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The Buzz, 2-28: The Rockwell Files, 4
"Why John Rockwell of all People?"

By Anonymous
Edited by Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2005 The Dance Insider

"Somehow, in dance criticism, editors will accept the writing of someone who obviously has not had an adequate education in dance history or movement art."

-- Anonymous

To monitor the errors being disseminated by the new New York Times chief dance critic, John Rockwell, the Buzz has opened the floor to your contributions to The Rockwell Files. Got a Rockwellism? E-mail the Buzz at paul@danceinsider.com. Please include your first and last name. Dance artists wishing to contribute can request that their names be withheld, as long as we know who you are and your comments aren't libelous.

Balletomane on Board

A reader writes:

It is with great sadness that I write this assessment of John Rockwell's work. I am a performing arts critic who has published on the arts for 15 years. My comments come from a well-developed understanding of the nature of the profession of dance criticism.

1) We are at a time when there are more truly qualified dance critics and dance writers than ever before. The New York Times is one of the most powerful organs in the public dissemination of dance. The paper's location in the de facto dance capitol of North America is one reason for its power. Another reason is that NY-based presenters, publicists and artists depend upon the Times for serious, well-informed writing.

So when the former chief dance critic is replaced by a critic whose writing is consistently culturally biased, tonally flippant and historically as well as aesthetically weak, such a misstep of hiring and advancement in the editorial department truly means something in the field.

2) In no other NY Times form of criticism would the flagrant or even indirect presence of cultural biases be tolerated -- that is, bias against Europeans, against homoeroticism, and against popular dance forms. Nor would prose so weakly and unartfully formed be tolerated.

Somehow, in dance criticism, editors will accept the writing of someone who obviously has not had an adequate education in dance history or movement art.

Music critics must not only understand music theory and performance on an intimate level even if they are not performers, they must also demonstrate such an understanding by commenting on BOTH the composition and the performance.

This is, in fact, where John Rockwell is weakest: He does not understand dance composition enough to actually document what has been shared with him -- and by composition I mean how the movement experience has been composed structurally and qualitatively. Opinion reigns in favor of critical analysis and an actual attempt to describe, however fleetingly, what truly happened rather than to take pot-shots based on fleeting mis-characterizations and odd annoyances.

Certainly, John Rockwell may have experience. But do we know his background? Again, there are so many superb dance critics in the NY region -- even those that already freelance with the paper. Why John Rockwell of all people?

He writes like a lost generation of balletomanes and dilettantes who wrote about dance without the proper aesthetic, compositional or performance training and who covered dance with an obvious chip on their mostly male shoulders and who approached the task of dance reporting as a time to lace their reviews with indirect contempt for the art form if not outright bitterness.

3) It is a wonder to me why Jennifer Dunning was not promoted to chief dance critic. What can possibly be going on in the arts editorial department at the Times?

Why aren't readers, audiences and artists given an explanation?

4) Audiences, artists, presenters and publicists are powerless if we complain about John Rockwell.

I have written three letters to the editor and not one has been published.

The only way that we can be heard is if we get organized and develop a unified front to appeal to the arts editor at the Times to stop John Rockwell's tenure before its too late.

I call on all critics, artists and presenters to forward their names to Paul at the Dance Insider. I will work vigilantly to produce a formal, collectively written letter to the editor that voices our grievances clearly.

At the very least, why wasn't a ***proper*** explanation made to the dance public when this awful change of guard took place?

Please, let's get organized and not let the powerful work of dance criticism at the NY Times disadvantage us in ways that so much uninformed, biased and poorly written dance criticism has done for so many years.

Please spread the word like lightening and get organized. Paul will give you my information. I cannot be more open unless I am joined by others in a united front.

Obviously, John Rockwell's reporting shows that artists who frustrate him have much to lose.

Got a Rockwellism or something else buzzing under your bonnet? E-mail the Buzz at paul@danceinsider.com.



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