All the Dance Numbers

Our first Arts & Entertainment Poll asked the question “Which do you consider a more vital art form, ballet or modern dance?”

BALLET: 41%

MODERN DANCE: 39%

BOTH OR NEITHER: 20%

To take part in this quarter’s poll, return the card on the following page.

“Balanchine choreographed modern ballet; Graham choreographed modern dance; Twyla Tharp choreographs Sinatra and Bach tunes; Morris choreographs to 300-year-old music; and Baryshnikov danced them all.” That A&E Poll response, sent to us by Ann Bier of New Mexico, sums up the current relationship between the two spheres: technically opposed but happy to play Ping-Pong.Atlantic readers, no matter which they prefer, tend to equate expressiveness and a sort of primal vitality with modem dance—a view that’s been with us at least since 1912, when Nijinsky’s modern-leaning L’Apres midi d’un faune was defended in Le Matin for its “freedom of instinct.” Readers labeled ballet formal, disciplined, a “charming history,” an essential foundation. Today, of course, modern dance is genealogically more branched than the balletic family tree (we’ve come a long way from “Petals on a wet, black bough”); meanwhile, classical dance is in transition—so many of the century’s ballet artists died of old age in the 1980s.

One fifth of respondents didn’t want to choose one form over the other, feeling, as E. Glick of California put it, “This is like asking ‘Which child do you love best?’ ” The rest of the readers split almost evenly between modem and ballet—perhaps a surprisingly high figure for classicism, but then a case could be made that the rigorous order and encompassing sensibility of classical dance may in fact offer more surprises to a generation that cut its teeth on a solid-gold Madonna and the pseudo-steps of M.C. Hammer.

Indeed, the demands of the classical technique have inspired modem and postmodern choreographers to some of their best work. While Mark Morris’s dances hug the earth and revel in a kind of hippie love and potter’s-wheel homeliness (so many of his dances are funeral urns), the masterly piece he did for ABT, Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes, wore a crown of laurel. And Tharp’s ragging, gum-cracking attitude acquired metaphorical depth when applied to ballet’s rarefied world. Merce Cunningham, zen-master of postmodernism, has always used the classical vocabulary in his boundless dances—but like tough turtle eggs: steps dropped, angled, buried in space. The company will be at the New York City Center, March 17 to 29.

From March 12 to April 12, the Boston Ballet presents “On the Edge,” a festival that celebrates the relationships of contemporary/modern choreographers and classical dancers by performing works by Susan Marshall, Elisa Monte, Bill T. Jones, Mark Morris, Twyla Tharp, and others. Also of interest: the Joffrey Ballet, on tour this month and next through Minneapolis, St. Louis, Ft. Lauderdale, Chicago, and Los Angeles, boasts two new works from that mistress of spinning, Laura Dean, plus an homage to Native Americans by post-Pilobolus Peter Pucci. —L.J.