to you by
New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women
and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a
list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always performance at its best.
More Flash Reviews
Review Journal, 10-14: Critics Cornered, 1
Here's a work I don't 'like.' Which doesn't mean it's bad.
Copyright 2005 Chris Dohse
NEW YORK -- I understand
that there has been a debate on these pages recently about whether
the quality of New York dance is declining.*
I'd like to toss out
some thoughts about what I see as the rotten state of dance criticism
among the mainstream publications in the city. Is it edifying to
wonder which came first -- the "bad" dance or the stale, moronic
writing about same? Perhaps if the dozen or so minds who hold positions
of power in the field, few of whom have ever made a dance or performed
in one, could rise above their biases and narrow misconceptions
and their narcissistic need for validation, we could stop mourning
some past golden age.
I've perpetrated plenty
of arrogant blab myself. (Search the archives of this site.) I do so love the sound of my
own voice. And every member of our community, no matter what their
taste or status, complains that they dislike 60% or more of the
work they see week after week. But at this point in my life, I don't
think the role of the critical community is to bite the hand that
feeds it. Dance writers shouldn't be barnacles clinging to a sinking
ship or fat ticks sucking the life out of a dying carcass. We also
shouldn't be blind enthusiasts or cheerleaders. But I'd argue that
a sane POV is one of general support for the medium and an intelligent
respect for those insane enough to suffer a life creating it.
Yes, our role is to
judge and evaluate, categorize and compare, but also to witness,
to recognize. Not to gush and blow hot air up the fannies of certain
cliques or to spot the next fad or declare a handful of personalities
the brightest minds of our time simply because they fit neatly into
some lineage of the canon.
In fact, throwing the
canon out the window might be a healthy place to start so that we
could actually see the dances that we see. In Molly Davies's recent
video installation at the Asia Society, a Japanese choreographer
whose name I've forgotten called his work "post-historical." He
didn't care if he was doing something that had been done before;
he was following his own intuition and instincts. I like that term
and hereby adopt it. (Somebody shoot me if I ever use the term "post-Judson"
In the dominant/mainstream
press, where I assume most dance audiences go for information about
the scene, I primarily see reviews written from a position of self-congratulatory
nostalgia, long-timers patting themselves on the back for having
discovered the talent 20 years ago about whom they're now cementing
a hagiography without seeming to evaluate the current work for its
authentic merits (or failures). These people often complain that
they're not seeing the next Tharp, the next Taylor, the next Morris
(and what do they mean by that anyway?).
And we now seem to be
enduring an immature, uninformed assault from certain writers who
only seem to evaluate the most superficial veneer of the dances
and dancers they're watching. These writers judge dancers' ability
to point their feet, or the size of their waistlines, or their "prettiness"
(based on whose model?). This isn't criticism; it's scorn.
Where are the writers
who enter a work's interior logic, appreciating its essential qualities
and respecting its creator's intentions and intelligence? These
thinkers could herald a new age.
Time to put my money
where my mouth is: Richard Daniels and his show at Danspace Project
at St. Mark's Church (seen September 29). Here's a work that I don't
"like." But that's clearly because of my biases and preconceptions,
not because the work is "bad." Watching the two pieces on the program
becomes a struggle for me, as I'm faced with style choices and tropes
outside my tastes.
I chose this assignment,
knowing that the movement vocabulary wasn't my "beat," but feeling
that certain life circumstances I share with Daniels (living with
HIV) would enrich my experience of his work. I don't know him but
friends of mine do. (This is the small pond of NYC dance after all.)
I'm curious about the way Daniels claims in his press that "the
experience of living with HIV disease led to a rebirth" and "propelled
(him) to reconnect with dance as an instrument of his healing."
This sounds to me like something worth doing. The voices of long-term
survivors seem to be swept under the rug today, even among the POZ
brother- and sisterhood.
I trust Daniels's intentions;
I recognize them. He dances with confidence, a mature performer
in solidly crafted work. The dancers believe in the material and
perform it well. The choreography allows each dancer to emerge as
a separate character and seems to showcase his or her unique energies.
But modern dance performed
to piano, played live or recorded, makes me want to stick pins in
my ears. A grand piano onstage calls forth one of the many chips
on my shoulder, evoking upper class privilege or highbrow fussiness.
This inner bias threatens to shut me down before the dance even
The movement invention
is what I like to call uptown modern, something that often looks
like ballet in bare feet. The vocabulary seems to value extended
line, buoyancy, "correct" execution of position and steps. I'd rather
see bodies in repose or silence or floor-bound abjection; these
are my tropes. Not bodies who fill the stage with doingness. I see
a similar tensile quality to the styles of Zvi Gotheiner and Lar
The first half of the
program, "Telling Tales," is a suite of two duets and two solos.
The duets are choreographed by Scott Rink and Dusan Tynek, the solos
by Daniels, who performs them. (Tynek and Regina Larkin join him
for the duets.) Pianist Nurit Tilles accompanies all on that damn
grand piano that swallows too much of the space. Daniels performs
his solo material with strength and ease. A narrative quality sometimes
unravels the shapes of his dancing into pantomime but this emphasizes
his storytelling intention. He could be a Petruchka, left alone
in his master's solitary cell. His is a dignified presence of someone
who has weathered the dark.
Perhaps an anthropology
of the audience would help me parse the dance's appeal? If it's
not my cup of tea, then the people here must be here because it
is theirs. I don't see anyone I recognize from the downtown dance
crowd; I see few dancers. At intermission, I don't hear anyone talking
about the work, either with praise or disdain. Rather I hear two
suburban couples discuss the trouble they've been having with their
housekeepers and nannies (uh-oh, there's my class bias again).
For "Apollo & the Muses"
the piano has been moved to an upstage corner. This quintet is choreographed
by Daniels, who doesn't perform in it, to Stravinsky's score. Tynek
and Keith Sabado share the role of Apollo, the older man shadowed
by his youthful self. Sabado fills his performance with gravitas;
I can see a thinking presence and experience that initiates his
dancing. Larkin, Megan Williams and Emmanuele Phuon play the first
three muses. (Tynek morphs into the fourth.) The architectural detail
of St. Mark's Church is a perfect fit for this classical imagery
as each character comes forward to contribute his or her part of
What Daniels seems to
have done in these two works is to create a sort of ornament that
marks his place in the world. It has the elegant, timeless quality
of a snow globe. He tells his story with clarity and courage. If
I am to live up to my own standard of entering the present-time
truth of the material, how can I be so arrogant as to say I don't
"like" it? Its signifiers simply aren't mine. He succeeds in his
goal; I just don't get it.
Over the past few years,
my disenchantment with being a dance writer in New York has twisted
my knickers so severely, perhaps I've become unhinged. I stopped
writing completely for an entire season (2003-2004), during which
I didn't evensee a dance concert. If resisting something reifies
the existence of that which is resisted, complaining about the state
of things won't improve the situation. We need new possibilities.
For my own writing, I'm hoping to create a new model entirely, looking
at the long haul, off the grid, under the radar, even though this
form is the radar. I'd be sad to see the dominant voices of today's
New York dance critical community write the history of this generation
of New York dance. If this happens, the truth will not be told.
*Editor's Note: For some of the previous discussion, see Paul
Ben-Itzak's recent Buzz column, these letters from Andrew Simonet and Samir Bitar, and this article by Robin Staff, Tamara Greenfield & Andrea Sholler.
More Flash Reviews