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Flash Response, 8-2: Critics Cornered, 6
A letter from Allyson Green,
This is a delayed response, as I read your Flash Dialogue on the morning
of my opening night at the International Arts and Ideas Festival in New
Haven. While you are correct to write that I am a seasoned choreographer
"who will not be crushed" by a bad review, I was disturbed to read through
your exchange as it unfolded. A flat out negative review would have been simpler to digest....
Given several days distance I will try to fashion a response, as you both
bring up points to which I would like to respond.
I would like to offer some additional context for your readers that you
did not provide. I am 45, worked in New York from 1986 to 2001 and now reside in San Diego. I have made over 50 works, usually to scores composed by new music
composers such as Mio Morales, Guy Yarden, Alan Stones, and Paul Dresher....(T)he dance "Full Circle" had been originally commissioned by the La Jolla Music
Society for SummerFest in August 2005. (SummerFest is a noted classical
music festival with musicians like Yo-Yo Ma and Andre Watts, and which had
not included dance in their festival programming prior to this commission.)
The director of the festival wanted to support local contemporary dance by
presenting it to traditional classical music audience members. As an artist
I felt it was my responsibility and unique opportunity to engage that
audience in order to expand the often limited, insular world of downtown
dancers who are all too often only performing to each other. I was not
accustomed to working with live classical music, but I accepted the
commission to choreograph to this particular Beethoven piece (I did not
choose it), and I tried to establish my artistic voice around such a strong
canon. Once engaged, I found this to be an interesting challenge and came to
love the music, and certainly the opportunity to work with live musicians
was a thrill.
I created the work with 18 women mixed in age (24-65) and ethnicity
(Caucasian, African-American, Asian, Hispanic). I deliberately worked with a
more classical movement vocabulary in the adagio movement, given the range
of ages of the performers, diversity of styles, and the historical context
of the composer, this music and this festival. The gestures in the adagio
that Maura found cliché were based upon my personal experiences of grief
after the loss of a child, and photographs from women in war-torn countries.
I incorporated contact improvisation-based partnering, individual
improvisational movement choices, and sliding, falling interaction in the
more complicated allegro section....
In answer to "why we need press," on the same program that August, I
presented an improvisational dance (that would probably have been of more
interest to Maura), to a raucous Xenakis percussion score. I did this to
inject new music into the usual all-classical fare. The evening succeeded
in bringing a sold-out audience diverse in age, race, and cultural
experience, and it convinced the organization to present more dance in the
future -- which was my goal. The pre-press and... review asking for
more like this played a pivotal role not only in gaining an audience, (but in) influencing decisions for future events. (I am now creating a work
to a Tan Dun score for this year's festival, something more in keeping with
my usual aesthetic.) I am grateful that the critics who traditionally cover
classical music fare were not prejudiced to pass on writing a preview of
something that was not in their usual purview.
The success of the evening (and strong press) also resulted in the
commissioning of "Full Circle" for the A&I festival in New Haven, where it
was performed two weeks after my Danspace Project season.... I used the opportunity of this commission to show the dance in New York, and to bring together dear friends who had performed with me over the years -- a celebration of a
15-year professional history of making dance. The joy expressed in the
dance then was genuine, felt by all of the dancers, delighted to dance
together again.... I imagined it might not be received well by the usual downtown
crowd; however, many viewers actually responded that it was refreshing to
attend, and indicated that they have missed seeing full dancing given the
current trends. Personally, I am weary of a dark view, where I stewed in
many a dance.... The grief that I have experienced is real, as well as
the joy, and I no longer feel intimidated by what is hip to show both
aspects in my work....
I had five days in New Haven to create the same work on a cast of 12
dancers that included the Mexican Lopez sisters, four of the New York
dancers and six dancers from New Haven ranging in age from 14 to 60. The
point of the dance each time was to create a greater community (than the
usual 25-35 year-olds seen onstage) through the process of a residency.
While Maura finds the movement a satirical cliché, as a director I cannot
responsibly have a 60-year-old woman banging on the ground in a risky
downtown floor phrase, and so I arrived at a vocabulary which was more
universal, while still conveying my artistic voice.... I would not alter my decision that the process of involving over 70 women in four residencies was important and profound to me, and so I utilized movement not so idiosyncratic in nature (in the adagio only) as to create a successful ensemble.
I can report in response to Maura's comments that the New Haven festival
also presented a number of African-American musicians, actors, playwrights
and photographers who are refugees from New Orleans due to the effects of
hurricane Katrina. A community very different than my own that is
experiencing a profound loss. My residency project that maybe had nothing to
do with "the women" that Maura hangs out with elicited a torrent of
grateful responses. And I would have welcomed her, as well as her mother's
writing group in either the project or the audience. All of the women
involved in the four versions gave me responses that were unusually stronger
than most of the dances I have created....
