AS THE '70s grind to a close, one notes the following, recent, possibly premonitory bulletins: Flash! the miniskirt is back in the Parisian salons. Flash! "Grease" has turned the corner as the longest running show on Broadway ever. Flash! Bob Dylan has found Jesus.
The first and last of the these items may well be harbingers of trends to come: a tilt towards the kind of provocative daring conspicuously lacking in the '70s in the first case; a hint of a new wave of "spirituality" in the third. The middle one seems more a hangover of a ubiquitous '70s preoccupation with the past, the nostalgia craze. Be these things as they may, it is hard to find anyone -- in public, at any rate -- willing to say a good word about the now concluding decade. For an era historically defind by such parameters as the Vietnam debacle, the decimation of Cambodia, Watergate, Jonestown and Khomeini's revenge, that's probably not too surprising.
It's almost embarrassing, therefore, to have to admit that for the art of dance, the last 10 years have been the most spectacular on record. This is so despite a relative quietus on the creative front, a non-development dance has shared with other media. Moreover, at the end of a period whose leitmotif was an unparalleled boom in dance activity and interest, we have the spectacle of one of the world's handful of great ballet companies -- American Ballet Theatre -- paralyzed by a wage dispute. This latter occurence, however it may be resolved, signals what is sure to become an irreversible tide of the '80s -- the emergence of "dance power," as dancers finally liberate themselves from the unquestioning vassalage of their tradition.
The keynote of the times, though, has been summed up in what wince-inducing expression, the "dance explosion," the ambivalent nature of which is acutely obvious from the ABT lockout. On the positive side, it cannot be denied that dance has at last ascended from the disadvantaged status in which it had languished so long, particularly in this country. Could anyone have predicted, even 10 years ago, that a prestigious publisher would bring forth and successfully market a lavish volume designed solely to celebrate feet? Yet that is what Alfred Knopf has done with "Dancershoes," a 96-page annotated picture album devoted to the mystique and cultivation of footgear, as practiced by the likes of Mikhail Baryshnikov, Anthony Dowell, Carla Fracci, Gelsey Kirkland, Galina Panov and Patricia McBride.
The '70s, too, will be remembered as the era in which: A dancer first won a personal Emmy for a nationwide TV special: "Baryshnikov at the White House"; a great pioneer of American dance, Martha Graham, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom; "A Chorus Line" resuscitated the dance-based musical and set off a wave of imitations; a sudsy movie about the ballet world, "The Turning Point," made it big at the box-office; discomania gave the nation's entire youth a case of Saturday night fever; physicality invaded public awareness with fad upon fad of body building, body awareness, body language; and commercial advertisers as diverse as Burger King, Pepsi-Cola and a tampon manufacturer found it prudent to peg TV sports on the image of a comely model in leotards and toe shoes stretching a willowy leg at the barre.
What dance history might have been like in the '70s had the Soviet Union been less rigid in its artistic and political mores, and less ossified in its dance repertoire, is hard to say, but assuredly the westward flight of ballet luminaries has given the era a pronounced Slavic accent, both in the United States and internationally. Rudolf Nureyev, who was the first and the most peripatetic, made his leap in 1961, but the others -- Baryshnikov, Natalia Markarova, the Panovs, Alexander Godunov, the Kozlovs -- all excited in the past decade.
The '70s also intensified the "melting pot" aspect of dance esthetics, a trend already evident in the '60s but archetypified by Martha Graham's creation of "Lucifer" (1975) for her own "modern dancers" and their erstwhile polar opposites, classical ballet dancers Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn. The free mingling of academic and popular forms, so prominent in the works of Twyla Tharp, for instance, or of conventional dance and gymnastics, as in the provacative fusions of the Pilobolus troupe, were further manifestations of the same tendency. The democratization of dance has proceeded apace; the dance world is in effect evolving into one world: The borderlines between the ballroom the ballpark, the barnyard, city streets and the theatrical stage gradually disappear as outmoded artifice, and as performers, participants or spectators of every age, origin and shape find their place in the dance spectrum.
