Flight of Icarus

Flight of Icarus was created in direct response to the United States Senate defunding of The National Endowment for the Arts in 1990.

I choreographed this thought-provoking and compelling dance work titled “Flight of Icarus” back in 1989. It was a revolutionary piece aimed at challenging and provoking audiences who held a conventional belief that dance should primarily be aesthetically pleasing and devoid of any socio-political relevance.

At its core, “Flight of Icarus” was born out of a deep desire to disrupt the status quo and confront the prevailing norms of the dance world. It served as a powerful protest against the imminent threat faced by the arts community in the face of the United States Senate’s decision to defund The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in 1990. This pivotal event triggered an enduring and all-encompassing dialogue surrounding the importance of arts funding and the role of art in society.

The piece sought to bridge the gap between art and activism by employing dance as a medium for expressing dissent and solidarity. Through intricate choreography, evocative movement sequences, and a deliberate juxtaposition of contrasting elements, “Flight of Icarus” challenged the audience to question their preconceived notions about the purpose and potential of dance.

The metaphorical narrative of Icarus, the figure from Greek mythology who dared to fly too close to the sun, served as a poignant parallel to the challenges faced by artists in a society that often undervalues their contributions. The soaring leaps and daring movements of the dancers represented the audacity and ambition of artists striving to reach new heights, while the inevitable descent symbolized the risks and consequences they face when challenging the status quo.

Despite being created over two decades ago, the resonance and relevance of “Flight of Icarus” continue to reverberate in today’s cultural landscape. Sadly, the NEA, along with other arts organizations, are once again facing threats to their funding and existence. The ongoing struggle underscores the urgent need to recognize and support the valuable role that art plays in shaping and reflecting our society.

As we witness a resurgence in public activism and a renewed call for social justice, “Flight of Icarus” stands as a testament to the enduring power of art to provoke, inspire, and effect change. It serves as a reminder that artists have a crucial role to play in challenging the status quo and fostering a society that values and celebrates creativity, diversity, and expression.

Let us not forget the lessons of the past as we strive for a future where the arts are cherished, protected, and given the platform they truly deserve.

In his budget outline submitted to Congress on March 16, 2017, President Trump proposed a significant change in the allocation of federal funds by eliminating all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). This move has sparked heated debates and discussions among policymakers, artists, and art lovers across the nation.

The NEA, an independent agency of the federal government, has long been a key supporter of arts and culture in America. It provides grants and funding to various artistic organizations, including theaters, museums, dance companies, and individual artists. The NEA’s funding is instrumental in supporting local communities, fostering creativity, and expanding access to the arts for people of all backgrounds.

While supporters of the budget proposal argue that cutting funding for the NEA would help reduce government spending and allow for a more streamlined budget, opponents argue that such a move would have detrimental effects on the artistic landscape of the country. They highlight the importance of the NEA in promoting diversity, preserving cultural heritage, and stimulating economic growth through the arts.

The elimination of NEA funding has faced criticism from many prominent figures in the arts community. They argue that without federal support, many arts organizations would struggle to survive, leading to a significant reduction in artistic programming, job losses, and a decline in the overall cultural vibrancy of the nation.

It is important to note that the president’s proposed budget outline is subject to review and approval by Congress. While the elimination of NEA funding may appear in the initial budget proposal, it does not guarantee that it will be implemented as is. The final budget is a result of a complex negotiation process in which lawmakers consider multiple factors and priorities.

The fate of NEA funding ultimately rests in the hands of Congress, who will carefully examine the potential consequences and benefits of such a decision. As the debate continues, the future of federal support for the arts remains uncertain, leaving many in the arts community anxiously awaiting the final decision.


If the success of a socially conscious Dance Unlimited’ explores unconventional elements of dance work is its ability to make the audience think, dance composition student Alexander Westerman’s “Flight of Icarus” triumphs.
“Icarus” based on Greek mythology, examines an artist’s search for truth and freedom of expression. In the myth, Icarus and his father are held captive in Greece. They build wings of feathers and wax to soar to freedom , but when Icarus flies too close to the sun, his wings melt and he plummets to his death.

Like Icarus, Westerman’s artist searches for freedom, only to be crushed at the height of his understanding by ignorance and hate. The piece is, overall, haunting and effective. It is, at times, difficult to watch, yet impossible to turn away. “Flight of Icarus” demonstrates the ability and power of dance to inform, teach and entertain.

REVIEW (Tammy Lynch, The Ithacan February 14th, 1991)
Tammy Lynch (The Ithacan February 14th, 1991)


Choreography: Alexander Westerman
Composer: Joshua Winget
Filmed live: Ithaca College December 7th, 1989

Flight of Icarus - a Ballet For Social Justice

1 comment on “Flight of Icarus

  1. I still can’t believe it was so long ago. I can’t believe we’re still wrestling with the same issues in Congress and in our dining rooms.

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