, it's hard not to wish for a religion of music that will bring people of the world together with a shared love of beautiful and transcendent sound. In celebrating his 70th birthday this month, people throughout the world have come together to celebrate the timeless message of John Lennon, "imagine all the people living life in peace," yet we continue to live in a highly fragmented and fractured society, perhaps now more than ever. Do we lack a shared vocabulary that can help us communicate broadly? Or is that shared vocabulary perhaps only communicated through the arts?

I was struck once again this month by the comments of world-renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp who spoke at the USF Women, Leadership, and Philanthropy luncheon. Before her remarks, students from the USF dance department performed divided by gender. She suggested that the choreographed piece that was exclusively male was about war, and that she would love to see the expression of aggression be diverted through the medium of dance. To me, this resonated with the comments at the Snatam Kaur concert that we are seeking a universal religion as we progress. Are we hungering for a way to express ourselves peacefully through an artistic medium? Might we need the language of the arts to help us dialogue somewhere beyond words? Is the "theater" of war actually a way of expressing ourselves when other forms of communication break down?

The third thing that I think fits into this context is the film, "Social Network," which tells the story of the founder of Facebook. As so many reviewers have pointed out, the poignancy of the film stems from Mark Zuckerberg's own inability to connect with or trust his friends and classmates while simultaneously developing a website that has managed, in a few short years, to bring the world together. At one point in the film, someone mentions that you can "friend" people in war-torn countries that may not even have clean water but who do have Facebook.

Where once children had "pen pals" to learn about and identify with other children around the world, now people of all ages can "friend" anyone and can connect on multiple levels. Among the shared experiences on Facebook, we can learn what forms of artistic expression our friends most enjoy and can share music and dance with a click of a button.

As we head into a potent election cycle and the height of the arts season, might it be worth remembering what we all share as humans? Music and dance transcend culture and religion, and in times like these, that must be a good thing.

Friday, September 24, 2010

"Ahead of her time: Bertha Palmer Then and Now"

Last Thursday evening, we hosted a program called "Ahead of her time: Bertha Palmer Then and Now," which was an exciting interdisciplinary event that brought out a very enthusiastic and engaged crowd to the Cook Theater at the FSU Center for Performing Arts.

More than a year ago, we were asked by the Bertha Palmer Executive Committee whether we might like to create programming focused on Bertha Palmer's ground-breaking speech at the 1893 World's Fair at the inauguration of the Women's Pavilion, for which she served as the head of the Board of Lady Managers. When I read the speech, I was astounded. Her words seemed to loom so much larger than the page. Here was a woman who was not afraid to share her unequivocal message of the importance of equality between the sexes at a public event, a world's fair to be exact! She notably said that with the appointment of the Board of Lady Managers, Congress had "finally discovered women." It was clear from her address that she felt that this was only the beginning of progress for women. She seemed to be throwing down the gauntlet that official recognition of the accomplishments of women from that point forward should not and could not be questioned.

And yet, as I read the speech, I realized that much of what was so striking was not just that she had the courage to say these words at a time when women didn't even have the right to vote, but also just how resonant and relevant those words are to our daily travails. These words called out to be spoken again. So, I set about trying to find an actress who would not impersonate Bertha Palmer but would rather embody her and allow her message to become at once historical and contemporary.

Local actress, Amanda Schlachter was the perfect person to breathe new life into the speech. She and I collaborated on the program, and she brought in her friend David Mercier, with whom she worked on a recent production, to work on the visuals. We chose images to reflect the period in which Bertha Palmer gave the speech, which alternated between portraits of refined ladies, many by one of my favorite artists of the period John Singer Sargent, and an array of photographs of women working in factories that David culled together. We combined those with images of the Women's Pavilion, which was an imposing building designed by a woman architect, Sophia Hayden, who was 24 at that time as well as artwork that hung in the Pavilion by female luminaries such as Mary Cassatt. With these images set to the music of "Claire de Lune," we hoped to ease the audience's minds back in time so that they would feel that they were listening to the speech at the World's Fair. But we also wanted that experience to be laced with the benefit of their knowledge of our collective history that followed the speech. So, we deliberately determined that Amanda would not be dressed in period costume but rather would be a modern woman delivering a timeless speech.

Amanda gave a brilliant delivery of the speech, which surely was more exuberant and drew more laughs than even Bertha Palmer's execution of her own words. Then, we cut to a fantastic song, by Raheem DeVaughn, called "Woman," a revelatory ode to the women to DeVaughn's life -- his wife and mother, which honors all women who bring life into the world. Together with the music, we cut to images of strong women who have had an impact on our culture, including politicians, journalists, artists, and leaders of movements. Some of the decisions were certain to be controversial, particularly including politicians from both sides of the aisle.

