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the Critics I, 6-9
'We didn't deserve the vitriol'
By Terry Dean Bartlett
Copyright 2006 Terry Dean Bartlett
(Editor's Note: The
Dance Insider recently asked readers to critique the critics. Today
we present some responses. Here is one.)
I am writing to share
with you the review from Ms. Jennifer Dunning, in the New York Times,
of the recent DANCEOFF! production Katie Workum and I presented
at PS 122 back in March. Now, before complaining about a bad review,
I admit freely that this installment may not have been one of our
strongest, being paced a little poorly, and, regretfully, almost
all of the artists involved took our "7-minute max" stipulation
to mean 10 - 12 minutes, which I believe to be too long when the
entire program has eight pieces on it. It is the difference between
an hour show or an hour and a half show. Regardless, the snippy
tone with which Ms. Dunning discussed the show was so unprofessional,
as if she had an axe to grind with someone (we're not sure who)
-- either her editor, who had given a glowing review to a show at
PS 122 earlier in the week, or the countless reviewers in our press
packs that had given us glowing reviews to our past installments
of DANCEOFF! Who knows?
Here are some of the
"Bless Cynthia Hopkins,
who almost single-handedly saved the DANCEOFF! showcase on Tuesday
night from being a witless, exasperating waste of time...."
"Jonah Bokaer, a young
Merce Cunningham dancer and promising choreographer, was probably
the evening's lure. But he was not well served by his bloodless
"(underscore)," which unfolded on a stage littered with mannequins
implanted with digital clocks and featured a grab bag of gimmicks
that never quite came together as a whole..."
"Will Rawls has an engaging
stage presence ... with ... natural warmth. But he might think twice
about hanging out with this crew, who seem to misunderstand the
notion that less is more and settled for triviality -- and inept
attempts at irony -- rather than distillation.
"....for the most part,
the participants...suffered from a terminal case of the cutes."
"The program did serve
as a warning of sorts, advertising as it did several coming shows
that ought by all means to me missed, to judge by DANCEOFF!"
DANCEOFF! is not and
has never advertised itself as being "Joyce Theater" or "BAM" style
-- finished, polished evening-length productions -- but a place
for emerging artists to experiment and show new work in the same
vein as Fresh Tracks, Waxworks, Catch, Food for Thought, etcetera.
How does Ms. Dunning go about reviewing these other showcases, I
wonder? And I wonder where she thinks those "finished, polished
works" come from? A great many of our past DANCEOFF! contributors
have taken their experimental works, that they premiered in one
of our DANCEOFF! productions, and expanded them into very well received
finished works, using the info and feedback that they received after
showing their works with us. And many people like the risk-taking
that goes on there, because it is allowed, and go to see these experiments
because of that.
It also appears, from
the complete review, that Ms. Dunning seemed to enjoy the works
of Ms. Hopkins & Mr. Rawls as well as works not mentioned in the
quotes above, by Palissimo (Pavel Zustiak), and a dance film by
Shanti Crawford danced in by Nate Schenkkan. By my count, that is
four of the eight artists on the bill. Now, from my experience,
at group shows of "emerging" modern dance, audiences are usually
lucky to find ONE, let alone four pieces that they like, and yet
Ms. Dunning decides that despite a 50% success ratio for the artists
involved, this is a show that should be avoided and the future shows
by the artists involved are to be missed as well.
Our mission at DANCEOFF!
has always been one of audience building for an art form that is
under-appreciated, under-attended, and often quite difficult to
enjoy if you are a newcomer, due to its often abstract nature, among
other things. We try to keep it short and keep the "arty" pieces
interspersed with fun, funny, entertaining ones to keep the angst
to a minimum. I don't know what Ms. Dunning was expecting to see
at DANCEOFF!, but whatever it was I don't think we deserved the
vitriol with which she wrote about us/the artists.
That is my rant.
Find below links to
the complete article from the Times by Ms. Dunning and another review
of the show from Ms. Eva Yaa Asantewaa from the Gay City News, for
a little bit of a more balanced look.
To read Jennifer Dunning's DANCEOFF! review, click
here. To read Eva Yaa Asantewaa's, click