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Flash Response, 6-27: Critics Cornered, 6
Artist to Audience to Critic to Reader

By Andrew Simonet
Copyright 2006 Andrew Simonet

Here's my response to Maura Nguyen Donohue's final missive in her recent Flash Dialogue with Paul Ben-Itzak, in which she writes "We are not objective observers. It is simply opinion we are presenting."

I was struck in the Tere O'Connor brouhaha that the critics felt he was trying to control what they write. Not at all. Artist to audience to critic to reader is a series of conversations. Tere wants to shift the conversation. He wants new language, new goals, new base assumptions, new rhythms. But most off us critics have a conversation (or two) that we are firmly planted in. We can be scared or even incapable of learning new points of reference. And the critics who claim they want neutrality are disingenuous. No one enters a dance performance neutrally, least of all a paid professional critic. The best critics (in any form) are flexible and can sense shifts in the artistic conversation when they come along. Still, it's telling that most of the critics we still read we read for one period, one conversation. It's hard even to begin discussing Tere's work when your syntax is Bill T. Jones (let alone Martha).

There are many dances that are simply inarticulate (including dances that I make). It's a fact of artistic existence. They add nothing to the conversation. They fail to speak. So then the critic is trying to have a conversation with a dance that refuses to say anything. It's awkward, uncomfortable, and when it happens over and over, infuriating. It's a great insight to write, as Maura does eloquently, about that moment. And we should certainly indict dance that is trite, reassuring, imitative. That is, you don't need to be a fan of the choreographer's aesthetic to write usefully about her. Just join the conversation. And if the dance isn't speaking, say that plainly. It doesn't sound to me (though I haven't seen the piece) that Maura is missing the aesthetic, lost in the conversation. She sounds pissed about landing in a conversation she thinks is shallow and repetitive. She's sick of it. And that's a great voice to have in the conversation.

 

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