I then moderated a well-informed panel, including Amanda, who has been living with the words for the past several months; Professor Lynn McBrien from the College of Education faculty on our campus; and Janet Kahn, Executive Director of the Early Learning Coalition. Lynn teaches social foundations of education and also is a tireless advocate for refugees living in Africa. Janet is a local advocate for quality child care, which is truly one of the final frontiers to enable women to truly achieve gender equity. Without safe, affordable, quality child care, mothers and fathers are forced to make trade-offs between their careers and their children. As another important component, the lively audience became very involved in the discussion almost immediately, which made for an exhilarating evening.

We discussed the elements of this important speech in the context of today's society, and certain themes emerged. In a nutshell, Bertha Palmer delivered a twenty-five minute speech about the rights of women in our own country and abroad. The speech is noteworthy because of the length of her remarks, the unequivocal message that women ought to work "shoulder to shoulder" with men, and the fact that, as she said, women must "work or they must starve." She also seems to advocate that we become global citizens, attentive to the needs of women internationally. A well-traveled, international citizen herself, Bertha Palmer's vision that we consider the needs of others even beyond our borders is inspiring. She also talked about the myth of the "pedestal" and strongly advocated that those rare women wh0 have the benefits of wealth and power step down from those pedestals and consider the needs of others (she says, "freedom and justice for all infinitely more to be desired than pedestals for a few.") She concluded by saying that we ought to seek "an elevated womanhood" and work for the self-fulfillment of all of humanity. Her aspirational words continue to ring true today, and we must continue to work to reach this lofty vision.

I want to express my deep gratitude to all who were involved in making this program a reality. Of course, Amanda Schlachter for all her hard work helping to produce the event and for her wonderful performance; David Mercier for developing the visuals and sound for the event; and Brian Hersh, Director of Education for the Asolo Theatre Company, for all his support and for helping facilitate our use of the Cook Theater at the FSU Performing Arts Center, which was generously donated for our event. I also appreciated the wonderful contributions of panelists, Janet Kahn and Lynn McBrien. I hope to work with this dynamic team again!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Art and Healing Panel Discussion

This week, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion on Art and Healing at Art Center Sarasota as part of our Art for Social Change series. I was amazed by the size of the crowd who spilled into the gallery -- our largest audience yet for one of the discussions. This was a strong indication that the arts community and the healing professions are longing for a forum so that they can come together.

As I mentioned during the discussion, I was introduced to the power of the arts in the healing process one evening at a gallery in Spanish Harlem about seven years ago. On a whim, I hopped in a cab with a friend to attend a gallery opening. The gallerist hung children's drawings on the walls with little description. While I was peering inquisitively at one of the drawings, a gentleman came up behind me and asked whether I knew what the drawing was depicting. My American eyes saw only a drawing of a man and woman holding hands until the visitor in the gallery told me that the man in the drawing was leading the woman off to be raped. I was aghast in disbelief that a child had drawn such a horrific act. The next drawing seemed to me to be a beautiful, multi-colored bonfire until the man explained that it was a book-burning. Slowly, my eyes and my mind adjusted to the iconography of what I was seeing. The man at the gallery and his friend were both Darfuri refugees, and they gave an impromptu talk to the gathering. I first learned of the genocide in Darfur on that night. (I have since had the opportunity to bring another set of Darfuri children's drawings, which have been introduced into evidence at the International Criminal Court, to USF Sarasota-Manatee. We have a permanent display of ten of these drawings on the 2nd floor, should you wish to see them). These children found an outlet to express the anguish they experienced as first-hand witnesses to the horrors of genocide; and their drawings have helped educate the public for whom such matters seem only a very terrible dream.

Tuesday night's panel included two practioners and an advocate of art and healing. They work with diverse groups of people, including those who are seeking greater clarity and creativity in their lives; people who are suffering from Parkinson's disease, cancer, and other diseases; as well as those who have experienced trauma in their lives. In addition to explaining how the process of art and healing can work, we got into a philosophical discussion about the fact that in a materialistic culture, in which we are driven by a profit motive, we often lose our ability to access our creative spirits. This can, in turn, lead people to close off from their own emotions, resulting in unhealthy patterns of life and ultimately, in some instances, to a decrease in our overall physical well-being. We also discussed the process of creating the art which helps us heal as well as the importance of the outcome, that is, the work of art itself. There is no denying the power of the arts to help change our mood and our spirits, as well as to help us deal with difficult topics. Regardless of whether we create the work of art or appreciate the work of art, the therapeutic value exists.

