A Response to Beyond Dance Company … In Kind

Theatre-Critics

by Gregory King for The Dance Journal

I recently attended a performance of Beyond Dance Company’s “Evolution of Women” at The Painted Bride on Saturday June 25th  and wrote a review of my experience that was published in The Dance Journal. No sooner was the article posted, a host of comments, questions, and concerns followed. Some in strong support of my the opinions, others in grave disagreement, questing my professionalism.

My initial reaction was to ignore the comments as I realized that those who had issues with my article, opted to fixate on when I left the show, an inaccuracy with the choreographer of one piece, and the fact that I questioned whether or not the title of the show was fully realized though the vessels of youths; one editorial error and two tangential preoccupations.

First, I must apologize for my inaccuracy. Upon realizing my error is naming the wrong choreographer of “Like a Boy,” I addressed the issue,  correcting the name. This was not deliberate nor an attempt to discredit the actual choreographer but an oversight on my part. One I will admit and have since corrected.

My time in Philadelphia has granted me the opportunity to see more dance than I can remember. From the stages of The Kimmel to Karate studios,  I have watched rehearsals, lecture demonstrations, showcases, and full-length ballets. I have left some performances inspired, some underwhelmed, but I’ve always left with a responsibility to the artists to write on what I saw, what I experienced, and how what was shown may advance the art form.

Confession, I have always been drawn to newer companies with fresh voices, hoping they may offer alternate perspectives and different approaches to the craft. I have written articles on some of Philadelphia’s more known companies like The Pennsylvania Ballet, Philadanco, Koresh Dance Company, BalletX, and KYL/D. I have also veered away from ballet and modern to investigate Flamenco, Tango, and a great deal of experimental performance art.

In viewing any show, I walk in with a clean slate, always hoping for the best. I attend with curiosity, but more importantly, in full support of the artist.  In my years of writing about dance, I have never  felt inclined to leave a show. I have also never written on pieces I did not see. Unfortunately, I broke one of those rules on Saturday – I left two pieces after intermission. My reason for leaving? I had seen enough. I saw fourteen pieces in a twenty nine-piece show and opted to write on that which I saw; the choreography (some of which were underdeveloped) and the dancing (sometimes not expertly executed). Plus, after continuing to scan the program, I noticed the pieces performed by BDC in the second half of the show had some of the same dancers that were in the first and their abilities were already displayed – theirs and the ability of Ms. Johnson who choreographed ten pieces in the second act. I do not need to see a dancer perform in  fifteen works before I am able to assess that dancer’s ability…similarly, I don’t need to watch multiple works of a choreographer to be able to write about their ability to compose movement.

Maybe there were pieces in the second act that were superbly crafted with exquisite execution. But after viewing the program and seeing that the soundscape for three pieces in the second act were “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys, and instrumental versions of “Blow” and “Say My Name” by Beyoncé, I acquiesced to my better judgment and opted out.  Nowhere in my review did I mention that I stayed for the entire show. I listed that there were twenty-nine pieces in the show because I counted them in the program, not because I stayed.

Below is an excerpt from an article written by theater critic  Michael Feingold on one reason a reviewer would leave a show;

If a show is so infuriating that you can’t possibly sit through it all without writhing or moaning, you should definitely leave, at an intermission or other discreet moment. If it’s so overmasteringly dull or hopeless that no improvement is possible, an intermission exit is clearly indicated. The issue then becomes what sort of reviewing or reporting you feel qualified to do about it. James Agate, the brilliant critic of the London Sunday Times during the 1920s and ’30s, was once caught by the producers of a British musical making his way home at intermission on the show’s opening night. “Gentlemen,” he said firmly, in response to their cries of protest, “you don’t have to drink an entire barrelful of bilgewater to know that it’s bilge!” – Michael Feingold

I get it. Some readers will tear apart the writing of critics/ reviewers if they they don’t agree … for whatever reason. And while I welcome discourse about my opinions, my professionalism and intentions can never be questioned even if some continue to do so. I stand firm in the fact that for me, it has, and will always be about the craft – the dance.

In addressing the fact that I left early and could not write on a show I did not see. Again, I respond. NOT ONCE  did I mention staying for the entire show, nor did I write on pieces I didn’t see. Of the twenty-nine pieces in the show, twenty-three pieces were from BDC, fourteen of which were choreographed by Renee Johnson. I assumed Johnson to be the director of the company as she met me at the door. I know nothing about Ms. Johnson’s training or dance background as a press release was not sent to me, no bios were printed in the program, and after several attempts to find a website for the company, I found a frozen site.

