Maybe it’s time for a Town Hall Meeting to discuss the State of Dance Criticism in New York. Rules: 1. Only decaf will be served; 2. No showing off with pirouettes, knee walking, contractions or 183 degree turnout; 3. No splits, no spits; 4. No engaging in confrontational activities such as breastfeeding or man-knitting. [from the back] Keep your government hands off of my Articare!
Maybe it’s time for a Town Hall Meeting to discuss the State of Dance Criticism in New York.
Rules: 1. Only decaf will be served; 2. No showing off with pirouettes, knee walking, contractions or 183 degree turnout; 3. No splits, no spits; 4. No engaging in confrontational activities such as breastfeeding or man-knitting.
[from the back] Keep your government hands off of my Articare!
[the podium] Sir, or is it Ma’am, Articare is already a government-funded and government-run
[from the back] I said "Keep your goddam government hands off of my Articare!"
[the podium] We’ve barely begun the meeting and you’re out of order.
[from the back] I’m out of what? Are you outting me?! How dare you – you intolerant resin-snorting
Okay, okay, so maybe a Town Hall Meeting to discuss the State of Dance Criticism in New York is a little risky. Geeze Louise.
But we need to assess what’s going on in this city this summer, ‘cuz some of it ain’t so pretty – especially the lack of hospitality displayed when visitors from Less-than-liberal-land come to our city to present the art form that we love.
Haglund has been following the Watts blog over on TulsaWorld, because his name showed up in it recently and then again today. It seems that a controversy has erupted over a newspaper critic’s assessment of the Tulsa Ballet’s visit to the Joyce Theater. Someone suggested that we don’t listen to that particular critic anyway and then someone else apologized to the whole City of Tulsa and the Tulsa Ballet dancers for the review and ever-so-kindly directed them to Haglund’s Heel to read what we wrote.
Ballet criticism in this city’s major newspapers is not particularly clean, unbiased, professional, artful, or meaningful, and for the most part does nothing to either promote an audience for the art form or enlighten the audience about performance qualities. Mostly, it’s a hodgepodge of biases and efforts to exploit a culture desk position to advance personal preferences among a wide readership. It trafficks in personal attacks and personal prejudices that have no place in ballet criticism.
The New York Times’s review of Tulsa Ballet was written by Gia Kourlas. Her affiliations include writing for Timeout NY and The Winger. The latter is a forum/blog/magazine hybrid that is run by NYCB employee Kristin Sloan, a former corps dancer with the company. Kourlas’s long association with that blog and her other writings about town make clear that she treats NYCB and Balanchine choreography superior to all other flavors and prefers not to be distracted by having to write about another company or choreographer.
While Kourlas’s Timeout NY interview pieces with dancers have been very worthwhile reading, when it comes to ballet criticism, her level of knowledge about the art form is suspect and her credentials for evaluating choreography are nonexistent. She may have been a long time subscriber to NYCB, but that doesn’t qualify her as a professional ballet critic. And so, we are treated to critical reviews such as (re: Diana Vishneva in Fokine at an ABT Gala performance) She’s “somewhat improved” or yesterday (re: Tulsa Ballet‘s Duato offering) “But Mr. Duato’s movement vocabulary is limited, and so is this work, which, for all its intimations of passion, leaves you indifferent.” Leaves you indifferent. Not Gia, but YOU. This was preceded by her assessment that the government officials from Oklahoma wasted their time making the trip to NYC to support their cultural export. So, Kourlas takes her professional responsibilities to new heights by telling the audience what THEY think and telling government officials of another state that their cultural export isn’t worth their time. Maybe it was an unfortunate choice of words on her part. Newsflash: poor choice of words = bad writing.
Moving on to today’s NY Post review by Leigh Witchel - a former avocational dancer who dabbled in choreography. His affiliations include administrator, moderator, and ayatollah of BalletTalk, which is a NYCB-centric forum that celebrates all things Balanchine and counts no fewer than 1,000 experts on Balanchine’s every choreographic intent during his life and from his grave.
Witchel was unhappy over the gay hairdresser character in the last piece on the program. Get over it. This is New York. We don’t get miffed over this sort of thing anymore than we get miffed over The Producers or most of Mark Morris’s choreographic efforts or the entrants in the Halloween Parade or half of the theater offerings in this town. We encourage this kind of stuff and we love it. Witchel's whining was not so much about the stereotype but that it was delivered by Tulsa, Oklahoma. If Haglund were the Tulsa AD, he’d make sure that the hairdresser was also knitting for all remaining performances here.
Witchel’s NY elitist snobbery shot into orbit with this comment: “It's a solid, well-rehearsed regional company with strong support at home -- a great thing. That doesn't mean New York needs to see it.” Save that comment for Pacific Northwest Ballet when they come to the Joyce in January. See how that sets with the BalletTalk folks. Yup, “PNB is a nice regional company with strong support at home but that doesn’t mean New York needs to see it.”
The fact of the matter is that we do need to see these little regional companies. If Miami City Ballet had not come to City Center this year, we might never have realized the bad shape that some of the Balanchine rep is in at NYCB. While New York might be the culture capital of our country, all that is good is not necessarily here. And all that is here is not necessarily good. So, yeah, we need to see these little regional companies.
It seems more and more that newspaper dance critics are not able to differentiate between their personal likes/dislikes and good/bad performances. While Young Soon Hue’s This Is Your Life might have been an unpleasant surprise for a critic pining for pointe shoes and pretzel pas de deux, the piece didn’t deserve the so-called bashing that these two surly critics gave it. Frankly, Haglund was hoping that at some point the dancers would break out in song. That certainly would have been way too Duatoesque for these critics.