SYTYCD, Desmond Richardson, Claudia LaRocco & Dance Criticism, and Blasted TAC Headaches!

Obviously this is a lot for one post :)

First, my HuffPost on this week’s SYTYCD episode is now up. I’m still so excited Richardson was on this week’s show (I hope that picture I posted wasn’t too corny! — it’s the only one I have of him and I just felt like it was ‘real’ you know…) Anyway, I love Nigel Lythgoe for doing this, for working so hard to expand that show, bringing on all these renowned performers and choreographers, showcasing world dance. The group Bollywood number was fabulous. It’s so cool that TV audiences are getting to see the things people who live in the large cities take for granted and huge kudos to Nigel for that.

Second, I’ve had a head pain episode (I refuse to call them ‘headaches’ because those are the things people get that are alleviated with one Advil and a glass of water) since last Saturday, which is the longest one of these has ever lasted. My biggest problem, besides the pain, is that I was diagnosed with both common migraines and Trigeminal Autonomic Cephalgia, which is a rare neurological condition (although, judging by my blog stats, is becoming less rare) which I don’t entirely understand, but which causes severe, knife-stabbing-like pains to one side of the head, combined with numbness and sinus-like symptoms (loss of hearing, swollen, watery eye which I enjoy calling ‘golf ball eye’ because that’s how wonderful it looks, clogged nostril, and sinus-like pressure) to the same side of the face with the stabs. With a migraine it’s more like there’s a pounding or a throbbing or a pulsing than a stabbing, they don’t last as long, and there’s some sinus-like pressure but without the intense symptoms (no golf-ball eye or excessive tearing, no real hearing loss). Sometimes the migraine ‘just’ remains a migraine — I say ‘just’ because it’s obviously still painful in itself but at least it usually responds, for the most part, to my migraine medication. But sometimes the pounding is not really a migraine but the beginning of the TAC stabbing. Maybe a migraine can even turn into a TAC… I never know what medication to take (since I have different meds for each type, it’s dangerous to take more than one within a certain period and taking the proper one can make all the difference). I have a neurologist but there is so little known about this condition, he doesn’t have a lot of answers. And there’s nothing on the internet written for a lay audience, which is beyond frustrating. I’d start an internet support group if I had the time… Anyway, all that is by way of explaining why I haven’t been writing much lately…

Third, I was very excited to receive a comment on an earlier post from none other than Claudia LaRocco, poet and dance critic for The New York Times! Apropos of her recent post about dance criticism on her newish blog, The Culturist, and a conversation she’d had with another writer, she had asked what I thought the role of judgment was in criticism, whether it was inherent to the form. I’m still thinking about it, but thought I’d put the question up in case others have thoughts too. I think there has to be some judgment in the analysis. I think criticism that is poetically written is a joy to read on its own (Laura Jacobs writes like that as well as Claudia), and I do think criticism is an art form in and of itself. But I’m finding by reading Edwin Denby and some earlier dance writers that I still think there has to be some judgment about the dance, that speaks in way to where the dance and dancers stand in the canon of Dance and of performers past and present. You feel a sense of history and continuity of an art form when you read about it that way. And the critic can’t do that unless s/he says this is not that good because of such and such, this was really worthwhile because of this and that, etc. I know a lot of dance enthusiasts think negative reviews are responsible for decreasing audiences (someone posed that question to chief NYTimes critic Alastair Macaulay when he spoke at Barnard a while ago) but I disagree with that unless the critic really sarcastically blasts all of dance or something. And I still think every critic everywhere would have to be doing that all the time in order for it to have an effect. Arlene Croce said it’s the critic’s job in a democracy to be critical. People get upset when their favorite dancer or choreographer is criticized, but hopefully then there are enough voices around for a real debate — although with arts criticism this is unfortunately not often the case. I’m probably getting way off the point (my headache is still lingering!), but just wondered if others had any thoughts. You should also definitely read her post on the Culturist here where she talks about a workshop she recently led where she asked for different kinds of responses to a dance performance, and received some very interesting ones, like a poem written by a Colombian critic in response to a Maguy Marin piece (the video of which she embedded). I definitely think there is a place for some criticism like this — I agree with the commenter that the poem did make me see things I hadn’t before, but I think there needs to be more of what I mentioned above as well — with some judgment and analysis. Any thoughts?

