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This article interrogates the multivalent understandings of the term “contemporary dance” in concert, commercial, and world dance contexts. I argue that placing multiple uses of the term “contemporary” alongside one another can provide insight into the ways that “high art” dance, popular dance, and non-Western dance are increasingly wrapped up with each other and, at the same time, the ways that their separations reveal our artistic, cultural, and political prejudices, as well as the forces of the market.
In 2004, Singaporean presenter Tang Fu Kuen commissioned French avant-garde choreographer Jérôme Bel to create a work in collaboration with classical Thai dancer-choreographer Pichet Klunchun. The resulting piece is unlike most intercultural collaborations. In the world of concert dance, East–West interculturalism takes place in a variety of ways: in costuming or set design, in theme or subject matter, in choreographic structure, in stylings of the body, in energetic impetus, in spatial composition, in philosophical attitude toward art making. Bel's work, titled Pichet Klunchun and Myself, does not combine aesthetics in any of these ways. In fact, the piece may more accurately be described not as a dance but as two verbal interviews (first by Bel of Klunchun and then vice versa) performed for an audience and separated by an intermission. There is no actual intermingling of forms—Thai classical dance with European contemporary choreography—in this performance. The intercultural “choreography” here comprises a staged conversation between the artists and some isolated physical demonstrations by each.