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The Buzz, 9-30: Tere on a Tear
Dear Mr. O'Connor: Put up or Shut up

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2005 The Dance Insider

Poor Tere O'Connor. He doesn't want to be liked; he wants to be understood. Not enough for this choreographer-verbeographer that, with the best equipment available to her -- all any of us in the critical field can offer -- Joan Acocella attempted, in an August New Yorker column, to do justice to the work of O'Connor and three other artists, as seen in recent concerts, using her considerable descriptive powers to colorfully cram into the limited space her editors gave her as many vivid details from the choreographers' creations as she could, framing each work and the ensemble in a larger theme so that she could give her (general) readers a story with an arc and not just a regurgitation of four evenings of dance with accompanying thumbs up and thumbs down that only dance insiders would care to read. Tere has to throw a public tantrum because he didn't get his own review but had to share Joan's column with three other artists, and because for Tere, it's not enough that a reviewer come to his concert and then sit down afterwards to try to translate it to a larger audience; she has to reach out to him for supplementary information on his concept if he failed to make it clear in the work at hand.

Here's some of what Joan had to say about O'Connor's "Frozen Mommy," after sharing some of the juicy details of the work: "Emotion is thus taken seriously, and also undercut, with great psychological accuracy. At the end, the dancers stand stock still, with their hands on their hips, for about three unbearable minutes. 'Enough of these histrionics!' they seem to say. Then one of them falls to the floor, sobbing, and the lights go out. Is your heart broken? No, but it is shaken. You saw Mommy, and she was frozen."

Efficiency in selection of details, followed by pure poetry in summing up how the work hit her. Sounds like a rave to me -- but not to Tere, who whines, in a letter to the New Yorker which he's been circulating to the dance community, "Through her lack of understanding and her inability to reach out and get information from artists, (Acocella) joins a group of critics whom I will call 'the literalists.' These critics do not know how to read dances created outside the restricted confines of the narrative or musical frameworks from past centuries. What's more, they don't do the work of finding out what is actually going on in the minds of artists or what are the contexts in which these works are created." (Emphasis added.) (O'Connor's uber-complaint is that Acocella groups him and the three other artists she reviews into a modern dance trend she thumbnails as 'Downtown surrealism.')

I see. So Tere, it's not enough that a critic know how to sell an article on your perhaps obtuse-seeming (to the general public) dance to an editor who likely doesn't care about dance, doesn't know dance or, just as likely, doesn't like it; that she do the Herculean work of fitting as many concerts as possible into very compressed space not because she wants to reduce you all to one common mien, but because she wants to SPREAD THE WORD about your movement; and that she is likely doing so for very little remuneration, no matter how talented she is and for how long she's been at her craft. No, she also has to seek you out and have you tell her your preferred context, the one you seem to have failed to get across on stage to a seasoned dance critic who, if you read her with any regularity, you would know is not stuck in the Romantic and Classical ballet eras, as your letter contends, but devoted to doing her best as one reporter on the biggest dance beat in the world. No Tere, you are pissed and pissy and pissing on the critic, and all her supposed ilk, because she doesn't describe you and appreciate you as you would describe and as you appreciate yourself.

But Mr. O'Connor does not stop at his catty and unfounded reductions of my respected colleague. (Okay for him to reduce her to cliches of the corseted balletomane; not okay for her to reduce him into being a surrealist.) No, in a snippy forward to his letter to the New Yorker which accompanies the copy he's circulating to the community, he states (who's being pompous now?), "I hope it will spark some discussion about the unfortunate state of dance writing."

MR. O'CONNOR. I've had it with people like you taking out your frustrations by pissing on MY community, without which there would be no record in the public ledger of YOUR community. We are not the enemy! I've tried in the past to avoid adducing the writers of this publication when this criticism of criticism has come up, because it might seem self-serving, but simple pride and outrage prevent me from doing so any longer. (My fingers are even shaking on the keyboard.) For more than seven years now, the Dance Insider has been introducing a new generation of dancer-critics to the field of dance writing, as well as showcasing some of the brightest veteran critics -- most of them dance artists themselves. Until this month, except for an occasional stipend these dancer-critics have worked FOR FREE, providing expert, authoritative reviews (including of your company), all of which YOU and anyone else have been able to read FOR FREE. (If not the only, we are the largest dance-only publication to offer this.) Not because they don't value their work but because rather than just bemoan the sorry state of the field, they decided to do something about it. Instead of just griping about dance criticism and journalism, they, along with the dancer webmistress of this publication, decided to grow it.

Tere, as self-satisfying as it may feel to apply your considerable wit to dissing a critic who doesn't understand you as you'd like to be understood, wouldn't it be more productive to apply your literary talent -- and authority -- to making your own dance criticism? To paraphrase Scoop Nisker: If you don't like the reviews, go out and make some of your own. We'll publish 'em.



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