According to Tina Croll and James Cunningham, their innovative dance/theater work From the Horse's Mouthis "living history." These survivors from the downtown modern/postmodern dance scene of Sixties/Seventies New York City developed the idea behind the Horse's Mouthto include other aging legends and friends from the era plus a few rising youngbloods. Although getting on in years and losing some of their athleticism, these hoofers still have much to say through movement. But unlike other artists, who improve on style and execution with maturity, dancers must consider the ravages of age and arthritis that stunt their ability for expression. With Horse's Mouththough,Croll and Cunningham found a clever way around this fact of life in order to bring even the oldest dancers out of retirement without making their work appear like a carnival sideshow (remember the 100-year-old Rockette prancing onstage a few months back?).
courtesy of tigertail productions
The glue that holds these dancers together
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Although the piece is mostly improvisational and includes many diverse dance styles, there is some structure. Each dancer is expected to contribute a ninety-second spoken-word storytelling segment followed by a sixteen-count movement phrase and then collaborate with three other dancers. Occasionally dancers may also have to follow directions given via notes read aloud onstage. Although unusual, the storytelling has garnered the most accolades from critics and audience members. At previous performances, the tales have ranged from humorous stories of being gypped by touring performers to touching recollections of studying under and working with the giants of twentieth-century dance. Certainly the importance of preserving the otherwise lost anecdotes and connecting these generations with those long gone does not go unnoticed.
The success of these original performances was so great that Croll and Cunningham decided to present shows in other cities; they realized these "out-of-town" performances could incorporate the local history, rhythm, and dancers while still being part of the larger historical picture. Indeed, wherever Horse's Mouthplays (now numbering more than two dozen performances), dancers of all ages clamor to be invited to participate alongside the few token New Yorkers who fly in to tie the piece together with the previous presentations. What's more, the shows have inspired both young and retired dancers to create new pieces for themselves.