“I occupy myself with how not to interfere with the music,” George Baknchine once said. To the pioneers of the modern dance, who were still defining their art in opposition to the ballet, the problem was just the reverse. Until dance liberated itself from its reliance on music, they felt, it would forever remain a “subsidiary art,” in the words of John Martin, the New York Times critic and arch apologist for the modern dance. In his 1933 treatise The Modern Dance, Martin claims that for “the last several hundred years” dance has “quite legitimately excluded” itself from classification as a “major art” because it has existed “almost entirely within the boundaries” of another art—namely, music. Even if the choreographer chooses to treat his accompaniment as mere background music, for its “general mood and subject,” the...


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