Tonight is the fabulous Dance Times Square escapade to see Pasha et al in the So You Think You Can Dance spectacular. I am really excited about it — have no less than three cameras in my bag just in case of battery outage (though I charged everything anyway — just the neurotic in me) I do hope they let us backstage and to take pics; otherwise expect a copious write-up! Good: I was upset this morning after logging onto some of my regular dance websites, and am now feeling better just writing about tonight Thanks Pasha, and thanks blogging software
What I’m really upset about is how shallow the world of ballet seems to be. At the Fall For Dance festival a few days ago I saw a most profound, moving work performed by African American dance-maker Kyle Abraham. As I wrote earlier, to me the piece used a combination of ballet, modern dance and hip hop to explore racial and gender issues and evoke the struggle to break free of prejudices — both those held by others and sometimes subtly taken on yourself. I’m very upset about the complete dismissal and oversight of Abraham’s work by both the press and the blogosphere. NYTimes chief dance critic Alastair Macaulay says only of the work that it was show-offy and involved too much upper-body “archness.” (Macaulay also criticized Wheeldon’s “After the Rain,” which I liked, but I’m not bothered by that because he actually gave it the time of day and analyzed it a teensy tiny bit; I’m far more disturbed by his complete dismissal of the meaning inherent in Abraham with no real analysis to speak of).
Similarly, Justin Peck of the Winger, a NY City Ballet dancer and Columbia University student wrote a little review of the night, perhaps for his class on dance criticism, and in his review of Abraham, he simply names the different dance forms used, then dismisses the piece as lacking “structure” (without further analysis). Neither reviewer seemed even to notice the racial or gender implications of the work. How anyone could fail to hear the loud gunshots and ambulance / police sirens going off at the beginning of the piece is completely beyond me, but I guess I’m a criminal appeals attorney who’s represented poor minorities for the past several years, so such noises may be more resonant to me. (By the way, a bit off topic but important: I think all attorneys should at some point in their careers represent someone whose life is starkly different from their own — even if it’s just pro bono — it expands your universe exponentially).
Then yesterday on The Winger, smart ABT dancer David Hallberg, posted this video of choreography by Mats Ek, whose work he was moved by at the Fall For Dance performance he saw. I thought it was a beautiful, moving portrait of a woman’s sorrow at losing her husband. Others, however, couldn’t see any sorrow, any story, but only focused on dancer Sylvie Guillem’s beautiful feet. Yes, Guillem has great feet. But is an attractive body part what really draws people to this art form? Is that what ballet is all about? Prettiness? Is it not about meaning, about moving people by telling them a compelling story, about making people think? Is ballet really that unintellectual? I have two advanced degrees. If you don’t at least try to stimulate my brain cells with your so-called art, I’m perfectly happy to return to favorite novelists who actually explore the human condition.
The problem isn’t just ballet fans though. I feel sometimes that those entrusted with stimulating public discourse are not even trying. (Here I’m primarily speaking of critics who write for the NYTimes, which I admit, is the only paper I regularly read due to both time and money constraints). Claudia LaRocco’s review of the final night of FFD read something like this: this whole festival is stupid, so it goes without saying that everything I saw that night was stupid. The first piece, in addition to being stupid was ethnically insulting in its “cliched” use of Indian dance to characterize London business culture (no further analysis as to exactly what it was about that piece — a huge crowd-pleaser that I found very intriguing — was cliched); the second piece (a brief excerpt of Camille A. Brown’s evocation of a woman trying to find herself) was bad because Brown moved too fast; the third piece was worthless because it was just there (no further analysis); the fourth piece comes from a choreographer (Jorma Elo) whose work always sucks; and the last piece was bad because it was “pleasurable only at a kinesthetic level and only at times.”
The critic character in Laura Jacobs’s novel, “Women About Town,” which I’ve quoted from before, views her work as deciphering for the public just what it is that makes a performance work or not, and unlocking and illuminating the hidden meaning of a piece (“there’s always a key,” she says at one point, though I’ve returned the book to the library so may be getting the exact quote wrong). I just don’t see any of that going on in the world of dance.
Tellingly, LaRocco begins her review by asserting that these days there is such a plethora of crap the best a critic can hope for is “competence.” These critics are coming from a place of anger, not of analysis. Countercritic led me to this article bemoaning how bloggers are displacing professional critics, which, the author argues, is tragic given critics’ historic role in leading the audience to understand and appreciate something in which they couldn’t previously find value (ie: Beckett’s “Waiting For Godot”). Okay, I understand that. But can someone please tell me when was the last time a dance critic illuminated a work of cultural value that was dismissed by the general public instead of the other way around?
I can’t even begin to describe what that auditorium sounded like after the presentation of Elo’s work (the ‘always sucky’ choreographer). His “Brake the Eyes” which I wrote about earlier, was so stunning, so brimming over with meaning, the audience was buzzing with discussion after the china doll / puppet ballerina snapped her fingers and the lights flicked off. “Was she controlled by the others or was it the other way around?” “That combination of music was so interesting!” “What was that cool music besides the Mozart, it doesn’t say in the Playbill.” “What was she saying in Russian?” were some of the questions I overheard. People are starved for analysis. Some of these people (especially the young and internet savvy) are going to come home and Google “Jorma Elo” or “Brake the Eyes,” and what are they going to find? Certainly not analysis. How can the public find meaning in concert dance, see it as anything other than the movement of attractive body parts if the writers aren’t trying to lead them the right direction?
Of course I know newspaper writers are under very strict word count limitations, making it impossible for them to delve very fully into their subject. But in the age of the internet, can’t at least the web articles be longer? Also writer Paul Parish has an interesting analysis of the newspaper problem (go to the very bottom of this post — scroll all the way down to where the bold reads “Paul to Tonya et al” and then to the paragraph that starts “I still think…” Foot in Mouth posts tend to be delectably gargantuan!!!). I don’t entirely understand what Paul is saying, but it sounds intriguing!
Anyway, the closer it gets to 4 pm (when the magic DTS bus departs for SYTYCD land), the better I am feeling. Hopefully I should have a good dance night: there won’t be any ballet there, after all