Ultimately I would expect and hope for a reviewer to consider the aesthetic
context of a choreographer's vision..., whether or not that is their own, in order to evaluate it in those terms. I ask my students to consider *all* dances with an open mind -- to not watch Deborah Hay, interested in process and community ritual, with the same expectation as an Alvin Ailey work, exemplifying virtuosity, or a Balanchine
dance investigating deep musicality. Maura writes that the editor should
consider whom they send to review a show. Perhaps that might be helpful,
though I would desire... reviewers to be more open to crossing all
aesthetic disciplines. Hers is a personal observation; I find a mixed
perspective a better reflection of a national audience. Your readers are not
just downtown NYC dancers....
I would have been more interested to read a critique of my duet with Monica
Bill Barnes, "Abandon," which was set to a (non-classical) sound score by
Alan Stones, with video of light installations in the Sonoran desert by
Peter Terezakis. Maura... says nothing of the work "Nada Que
Declarar," created for Carolyn Hall and Lux Boreal, a young company from
Tijuana brought to the U.S. for the first time. 'Nada' reflects *my* world of
living at the border after years of traveling in Eastern Europe when a wall
came down, and now watching with dismay as a new wall goes up in my home
city. (So that was a point of view). I guess Maura was predisposed to be
frustrated as well by this dance because it was performed to a Bach cello
suite (again a musical choice not my own which was specifically commissioned
by the New Haven festival, to work with the excellent cellist Felix Fan).
She does not write anything to which I can respond....
I love full-bodied technical dancing, and so will make no apologies
for that, as it will always be the underpinning of my dances.... I envy my predecessors in the field like Trisha Brown, who had copious process time in inexpensive studios to develop a unique personal movement vocabulary. My generation in America has not had the financial support to develop in the same way. I am not sure I have the singular talent for inventing a new movement vocabulary, but I believe my dances display a viewpoint. My skill and interest lays more in the larger stage picture, site specific works, complex moving of groups, gathering of
community, seeking collaborative voices, and in intimate duet partnering....
Of most concern to me is that Maura concludes with "why do we need record of
approval? Or even better, why do we need record of understanding? Who is
being served by public commentary?"
Allyson Green the choreographer responded above. Allyson Green the dance
professor, who is trying to encourage students to become writers..., and Allyson Green the director who was presenting contemporary dance and keeping one of the few alternative theaters in Southern California open, reads with a sigh such a (comment) and responds below.
I am so thankful to have the opportunity to read old reviews by writers like
Edwin Denby, to give me a window into a dance world before my time, or to
read all current reviewers to keep abreast of my peers. (I greatly miss Burt
Supree.) I am thankful for this body of discussion to share with my
students, to encourage them to develop critical thinking. We need more
critical commentary for dance to be evaluated in relation to the times, as
well as to be considered relevant with other fields of art. What record will
there be of our field if reviewers like Maura are too impatient with dance
outside her experience or "taste" to review? Part of what we need in order
for dance to thrive in this country is to maintain a dynamic, responsible
dialogue of criticism. We need a public commentary for dance to continue to
expand, and we need this dialogue across the country for people who are *not*
just living in New York City, where the weekly conversation Maura finds
tiring continues. We need reviews, yes Maura, to get bookings, as yes,
presenters do read them to make decisions. Fact of life: Presenters cannot
attend everything or begin to have the hours to watch the hundreds of
videotapes that pour in.
And "who tours anymore?" Many still do; this concert of mine that Maura did
not review was "on tour" in New York and New Haven and I head next to Riga,
Latvia.... Press quotes are on every brochure, flyer, poster, and
program, and they do in fact build (or caution) an audience.
Furthermore, choreographers need reviews to get jobs in universities, (as they)
are read by hiring panels that often know nothing of dance and who do not
watch videotapes. Those of us who are lucky enough to have jobs at
universities (of which there are many as my generation leaves New York) *must*
be reviewed to advance to tenure, and then head up the ladder. It is the
equivalent of publishing. Your reviews are read by panelists at
universities, by members that usually have little knowledge of the dance
field, whatsoever. Without a review, my concert is not considered by the
university to have happened at all and I will not be promoted....
(Y)our words help to educate those panels, students, presenters, and audiences; I have no doubt that Edwin Denby's writing played a pivotal role in the development of an audience for choreographers like then-newcomers Balanchine or Martha Graham. We need reviews to get grants and support from foundations, to establish our professionalism. We need reviews to mark in some small way the painfully brief weekend of a performance that took months, and untold sweat, tears, and dollars, to
prepare. Can it be that Maura doesn't look for a review of her own
concerts? I doubt that....
Okay, I have now written many more words than you and Maura, and it is way
more than enough. My particular concert is not worth this time and
discussion to me, but the greater topic is. I am back in San Diego, and it
is time to wash out 30 costumes and pay the bills.
I will move on to my next dance, and I hope Maura will find more patience
and keep writing, and certainly choreographing and touring, and that you
will keep publishing, and that we all will keep dance in the United States
(not just New York) flourishing.
This letter has been edited.