All these months later, as we go about our pandemic days, waiting to be out in the world again, I think about that moment when Lucy began to dance in Richard Nelson’s recent play The Michaels, an ordinary moment that cracked open and allowed an extraordinary grace to emerge. It’s helped me mourn all that we are missing: the live performances we can’t attend because there are none, the lost jobs, the out-of-work performers, the struggling institutions. And, of course, the dead.
By its nature, dance poses unique challenges for scholars. There’s no universal notation system, and the various ways we have to document it are incomplete and unreliable. There is no full way to capture the presence of dance except through dance itself. This tension—between dance and the representation of dance—is always at the heart of dance; dancers feel it, too, and so do the people who watch dance and the people who write about it. The recent exhibition “Hymn to Apollo: The Ancient World and the Ballets Russes” at NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World reminded me how intriguing this tension is.