For example, this past Saturday evening, I attended a Rogers and Hammerstein concert. Among their most famous songs is "My Favorite Things," which I sing to myself to lift my spirits and the song did just that at the recent concert. It's good to take a moment to really think about the beauty and the simplicity of the lyrics, "When the dog bites, when the bees sting, when I'm feeling sad, I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don't feel so bad." As our panelists said, there is something that happens on a cellular level that transforms you when you journal your thoughts or pick up a paintbrush, a camera, or a musical instrument, or when you just let go and sing. You have the opportunity to turn off your busy mind and access your soul. We connect to our core essence and that which makes us human.
I am pleased to report that the evening generated so much interest that Art Center Sarasota has decided to host a day-long workshop in December devoted to Art and Healing. I will continue to blog on this topic, and I hope it will inspire you to share your thoughts.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Comments on "Work of Art: The Search for the Next Great Artist"

As I mentioned in my last post, I was intrigued and excited about Bravo Channel's first season of "Work of Art: The Search for the Next Great Artist." This mellow, low-key show was addictive and entertaining. It had a low-budget feel to it, as first season programs often do, but if the show catches on we may never return to the quiet contemplative style the producers seemed to cultivate. It's cousin, competitive dance show, "So You Think You Can Dance," discussed in the previous blog, is flashy and often appears highly over-produced.

The producers never explained how the 14 artists were selected; we were just to assume that they were the best emerging artists currently working in the country. However, it quickly became apparent that a few were already known in the art world, e.g., Trong, Judith, and Nao, who were older and more established, but were quickly eliminated. In each case, they seemed unable to adjust to the weekly "challenges." Ultimately, these three did not successfully create work that was true to their own aesthetic, which would also meet the requirements set forth by the host, China Chow, and mentor, Simon de Pury (for example, Judith was eliminated for creating a book cover with the title written in reverse). This actually may be a testament to the artistic vision they have cultivated throughout their careers or it may indicate that they don't have artistic chops. I was thoroughly unimpressed with the work of the aforementioned artists, and I preferred the artists who were willing to test their own values and experiment in the studio. But, I prefer sponteneity and adaptability in people generally.

I am pleased to say that my favorite from the beginning, Abdi, actually won the competition. Some of his pieces early in the competition made him a front-runner for me; and then he seemed to suffer from an identity crisis midway through the competition. When the artists were asked to create a piece inspired by nature, Abdi returned trimphant with an amazing self-portrait/baptism piece inspired by the body of water visited by the artists and rendered in charcoal that he mixed with gravel obtained during the visit to the woods. With the wind at his back following his win, for the final challenge, Abdi created an entire show devoted to studies of the body based on his "baptism" piece (see above). Meanwhile, in the finale, two other artists, Miles, who had generally succeeded in each challenge despite the fact that his work, for me, was largely cold and mechanical and Peregrine whose work was generally moody and often childlike, and whom I had thought would have been eliminated in an early round, also created a show for the Phillipe de Pury auction house.

With this program, Bravo let us peek inside the studio to observe the artistic process, watch a gallery opening unfold, and later hear the "crit" of the artwork by the panel of judges. Many find the artworld largely impenetrable and are particularly baffled by the gallery process. Although, as I stated earlier, the show has been met with quite a bit of criticism, the opportunity to peel back the layers and find our way inside the hearts and minds of the artists was really a joy. Most of the artists were proud and excited to be a part of the process and their genuine love for art helped lure the audience in. Although a few of them accused one another of being "too art school," they generally got along and helped each other develop as artists.

Once again, as I stated in my earlier blog on "So You Think You Can Dance," I believe these two shows are all about accessibility. "Work of Art" could stand some retooling, and the greatest criticism I have for it is that I would prefer the camera work be improved. It was very hard to get a sense of the artwork on the screen. But what I think SYTYCD and WOA offer is merely a chance to sample an appetizer. SYTYCD gives you two minute dance routines, and WOA, an incomplete view of how the work must really come across in person. However, despite these shortcomings, these shows will probably have a positive effect on the artworld generally. Might people who love SYTYCD be more likely to take the time to check out a production by their local modern dance company, and may WOA fans decide to spend an evening gallery hopping? I conjecture that the answer must certainly be "yes!" Sure, there is a chance that the new audiences might bring new expectations with them, such as a desire to be entertained and an interest in hearing the opinions of judges; but wouldn't this suggest a greater emphasis on audience development, such as a chance to mingle with the dancers and artists or talk backs with the choreographers? And couldn't that be a good thing?

