Neither the video nor the movie camera is a substitute for the living eye in the appreciation of dance, but they sure can get us to places we might never have a chance to visit otherwise -- places that aren't just geographical, but psychological and historical too. The point is made anew tonight and tomorrow night in Washington, in what amounts to a vicarious field day for dance enthusiasts via the recorded imagery of cinema and television.
"IBM Presents Baryshnikov on Broadway," airing on Channel 7 tonight at 9, brings us Mikhail Baryshnikov cutting all sorts of unaccustomed rugs to tunes from American musicals.
"No Maps on My Taps," to be shown in the "Non-Fiction Television" series on Channel 26 tomorrow night at 10, is an excellent film portrait of three outstanding black hoofers -- Sandman Sims, Chuck Green and Bunny Briggs.
"Making Dances," a fine film documentary which will receive two free showings tonight and tommorrow night at the Hirshhorn Museum at 8, shows us the ideas and works of seven "post-modern" choreographers, whose view-ability is usually confined to the lofts and other dance outposts of New York City.
The IBM show, which also stars Liza Minnelli, was obviously intended to be, and should undoubtedly succeed as, a mass entertainment item. What's fascinating about it from a dance viewpoint if its demonstration of how even the greatest of performing artists cannot escape the limitations of heritage and training. Since his defection to the West, Baryshnikov has shown amazing adaptability to new dance idioms, as his performance in Twyla Tharp's "Push Comes to Shove" alone suffices to prove. Yet, in his soft-shoe, his Charleston, his hip-swivels and shimmies for IBM, he's unable to shed the rigors of classicism for the characteristic laxity and ease of American show dancing. It's not his Slavic roots that get in the way, but the ballet in his bones -- charisma and brilliance, yes, but Yankee-doodle-dandy, no.
What's hard for Baryshnikov is second-nature to the jazz tappers of "No Maps." "We didn't have no dancin' schools," Sandman Sims says in the film, "our dancin' was right off in the streets of New York.' It was an art nurtured in Harlem alleys and handed down one-to-one, master to disciple: from the legendary John Bubbles to Chuck Green, from Green to Sandman, and now Sandman to his little son, as director George T. Nierenberg's remarkably sympathetic film makes clear.
The highly unconventional, idiosyncratic dance modes of "Making Dances" are almost as far removed from Harlem as Harlem is from Leningrad, but their maverick impulses and free-swinging individuality mark them as indelibly American just the same. Inevitably, Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Douglas Dunn and Meredith Monk stand out as the most potent originals, but the footage on David Gordon, Kenneth King and Sarah Rudner is also well worth seeing. Moreover, in this Michael Blackwood film, what these choreographers do is far more revealing than what they say.