Danceletter 6

I’ve never been to a panel on criticism (or spoken on one) that hasn’t felt at least a little bit depressing (see Danceletter 2). The recent critics’ panel at the 14th Street Y, part of a tribute to the great Deborah Jowitt, was no exception, as it slid from lively anecdotal banter toward a familiar place of despair for the future of the field. Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t stimulating, especially before the question “What is future of dance criticism?” entered the room. I learned a lot, and was happy to hear from so many writers I admire. From my notes:

  • When Deborah started writing for the Village Voice, in 1967, she earned $35/column.

  • At age 15, Mindy Aloff, who grew up in Philadelphia, learned that the Royal Ballet was bringing Giselle to town. She wrote to the company and asked to interview Margot Fonteyn. Fonteyn wasn’t dancing, but they let her talk to another Giselle.

  • In college, Mindy contacted New York City Ballet with a similarly ambitious request: to speak with George Balanchine. They granted her an interview with him at the stage door.

  • Deborah almost worked as a house cleaner for Edwin Denby.

  • Referring to Denby, a bookstore clerk told Mindy (before she knew his writing), “The dancers like him.”

  • Elizabeth Zimmer: “People read reviews because they like to read. What you want to give them is interesting writing about something you care about.”

  • When Elizabeth started working as an editor at the Voice in 1992, there were seven levels of editing. (When I wrote a review for the Voice in 2017, there was, I believe, just one.)

  • An audience member floated the idea of Deborah starting a YouTube channel. I would absolutely watch that.

Also on the panel — which, by the way, packed the house at 3pm on a Wednesday — were Jack Anderson, Alastair Macaulay, Wendy Perron, Gus Solomons jr, and moderator Linda Murray (dance curator of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts). The event was presented by the dance and storytelling series “From the Horse’s Mouth,” which continued through the weekend with performances in Deborah’s honor. At the show I attended, last Sunday, Wendy recalled visiting Deborah’s West Village apartment, years ago, and noticing that she changed the decor seasonally to balance the weather outside: cool colors for summer, warm for winter. Wendy said it was then that she realized just how sensitive Deborah was.

Whenever I teach dance criticism, I assign Deborah’s essay “Beyond Description: Writing Beneath the Surface,” which makes a case for the importance of description in writing on dance. A sentence I always underline (and which I also shared here): “The point is, in searching for what a dance may mean, not to lose sight of what it is, or appears to be.” This is actually so hard to do, and Deborah, by her sensitive example, inspires us to keep on trying.

From the Internet

I loved this story by Jia Tolentino, in The New Yorker, on the fitness apparel brand Outdoor Voices. Question: Do dancers actually wear OV’s “dancewear”? Genuinely wondering. (It’s been a while since I’ve gone shopping for proper workout/dance clothes.)

I was sad to hear of the passing of Genevieve (Gegi) Oswald, founding curator of the dance division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. I didn’t know her personally but have reaped the benefits of her work, from researching Ted Shawn in college to collecting oral histories at the library last summer. Marina Harss remembers her beautifully here.

My Writing

I saw Dorrance Dance not once but twice this past week and just finished writing all about it. A note on process: My review covers two different programs, but some of the pieces (by Bill Irwin and Brenda Bufalino) were performed on both. While it’s rarely possible logistically, I really enjoy seeing things twice before writing about them. Feels like a luxury when it happens.

Also this week, I reviewed Ballet Hispánico at the Joyce, and made official note of my excitement for Pam Tanowitz’s upcoming City Ballet premieres.

Shows to See

So many. A few I’m looking forward to: the Martha Graham season, April 2-14 at the Joyce; Fishamble’s Humours of Bandon, a one-woman show about preparing for the world Irish dancing championships, April 10-14 at Irish Arts Center; and Kota Yamazaki’s Darkness Odyssey Part 3 at New York Live Arts, April 3-6 (I’ll be there Thursday with my class).

Closing Tweet

This was a few weeks ago, but I keep thinking about it:

Thanks as always for reading,

Siobhan