Although both shows have their detractors, I am happy that they are on the air, and I hope WOA is renewed for another season. In a medium largely dominated by melodramatic reality programs and a constant barrage of news, I am grateful that these thoughtful and highly engaging programs about the arts have found an audience. I also hope that these shows will help struggling dance companies and galleries grow their audiences as well.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The arts on reality TV

So, I'm going to confess that I am a diehard fan of "So You Think You Can Dance" and now "Work of Art." This week, we have reached the finales of both shows, so I'd like to talk about the relative merits of programs like these, despite their controversies. I plan to write about these shows in the next two blogs (the first will focus on "SYTYCD").

For those who aren't familiar with these shows, they are both based loosely on the "Survivor" reality TV model, in which people are voted off the proverbial "island." On "Survivor," team-mates decided who should go home; on "SYTYCD," it is a hybrid of seasoned dance professionals who serve as judges and the voting public who ultimately choose "America's Favorite Dancer;" and on "Work of Art," a panel of judges composed of art-world professionals and guest artists narrow the field to find "America's Next Great Artist."

Each week, the dancers and artists are put through a boot camp of sorts, either learning new choreography outside their own style of dance, or, on "WOA," artists are given a short time period, usually approximately 24 hours, to create a work of art, based on a weekly challenge, that will be worthy of gallery exhibition. "Be inspired by children's art" or "find something in nature and create a work of art," or the weirdest, "drive through downtown Manhattan in rush hour, end up at a luxury car dealership and then create something based on that experience!"

I have to admit, I almost gave up on "WOA" after the whole car dealership fiasco; but the amazing thing is that if you get enough talented people together, they do the work. The cast of these shows are, for the most part, so skilled and so hungry for success that they tend to pull off what seem to be nearly impossible feats. No matter what the producers of these shows throw at the dancers and artists, they seem to be capable of transcending the madness of the world of commercialized television, to, in many cases, create work of astonishing genius.

These shows, however, are not without their fair share of controversy. "SYTYCD" and "WOA" are widely derided by professionals in their respective industries. For example, at last year's Ringling International Arts Festival, I attended a panel discussion of choreographers. I sheepishly decided to put my arts cred on the line by asking the panel their impressions of "SYTYCD,"and was met with as polite an eye-rolling as they could muster. They agreed with me, as a general matter, that a show focused entirely on educating the public about the world of dance probably does do its fair share in terms of audience building. Yet, they felt that training audiences to watch two minute routines diminishes the work of choreographers and dancers who spend months developing lengthy performances that demand a greater depth of understanding from viewers.

I agree, to some extent, in principle, that there is a danger that the screaming teenage fans of "SYTYCD" who are implored to vote for their favorite performers may become fickle audiences seeking pop art, that is basically delivered in sound bytes for the soul. However, I have been a very devoted follower of modern dance and ballet companies for over twenty years, particularly while living in Manhattan; and as I have declared above, I love the magic that the "SYTYCD" dancers bring to the stage in Hollywood each week. There is no question that the dancers who ultimately make it to the final rounds of this show are at an elite level; in fact, this season, a principal dancer from the Miami City Ballet, Alex Wong, gave up his position with his company to audition for the show. The joy that he brought every week to each new dance style (including a masterful performance of a hip/hop number that brought the audience to their feet) demonstrated to me that he felt that he had thrown of the shackles of ballet to feast on the whole world of dance. In the weeks before a dramatic injury to his achilles heel, I was convinced that he would soon be headlining a new dance company. Only time will tell if I am right.

Last year, I got tickets to the "SYTYCD" tour with a dear friend who is a dancer, and I wore her like protective armor. I felt guilty to be at a dance performance where I could buy a cheese steak sandwich and a soda; sit with my feet up on the row in front of me; and scream like a banshee for my favorite dancers; but lo and behold, she was doing it too! It was an amazing evening where my id was fully in charge. No propriety was needed at the St. Pete Times Forum. Keep in mind that I have spent years buying tickets for dance performances, dressing up, going out for dinner, waiting for intermission for a beverage, and sitting quietly in the dark in a theater surrounded by people twice my age. Add to that, the fact that I have been to only a handful of sporting events in my life; because I find them incredibly boring. Granted, I have tried to display team spirit when I watch a game, but it just doesn't come naturally for me. All of a sudden, at the Forum, I experienced what it was like to cheer to my heart's content out of the sheer joy of watching virtuosos perform.

