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Critiquing 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 quotes:

"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!"

My reply:

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 here.



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