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Flash News, 8-2: TOBIAS TOSSED
New York Magazine Nixes Dance Reviews

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider

NEW YORK -- Declaring it will no longer publish dance reviews, New York Magazine has effectively sacked its dance critic of 22 years, Tobi Tobias, considered by many one of the top two working dance critics writing in the English language.

"I decided not to renew Tobi's contract," Caroline Miller, the magazine's editor in chief, told the Dance Insider Thursday via e-mail. "In these difficult times, every publication in America has had to make painful choices, focusing limited resources on work that best serves its readers." The magazine's owner, Primedia, Inc. (NYSE:PRM) reported revenues for the second quarter of 2002 of $422 million, which the media conglomerate said were "essentially flat" -- meaning it neither gained nor lost earnings over the same period the previous year. In other words, the company is not losing money. "While we have valued Tobi's contribution to the magazine," continued Miller, "we believe that, for the time being, the best way to provide ongoing coverage of dance is in other parts of the magazine" besides its critical columns. No plans were announced to abandon New York's theater, film, music, art, book, or media reviews.

Response to the move from dance community leaders was swift and strong. "This is very very very sad that New York Magazine no longer considers dance worthy of critical commentary," Cora Cahan, president of The New 42nd Street and one of the most powerful presenters in the U.S., told the Dance Insider.

Tobias, who began writing dance criticism in 1970 and joined New York Magazine in 1980, told the DI: "I do understand Caroline's predicament in these troubled economic times. I should point out, though, that the dance coverage she says will continue -- listings, previews, and the occasional feature story -- has always been done in tandem with the criticism. It is not the same as criticism and is no substitute for it. I had hoped that the dance reviews could continue, even if cut back -- instead of being entirely cut out. I wonder, even now, if the position could be reconsidered."

New York Magazine's weekly circulation of 431,000 and her own articulate, passionate, colorful, precise -- and sometimes acid -- language have helped make Tobias one of the U.S.'s most popular, powerful, and respected working dance critics, in an elite circle that also includes Clive Barnes of the New York Post, Jennifer Dunning and Anna Kisselgoff of the New York Times, Marcia Siegel of the Boston Phoenix, and Deborah Jowitt of the Village Voice. Arlene Croce, the former New Yorker critic and the dean of living U.S. dance critics, no longer reviews performances on a regular basis.

Reviewing New York City Ballet's latest 'Diamond Project' ballets in the magazine's July 15 edition, Tobias wrote, in part: "The latest Diamond Project ballets -- there are eight of them -- are much like their predecessors. They tend to fall into one of two categories, like furniture sold in department stores -- Traditional and Modern. The ballets in the latter category claim to tell us about life today. According to their composite report, its features are hostility, rage, bad sex (requiring near-grotesque extremes of physical flexibility), violence, angst, alienation, and anomie." (For more examples of Tobias's dance criticism, including of her response when she is swept away by a performance, please click here.)

Jowitt, who is typically more delicate in her reviews than Tobias, emerged swinging Thursday when news reached her that New York Magazine had cancelled its dance column.

"I was disgusted but not surprised to learn of New York Magazine's cancellation of its dance column," Jowitt, the Voice's senior dance critic, told the Dance Insider. "Over the past few years, the editors have cut down on the number of times Tobi Tobias's reviews appear, and I know she has often had to argue for coverage of a dance event as major as a season by Paul Taylor's company at City Center.

"It is yet another signal of how publications -- swinging wildly to interpret demographics, count web site hits, etc. -- consider dance criticism as irrelevant. This in a city that has been considered the dance capitol of the world!

"How sad, too, that the magazine appears not even to realize that in Tobi Tobias it has one of the most important and articulate dance critics working today. I have been lamenting the shrinkage in her coverage. Now, unless New York Magazine will change its stance, her voice will disappear, and the New York cultural community will be the poorer for it."

To read about steps you can take to protest New York Magazine's decision and to secure the endangered position of dance criticism in New York, please click here.

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