Rob Bettmann – Suzanne Carbonneau, you have been a dance critic for over twenty years. You’ve seen more dance than many dancers. What has been your favorite experience in the field?
SC – I think all of my favorite experiences in dance have to do with the way they make me realize how much I don’t know about the world. I know that’s why I keep going to dance. Because it reminds me of the limitations of the experiences that we have in the lives we lead in the twenty-first century world. They remind us that there is more out there for us to see, think, do, feel.
One big epiphany I remember was going to see Merce Cunningham for the first time. I was just starting out as a dance viewer, and went to see Merce at City Center. I had read and heard that he was one of the great masters of our time. And I had my expectations of what that would imply from what I had seen before, which was mostly at that time ballet and what I would call classic or historic modern dance – Graham, Limon, Ailey. When I saw Cunningham I was completely taken aback because it didn’t look like anything I had seen before. Not in structure, or timing, or content. It was not what I had thought Art would be. I was bewildered.
I think that experience meant having to face the unknown, having to expand my own world or worldview in order to take in how Cunningham saw the world. Normally, my first reaction would have been to be angry with the choreographer for not fulfilling my expectations, for not giving me back the world the way I already saw it. But I think that what Merce taught me at that moment is that the world is much larger than the way I had understood it. And from that experience, I knew that I would have to be willing to follow what artists said was taking place in the world if I was to understand their work. Having to go off and try to figure out what Merce was trying to do – what he was seeing – has encouraged me to see the world from viewpoints that take into account different philosophical as well as theoretical ideas. It has meant having to do research in things like Buddhism and physics.
Seeing how Merce brings the contemporary world onto the stage makes me see the world differently when I walk out of the theater and encourages me to see the urban world as a source of beauty, not just of noise and chaos.