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The Buzz, 7-25: The Age of Philistines
All the 'criticism' that's fit to spit on dance & dancers; as Kourlas continues her rampage, when will Macaulay speak up?

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2008 Paul Ben-Itzak

For Aaron, whose birthday is today, and who remembers when my knock-out punches weren't always so well-placed.

Considering that the publication once considered the bible of dance journalism recently ran a review in which the writer's biggest concern seemed to be getting sweated on by the performers, I guess we shouldn't be surprised that the New York Times -- which has also descended from the journal which helped decelerate American involvement in Vietnam by defying the White House and publishing the Pentagon Papers, to the paper that accelerated American involvement in Iraq by doing the White House's bidding -- continues to publish, in the guise of dance criticism, the ignorant, vindictive, spiteful and above all cynical ravings of Gia Kourlas. But that doesn't mean we have to be silent while the newspaper once considered the paragon of American journalism continues to shamelessly desecrate dance, criticism, and its own storied heritage.

"Reviewing" Israel Galvan in the paper's June 19 editions, Kourlas wrote: "Known as an avant-garde force in Spain, Mr. Galvan is postmodern by typical flamenco standards. In his new work, 'Solo' ..., he strips flamenco of its histrionic showbiz status. The stage isn't amplified with microphones; even his simple costume, black pants and an untucked shirt, defies the usual gaudiness."

Never mind that Kourlas totally misapprehends the intentions of the artist in question. (See Anna Arias Rubio's Flash in today's DI for a more accurate assessment.) Flamenco, an art which in its rigor and traditional firmament rivals classical ballet, is reduced to "gaudiness." And a distinguished heritage that includes Carmen Amaya, Jose Greco and his daughter Lola Greco (not strictly a Flamenco artist, but a past master of its tools), Farruco & family, Antonio Gades, Eva Yerbabuena, Carmen Linares, and more is degraded to purveyors of "histrionic showbiz" by the New York Times, which thus degrades itself in the process by parading its cultural ignorance and critical ineptitude for all the world to see.

As we all know by now, Kourlas does not confine her ignorant disrespect to entire art forms; what fun would that be? What she truly relishes is personal attacks which have no relation to legitimate, informed, and qualified criticism. In April, reviewing the group program "E-Moves," the target of her locker-room dagger was Flamenco artist Nelida Tirado who, Kourlas said, "seemed to have trouble remembering that she was sharing a program. As sharp as her footwork was, Ms. Tirado tested the patience of the hilariously vocal audience with a false ending or two in '37 anos.' One man, practically pleading, said, 'Work it out, work it out.'" Set aside that she seems to be the only person on the planet who doesn't know that in audience lingo "work it out" is the English translation of "Olé!," Gia Kourlas -- and by implication the once august journal that employs her -- seems to have trouble remembering, if indeed she ever knew, that jealous sniping is not criticism, but its inverse because it trades not in high art but base envies.

And where exactly is Alastair Macaulay, the Times's chief dance critic, in all this?

Does the title "chief dance critic" just mean you get to review the performances of your choice, or does it mean, in the absence of informed editorial supervision elsewhere -- surely the case here -- you take some responsibility for the quality (not the opinions, but the quality) of all the dance reviews in the journal? I appreciate that Macaulay is a positive person who does not like to go negative on others, but he's also someone who has high expectations for dance and takes pride in the metier of critic; does he not see that both, as well as the paper he's apparently proud to write for, are being sullied by the incompetence and venality of Gia Kourlas?


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