Yesterday, The New York Observer ran a story called "The Crisis in Modern Dance." Dance companies have been trimming their seasons and their budgets; performing less challenging work that they believe will have a greater appeal among the "masses;" and even merging with one another. The idea of artists struggling for their craft really breaks my heart. I will always be an ardent supporter of live dance performances. But the dance companies don't have to reach me -- I've been in love with the art form since I was a toddler. As older dance audiences "matriculate," so to speak, perhaps the dance companies ought to take notice of the young audiences who are addicted to the pop art sensation of "SYTYCD." I do not, by any means, mean to suggest that this is a cure-all by any stretch of the imagination. I just wonder whether dance companies might begin to relish the audience development of a show like this and try to reach these new audiences who clearly have a thirst for dance. Where do all these fans go during the parts of the year when the show is not on the air?

There is no question, the "SYTYCD" judges are self-indulgent; and they overuse superlatives and generate bizarre phrases like "hot tamale train" and "that was buck" to try to compliment the dancers. They declare each new season, "the best season ever;" they beg people to vote as if this was truly significant citizen engagement; and they employ publicity stunts to generate audiences (but to be honest, I can't wait to see who tonight's "surprise" guest is going to be!) To his credit, though, the producer, Nigel Lithgoe, actually managed to get Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton to declare July 31st, National Dance Day; and people all over the country attempted to learn a hip hop routine in celebration. Furthermore, he and other dance celebrities founded the Dizzy Feet Foundation to provide dance education to young people who can't afford it. So, as cynical as I may often feel about the commercialization of dance, the show is making a difference in the world and bringing joy to their audiences.

Additionally, I must close by discussing a few of the pieces that have been so moving that sometimes I can hardly believe what is happening before my eyes on live television. There have been many memorable pieces throughout the seasons, but two this season have been particularly noteworthy. One dancer, Robert, had already shared with the audience that his mother had suffered many miscarriages and other health problems throughout his life. He was assigned to be choreographed by Travis Wall, who was a semi-finalist a few years ago. Wall's mother runs a dance studio where a few of the other dancers on the show have trained, including another semi-finalist, whom she ultimately adopted. Apparently, this beloved dance instructor is currently in poor health, and Travis wanted to pay tribute to her in dance. He choreographed a piece for Robert to dance with Alison, another dancer who portrayed Travis's mother, which they danced to the song "Fix You." The piece was an emotional roller-coaster with the son clearly in anguish trying to support his mother through the vocabulary of dance, and it climaxed with the son placing his mother's feet on his own trying to carry her through the air as she clawed toward the sky. It was a raw and searing journey into the world of someone caring for a loved one who is ill and a beautiful depiction of the bond between a mother and son. Everyone in the audience was stunned and moved by the piece, which unfortunately has been removed from You Tube, but will surely be repeated during tonight's finale.

The second piece that really stayed with me was "Mad World" choreographed by Stacy Tookey. The dancers, Billy and Ade, portrayed a homeless man and a business man, respectively. I prefer to think of Ade as a Goldman Sachs executive who comes across a homeless man in the street who is clearly suffering. There is no question that the way in which the character of the homeless man was developed by Billy played into some of the stereotypes of those who are homeless and panhandle on the streets. However, the grace and beauty of his dancing speedily transcended those stereotypes to allow the audience to delve into this man's soul. Meanwhile, Ade's executive tries to avoid the man but ultimately becomes engaged in movement with him and then peers into his eyes. There is a moment of recognition when the businessman realizes that he has confronted a childhood friend who has clearly fallen on very hard times. He seems willing to try to help him, but then as the music ends he steps over him and walks into the darkness. It was as if the businessman saw another side of himself, which made him very uncomfortable. The two dancers achieved such a spiritual level with their dance that they moved past the small story of this interaction into the greater story of where our current economic crisis has left us emotionally. They seemed to be indicating with their movement that there is a basic human need to turn away from the dark side of our own greed.
So there you have it -- I have come out from behind my television screen to admit to the world that I love "SYTYCD." I actually believe that it is an asset to the dance world and that a new and vibrant fan base is cropping up all over the country. I hope that I am right; because I'd love to see the dance community quickly move past this crisis to a shining renaissance. Now, I must go watch the finale!