4 Comments

  1. I’m so sorry you’ve been waylaid by pain this week. I live with my own chronic pain condition, and the hardest thing sometimes is the unpredictability. My hope is that more research and sharing experiences will give us all more resources to cope.
    Thanks for your lovely recap–I’m commenting here instead of over at HuffPo because I’m too lazy to sign up and log in.

    I truly appreciate your informed perspective on each dancer, especially since you are so generous in recognizing how insanely hard it is just to do the basics of ballroom right. I also thought Gev shone in the jive in ways that show his enormous potential. Same with the two-step; it’s so unfortunate that two people with almost no lead-follow experience were not given more room to play to the audience.
    I was underwhelmed by Tyce’s choreo, especially the piece for Mark and Kherington. The end was : walk walk walk lie down? what excitement!
    I can’t decide if Mark or Josh is my favorite guy, but I guess I don’t have to; I’ll just appreciate them both.
    I’ve thought about the idea of reviewing and critique, as someone who works in that area but not for a wide audience (ie: as an academic!). It seems to me that the critic provides basic description and analysis (what happened and how) but also the opportunity for education (how does this relate to the bigger picture?), expressions of taste, and critique (which does not have to be sneering or dismissive). A reviewer may decide not to privilege judgment, but it is inevitable to some extent: some people simply won’t review something they don’t like in order not to say anything negative, but then how will the general public learn if those who have access and expertise are stingy with their views?
    The best dance critics (or cultural critics of any kind) give me enough information so that I can also evaluate their position.

    Rather long-winded, but I think that with dance critics losing their newspaper jobs, along with film, food, and other arts critics, we the readers will be impoverished if this work does not reappear in venues like this.

  2. I’m glad you’re feeling better now. The head pain sounds absolutely awful. :(

    When we talk about criticism, I do think that judgment is inherent to the form. I think if there’s no judgment in the writing than it’s not–by definition–criticism. And the kind of criticism I most enjoy reading contains clear, well-reasoned judgments from which I can learn. That’s not to say that there can’t be enjoyable, valuable writing about a subject, particularly the arts, that isn’t criticism. Even then, though, I think it’s quite difficult, if not impossible, to strip writing of any judgment. The viewpoint of the writer inevitably comes out, if only in subtle ways, in the words the writer chooses, the decisions the writer makes about what to say and what to leave unsaid, etc. The viewpoint of the writer can certainly be more ambiguous, harder or even impossible to decipher depending on the way they write about a subject. But what a person thought and felt about something they saw (or heard or read) is inevitably going to influence the way they write about it and I do think that involves a kind of judgment.

  3. Thanks so much for your thoughts, you guys. Glad to see I’m not alone in my thinking! I agree Meg, I think there can be two kinds of writing about the arts; I think we need both. I enjoy criticism with well-reasoned judgments that teaches me something too. I wish there were more like that though, especially with dance crit. Like with A. Macaulay, for example: sometimes I learn from him, sometimes a great deal, and sometimes I can’t figure out what he’s saying; whereas with some of my favorite film writers, like Anthony Lane, I always understand his viewpoint (even if I don’t always agree with it), he often makes me laugh, and oftentimes I even learn a bit about film history and other arts from him.

    Joanna, thank you for the nice compliment! I’m so thrilled people like my blog. But it does really unnerve me how papers and magazines are cutting back on their critics. I don’t know what the future holds for criticism. I don’t think it can be left up to bloggers to cover the arts — there are too many things going on and too few bloggers to cover it all; and then everyone’s covering the same things. It’s not organized at all; and how could it be with everyone blogging on their own. And there are other problems… but that’s for another day!

    Oh and I’m glad I’m not the only one who saw potential in Gev– I thought he was really quite good, far better than the judges made him out to be. At least he’ll be on tour.

  4. Sorry about your head pain Tonya!

    About criticism…I agree that the field inherently includes judgement in some form, but I think it’s important to back up such statements (overtly good or bad) with reasons…evidence for your argument. I become annoyed when I read a strong comment in a review and it just stops at that instead of explaining why the critic felt the way they did.

    However I think the problem here is that in arts criticism today there just isn’t the print space to have that luxury of explanation.
    Maybe that’s where bloggers fit in, with endless time and space online (though will anyone bother to read lengthy details?)

    I sometimes find it harder to defend a positive judgement rather than a negative one. If a piece didn’t work for me I can usually pinpoint what about it I didn’t like, but when a dance works it’s more difficult to “judge” it as good. This seems to be when I rely more on description rather than a judgement call in my writing.

    Just some thoughts :)

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