The Buzz, 4-16: Back
to the Future
The DI Commemorates Taglioni; Ballet Company Cancels Ads Because
of Bad Reviews; Times Sends Bad Critic to Dunn
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider
PARIS -- In contrast
to that of Vaslav Nijinsky, her neighbor in the Montmartre Cemetery,
her grave is humble. His fronts the path; hers is behind his, reached
only by stumbling over the plots between them. His is guarded by
a life-sized Petrouchka statue. Encountered two summers ago, the
only hints of who she was were a pair of weathered pointe shoes
and a cracked plaque with a fissure between the words "Marie" and
"Taglioni." Below these was written: "A sa mere bien aimee." By
her mother well-loved.
choreographer, and Dance Insider senior European critic Rosa
Mei at the Paris grave of Marie Taglioni last summer. DI photo
by Paul Ben-Itzak.
Thanks to to DI readers,
a few more pairs of pointe shoes now adorn Marie Taglioni's grave.
But this is not enough to remember dance's own George Washington
-- the first, by most accounts, to reveal the possibilities for
artistic expression when a dancer rises on her toes -- nor to demonstrate
how well-loved she was and is to the field. Without her, would there
even have been a Nijinsky, a romantic tradition -- a Modern Dance
to rebel against it?
On April 23, Taglioni's
199th birthday, the Dance Insider launches a series of events --
online, in conference halls, and on stages -- to celebrate The Ballerina's
approaching bicentennial. We'll start, on that day, with a major
publishing event: A new piece by Tobi Tobias called simply "The
Shoe." (While the essay relates to Taglioni, its theme was Tobias's
idea.) Commencing with this article, we are making available a limited
number of sponsorships for our Taglioni-related stories and events,
at all levels:
$50 gets the name of
you or your organization listed before Tobias's article, as well
as in all related publicity, advertising, and programs for our Taglioni
$100 gets you the above,
linked to a web site, page, or e-mail address of your choosing.
$1,000 gets you the
top banner on the page, plus all of the above.
For details, please
e-mail me at email@example.com.
Speaking of Paris Opera Ballet luminaries, if you visited the web
site of the Paris Opera (which includes the opera and ballet companies)
this week, the first thing that popped up was a message from general
director Hugues R. Gall:
"On the occasion of
the new season 2003-2004, I have been led to make some decisions
in the realm of advertising. Since the newspaper Le Monde likes
(almost) none of our shows and its critics class our current Opera
productions in a 'fuddy-duddy' category, foreign to any spirit of
innovation.... Even though it seemed to me that our very numerous
public wished to approve of and sustain our work. However that may
be, it appeared to me under these conditions, inhuman to impose
upon Le Monde advertising panels inviting people to see what it
so radically condemned. I have therefore decided to no longer advertise
in Le Monde and wished to inform you of this." (Thanks to Leon Dalva
Gall indeed! Dance insiders
who have been following the French scene longer than I have took
this announcement in stride. "How very French," one e-mailed me.
But I believe M. Gall's action reveals an appalling lack of foresight
and disregard of consequences. Advertising is not as critical to
newspaper survival here as in the US, with very thin papers selling
for about $1.25. And Le Monde can certainly take the hit. But theoretically,
a theater which will only advertise in journals which give its productions
good reviews exerts an economic pressure that in turn risks inhibiting
honest reviewing -- and that in turn threatens critics' credibility
with the audience, which will then think twice before attending
a show. It's that simple.
Short of this kind of economic retaliation, a theater and its artists,
or their advocates, should feel free to call out ignorant reviewing
when they see it. Let us now turn to the New York Times and its
critic Jack Anderson.
It's hard to know where
to start with Anderson's 'review' of "Muscle Shoals," the new work
from choreographer Douglas Dunn, videographer Charles Atlas, lighting
designer Carol Mullins, and composer-musician Steve Lacy which had
its US premiere earlier this month at Danspace Project at St. Mark's
Critics are entitled
to their opinions, but they should have a basis in fact and in authority.
Anderson's piece, published last Friday in the Times, does not meet
First, he makes no mention
that in the show he caught, the ensemble found itself unexpectedly
performing without Lacy, a fact announced just before the show.
Such a circumstance, while not circumventing a review, should be
noted by the reviewer. More important, though, is Anderson's lack
of effort (or ability?) to apply any sort of rigorous analysis to
Mr. Dunn's choreography.
"The dancing creatures,"
wrote Anderson, "were an odd lot, who entered with constructions
covering their heads and faces." "Odd"? Surely, the New York Times
can exercise more range in adjectives. "After those objects were
removed," he continued, "they wore extravagant wigs and makeup.....
If only the choreography had been extravagant. But the dancers did
little more than scramble, hop and huddle together."
BIG SIGH. In my
own review of "Muscle Shoals," which I saw in its premiere
here in February, I did not deploy a rich language to try to capture
Dunn's choreography. BUT, unlike Anderson, I realized that the shortfall
here was not in the choreographer's vocabulary but in mine.
Here's what happened
when a more kinetically perceptive critic than either of us encountered
"When Carol Mullins's
lighting gradually reveals Miriam Hess, Sean Mueller, Beth Simons,
Christopher Williams, and Kindra Windish, they're wearing geometrically
shaped head-coverings (costumes also by Atlas)," writes Deborah
Jowitt in this week's Village
Voice. "As they gradually uncage, they show painted faces.
Jazz legend Steve Lacy's score, played live by Lacy on soprano sax
and Petja Kaufman on harpsichord, is as oddly fascinating as the
activities. These creatures are angular and disconnected in their
behavior -- shivering, snaking along, wagging their tongues, grooming
one another, having mock battles, and making elaborate faces into
the camera, which throws their popping eyes and rubber mouths onto
In his conclusion, Anderson
writes: "Although the piece lasted only an hour, long before it
ended it was easy to recall that one of the anagrams for 'Muscle
Shoals'' was 'also much less.'''
It's an anagram better
applied to the 'critic': With Jack Anderson, readers and artists
are getting much less than they deserve.
Both Mr. Gall's action
in pulling advertising from a newspaper because he doesn't like
its reviews, and the New York Times's in disseminating unqualified
reviews are further troubling signs of a lack of respect and self-respect
for dance. It's my personal opinion that by restoring the luster
of Marie Taglioni's grave and by remembering the luster of her life
and career, we can make a statement about the esteem in which we
hold dance and in which others should hold it as well.