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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.
Dancer, 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 activities.

$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 paul@danceinsider.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 for translating.)

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 Church.

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 these standards.

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 the work:

"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 the screen."

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.

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