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Buzz, 5-12: Critics Really Cornered
Critics Group's Answer to Criticism Crisis: Write More Features!;
Delirious at the Gallery; 'Carmen' in Rochester
Copyright 2006 The Dance Insider
It wasn't so long ago
that, at a forum on the dwindling media space for dance criticism,
my esteemed colleague Deborah Jowitt, senior dance critic of the
Village Voice, was pooh-poohing advance features on dance performances
as so much fluff, her essential (and valid) point being, How can
one write about a performance before one's seen it? Such advances,
as we call them in the trade, are basically uninformed by any kind
of critical perspective on the work, since the work has yet to be
unveiled. Well, on June 10, poor Deborah will find herself delivering
the keynote speech at a Dance Critics Association conference which
proposes to solve the crisis of the dwindling space for dance criticism
by counseling its members to (wait for it) write more features!
If one is to believe
Steve Sucato, the feature writer who now chairs the Dance Critics
Association (which not so long ago wouldn't even admit feature writers),
the most depressing aspect of the decreased space for dance reviews
is not that dance companies aren't getting reviewed, but that dance
critics aren't getting work.
"We live in a time of
great change in the field of dance writing and criticism," Sucato,
who evidently broke the story the first time a dog bit a man, informs
his members on the organization's website. (Which also, btw, has
Jowitt speaking for over 12 hours, from "12:00 - 12:30 a.m.". Back
to proofreading school, Steve!) "Recently we have seen a decline
in available jobs and writing opportunities for dance journalists."
Yes, dancers, your main purpose is not to create art for the world,
but employment for dance journalists. "Past conferences have focused
on an awareness of the current crisis in the field. The 2006 conference
will offer up practical thinking and advice on several subjects
from features writing to how we view dance criticism in an effort
to help us adapt to our changing field."
The description of the
kick-off panel is, well, just embarrassing for an organization aspiring
to represent a cadre of professional critics, indicating a descent
into journalism 101: "This panel discusses the writing of feature
stories: how to get to the heart of the 'story,' what kind of language
to use to reach a broad readership, which of your skills as a critic
can be applied to writing features, and how the story can be the
opposite of 'fluff'.'" In other words, how to dumb yourself down
without really dumbing yourself down.
Even a second panel,
"Criticism: Process & Purpose" misses an opportunity by offering
up the same old farts to address the topic. I have the greatest
respect for at least one of these old farts -- she's an idol I try
to emulate every time I write about a dance concert, with limited
success -- but I would have loved to see one of the newest critical
voices from the New York Times, John Rockwell or Gia Kourlas, included,
if only so that Rockwell could be pressed on exactly what is his
process, and Kourlas forced to 'fess up to her purpose.
More important, and
speaking of Rockwell, I don't know what burg Rip van Sucato has
been living in, but if you ask any dancer (and some critics as well),
to describe the major issues facing dance criticism right now, there
are two, neither addressed by this conference: The dumbing down
of dance criticism at the Times, as reflected in the anointment
of Rockwell as chief critic and the assigning to Kourlas of any
reviews; and the gap between critics and dance artists exposed by
Tere O'Connor in his brave response
to a (positive) New Yorker review of his work. HOW ON EARTH CAN
AN ORGANIZATION WHICH PURPORTS TO REPRESENT DANCE CRITICS NOT BE
AWARE OF THESE ISSUES? By not addressing them, the DCA risks alienating
us even more from the dance artists who make our, er, job opportunities
(PS: And why not even
a WORD on Josephine
Baker, whose 100th birthday is June 3, a week before
the conference? Talk about out of touch!)
Advances that Dance
Speaking of uninformed
advances, here are a couple:
To my taste, there's
nothing so thrilling -- for the change of space -- as seeing dance
in an art gallery. So I regret I'll be out of town when one of my
favorite dancers, Edisa Weeks, brings her company Delirious to one
of my favorite (maybe one of the last?) SoHo galleries, the Puffin
Room, next Friday and Saturday May 19 and 20, to present the first
installation of "Liaisons: the Living Room Project." As described
by the choreographer, the performance, which runs at 8 and 10 p.m.
each night, involves "a series of quirky dances about desire that
are performed with the audience seated on four sides. The dancers
form liaisons with the audience and each other, stretching the boundaries
of closeness between strangers, inviting the audience to intimately
gaze at the unfolding movement and one another." And what dancers!
Weeks's stellar cast includes Jenni Hong, Kate Johnson, Jeffrey
Peterson, and Trebien Pollard. Speaking of the incredibly shrinking
dance world, and possible antidotes, here's the best part: Children
under 10 will be admitted free. For reservations and more info,
Here at the Dance Insider,
operated as we are mostly by active professional dance artists,
it's impossible to avoid all conflicts of interest. Ergo, our policy
is to disclose connections where they pop up in reviews or elsewhere.
So I tell you upfront that this next advance involves not only a
work I've never seen, but a choreographer who, besides being a consulting
editor to the DI since our founding eight years ago (in a SoHo attic,
btw), is also a longtime and close friend.
Tonight at the Nazareth
College Arts Center in Rochester, the Rochester City Ballet gives
the world premiere of Edward Ellison's "Carmen," to the Bizet music,
on a program which also includes new work from Spanish choreographer
Inma Rubio Tomas.
Lest you think that
all this work (and this item) has to recommend it is that I've known
the choreographer since we had nothing better to do than hang around
Len's Market sucking on Jolly Ranchers (watermelon, followed by
apple), allow me share his serious credentials: Edward is not one
of those ballet dancers who declared immediately on his retirement
(in this case, from a career highlighted by being a soloist with
San Francisco Ballet), Voila, I'm a choreographer! No, rather,
having been turned on to ballet relatively late by an inspiring
teacher, Marius Zirra and, later, been particularly impressed with
the critical role it plays in the art by Larisa Sklyanskaya and
Irina Jacobson, Edward decided to make teaching his metier.
(Sorry for all the French words; hope you're keeping up, Steve.)
A stint at SF Ballet's school was followed by guest ballet mastering
and teaching around the world, including for the companies or schools
of American Ballet Theatre, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater,
Boston Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Houston Ballet, Tulsa Ballet, Metropolitan
Opera Ballet, Norwegian National Ballet, and others; he even took
the fabled Vaganova teaching course in Russia. In New York, Edward
has taught a popular class at Steps for years.
In teaching, while you
can often enjoy relative autonomy within your class, in the context
of a school affiliated with a company you are ultimately working
in someone else's pedagogical construct. It may well be a great
construct, but it's still not yours. Edward's desire to be responsible
for the big picture -- as well as a fundamental understanding of
the critical role ballet education plays in forming ballet artists
-- lead to his founding, last summer, the Ellison
Ballet -- Professional Training Program, a New York-based
school for serious students between the ages of 14 and 18. (And
on whose board I currently serve. The DI is also a media sponsor.)
It also lead him to want to create choreographies that would put
his educational precepts and results to practice in performance.
While not his first such effort, "Carmen" is one he's been winnowing
for a while -- this ballet was not created overnight -- and thus
I'd recommend your checking it out, which you can also do, besides
tonight, tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m..
If I can be permitted
to test your indulgence (not to mention Steve's French vocabulary)
with one more word for tonight's show, I send Edward and the dancers
one grande merde!
PS: Actually, I'd like to close with this thought from Tchaikovsky,
with whom I celebrated a birthday Sunday, cribbed from the Ellison
Ballet's website: "One cannot afford to sit waiting for inspiration.
She is a guest that does not visit the lazy, but comes to those
who call her."