You’ve thoroughly read the cultural previews published by The New York Times, New York Magazine, and Time Out, and snapped up tickets for all of the downtown shows before they sell out. But is your vocab up to snuff? In preparation for the fall performance blitz, brush up on the necessary lingo with our handy cheat sheet to guarantee (even a neophyte) instant insider status:
1. Modern dance: developed in the early 1900s as a rebellion against ballet (Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham), and rebelled against in turn–fifty years later–by the post-modernists.
2. Post-modern: a panacea label for all work that is unconventional, regardless of its origin. Common traits: all of the terms below. For dance and performance generally, the hallmark of the evolution of post-modernism was the Judson Dance Theatre in the 1960s-70s.
3. Pedestrian movement: every day, functional actions, such as walking, running, lying down, crawling, or sitting. Also known as “task-oriented movement”. [Litmus test: could a non-trained person do this in the living room?]
4. Performance art: combines aspects of theater, dance, music, poetry, political or social activism and visual art (think Fluxus or Marina Abramovic). Aims to be provocative and frequently structured as a performance installation (see below). Really came into being during the 1960s.
5. Performance installation: crossover into the visual arts world, usually takes place someplace other than a traditional theater, and lasts for many hours. Inexplicably involves nudity 95% of the time.
6. Experimental: challenging the status quo. Useful in describing any performance that revels in shock-value or lacks recognizable elements or artistic cohesion (note: no relation to the orderly scientific process learned in high school science).
7. Contemporary: typically a mash-up of classical and modern, with a few post-modern flourishes. Overused by ballet companies and European groups in an effort to distance themselves from “classical”.
8. Fourth wall: the invisible barrier between stage and audience that allows performers to pretend the audience doesn’t exist. “Breaking the fourth wall” is a trope in post-modern performance, used with varying degrees of success.
9. Non-narrative: no clear story, or at least not one you can follow.
10. Multi-disciplinary: a blanket term for performances that include video, visual art, or interactive technology along with dance or theater. Often misused or aspirational.
11. Performative: the act of performing. The genius of this term is that any action can be declared “performative,” simply by naming it as such, regardless of setting. A term beloved by the post-modern crowd. [Yes, drinking coffee can be performative as long as you call it that.]
12. Movement score: a loose structure for improvisational movement, guided by specific images or ideas that are unlikely to be apparent to the audience.
13. Intention: the idea or motivation behind an action. Crucial in transforming a pedestrian action into a performative one (kind of like taking communion).
14. Kinesthetic: focused on the body and physical movement. Redundant when used to describe dance for obvious reasons, but it sounds fancy.
15. Innovative: new ideas; original or creative. A positive sounding catch-all for anything you don’t understand. What was once “avant-garde” morphed into “cutting-edge,” and is now trumpeted as “innovative.”
Did we miss a vocab word? Tell us in the comments section.