The advance in ballet popularity, and with it, ballet chic, has been accompanied by an overall retreat in dance experimentation and inconoclasm, as compared with the '60s. The more outrageous excesses of the previous decade in nudity, sex and obscurantism are gone from the stage, and in their place has come a renewed interest in traditional forms and formats. Resurrection of past treasures has been as much a '75s fetish in dance as in other arts -- ranging from Diaghilev exhibits and restorations to Duncan, Wigman and Denishawn revivals, to movies about Nijinsky, to tap dance festivals, to revivals of "Oklahoma" and "West Side Story."
The passing of -- among other dance notables -- Ted Shawn, Leonide Massine, Kurt Jooss, Tamara Karsavina, Charles Weidman, Jose Limon, John Cranko, Joyce Trisler, James Waring, and (though he was neither dancer nor choreographer) Igor Stravinsky has meant, of course, irrecoverable loss. There are giants among us still, however. Perhaps the single most prolific figure of the decade has been George Balanchine. Though his work, in the main, has conformed to the conservative drift of the era, he has created more than two dozen ballets from 1970 to the present, including such repertory stalwarts as "Who Cares," "Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3," "Symphony in 3 Movements," "Stravinsky Violin Concerto," "Duo Concertant," "Chaconne," "Union Jack," "Coppelia," "Kammermusik No. 2," "Vienna Waltzes," and "Ballo della Regina" -- an awe-inspiring tally for someone who passed the 75 mark this year. Classical ballet has been especially enriched also by the endeavors of Jerome Robbins ("Goldberg Variations," "Watermill," "Other Dances," "The Dreamer"), Frederick Ashton ("A Month in the Country"), Antony Tudor ("The Leaves Are Fading"), Kenneth MacMillian ("Requiem") and Eliot Feld ("A Footstep of Air,") during the '70s. Paul Taylor ("Elplanade," "Polaris," "Images,") and Erick Hawkins ("Classic Kite Tails") have enjoyed particularly productive periods in this same interval; other post-Graham generation modern dance choreographers have been mainly engaged in holding actions, with occasional highlights from people like Anna Sokolow.
The sheer proliferation in numbers of dancers, numbes of companies, numbers of performances and numbers of dance patrons has been one of the most conspicuous traits of the decade, made all the more apparent by the unprecedented access to dance via television -- in the 17 installments of the "Dance in America" series, for example, or the "Live from Lincoln Center" programs.
But nowhere has this escalation been more evident than here in Washington, where the advent of the Kennedy Center and Wolf Trap in 1971, and the concurrent growth of the Washington Performing Arts Society dance series, provided the impetus to make the nation's capital evolve in nine years from a dance backwater to the second most active dance city in the nation. Nor, despite the demise of the National Ballet in 1974, has the excitement been generated exclusively by visiting attractions: Indigenous dance has also taken vast strides, as reflected in such phenomena as the annual City Dance festival, the ferment as such centers as the Dance Project, African Heritage, Dance Exchange and WPA, and the arrival of choreographers Choo San Goh at the Washington Ballet and Keith Lee at the Capitol Ballet.
As to the future, one inevitably looks to the innovative impulses of younger generations for clues. In dance, a number of contemporary choreographers and troupes on the current horizon appear to be gathering toward some sort of thematic crystallization -- I'm thinking principally of Kei Takei, Meredith Monk, Lucinda Childs, Laura Dean and the Zero Moving Company, none of them what you'd call celebrities; all, however, uncommonly stimulating and imaginative. Recently seen productions of Monk, Childs and Zero -- each of them repetitive, mysterious, ritualistic, revelatory -- suggest that the Me-ism of the outgoing decade may give way to a We-ism in coming years. If the '60s emphasized instant gratification, and the '70s self-gratification, the thrust of these new dance compositions seems to be toward a collective and callaborative sensibility, along with a new urge toward moral content. In many ways, these attributes are evident in the works of the most promising young newcomers to classical ballet, too -- such choreographers as Jiri Kylian of the Netherlands Dance Theatre and Washington's own Choo San Goh.
It could just be, in dance as elsewhere, that the '80s are coming along just in the nick of time to save us from the '70s.