I realize that penning this response may not appease those with intense objection to what I wrote in my earlier piece but I felt it necessary to offer context. Attending “Evolution of Women” was another opportunity for me to experience one more young Philadelphia company because I believe that without supporting these new companies, the audiences of Philadelphia miss out on witnessing the next generation of dance artists.

A young company but a company that could benefit from some mentorship – whether they choose to seek it or not. Although my professionalism was questioned, I corrected the error after it was brought to my attention (as any writer would). Some may say I should have sat through the entire show before formulating an opinion on the show, I would rebut and direct them once again to the quote about by Feingold.

Finally, to suggest I am misogynistic, is tepid at best. Such porous claim is as bad as saying I am black so if I criticize white dancers, it makes me racist. My job is to look at the dance, framing it from a historical, social, and political place, all the while maintaining the artistic integrity of the work. Unfortunately, that was hard to do given the level of choreography presented.

I am sure some of the choreographers had it in mind to create works dealing with the evolution of women – whatever that means, but I would argue that it can be hard for dancers appearing young in age, to be left with the task of dancing about race, gender or sexuality. If challenged with this task by an ambitious choreographer, I would implore said choreographer to create works with more depth and substance.

In an article by Dance Writer Lisa Kraus on Thinkingdance.net,  she wrote, “writing at all requires some level of willingness to get it wrong.” And truth be told, I am not above acknowledging when I do get it wrong…and maybe I did get it wrong. But all that I have chosen to share were truths based on my experience. I often try to veer away from the negative when writing an article. Instead I search for the positive, remaining hopeful that maybe my best intentions will be read in the  suggestions I offer.

I became a writer to share, offer opinions, and shed light on what exists in the field. I have no desire to demean or belittle companies or their members and  I am quite aware that some may disagree with my opinions but I urge BDC to pull in a group of outsiders (not a family members or a staff members), asking them to critique said show (maybe a video tape) and hopefully the information offered, will be used  to advance the company and their dancers.

Wishing BDC and all new dance companies the best,

Gregory King

* There were works from other companies but I opted to focus on the works of BDC for my article.

***photo credit: courtesy of jakeorr.co.uk

About Gregory King

Gregory King received his MFA in Choreographic Practice and Theory from Southern Methodist University. In addition, he is certified in Elementary Labanotation. His dance training began in Washington DC at the Washington Ballet and later at American University. He went on to participate in the Horton Project in conjunction with the Library of Congress. His training continued at the prestigious institutions such as The Dance Theatre of Harlem and The Alvin Ailey School. Gregory has performed with The Washington Ballet, Rebecca Kelly Ballet, Erick Hawkins Dance Company, New York Theatre Ballet, Donald Byrd /The Group, The Metropolitan Opera Ballet, New York City Opera, and Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway.

His desire to integrate social activism into his choreography began with his graduate thesis, where he used the platform to push the conversation about homophobia and heterosexism. He is a lover of movement exploration and describes his aesthetic as a classical base with a theatrical flair.

He has taught at Boston Ballet, Boston Conservatory, Boston University, Bowdoin College, Dallas Black Dance Theatre and Texas Ballet Theatre. Additionally, he has served as a teaching artist in public schools in and around Dallas, as Resident Guest artist at Temple University and Assistant Professor of Dance at Dean College. Recently, Gregory received the Excellence in Teaching Award from the National Society of Leadership and Success. He is currently a Visiting Professor of Dance and Consortium on Faculty Diversity Fellow at Swarthmore College where he teaches Modern and continues to use his choreography as a means for social change.

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6 Comments

  1. Dear Mr. King: Thank you for writing an honest review about a dance show at the Painted Bride that was full of unrealized potential. I thought your review was spot on, and I did stay for the entire 29-piece show. The show started shortly after 7 PM and concluded sometime before 10 PM, I if remember correctly. That puts the length at somewhere close to the three-hour mark including intermission.

    There were standout performances by some of the dancers in some of the pieces – and these were a treat to watch. Kudos to Ms. Johnson for putting on these pieces. Ms. Johnson also invited some excellent local companies to dance with BDC, which I think added depth and variety to the show.

    But I have to agree with you, Mr. King: The show was so long that it risked losing the audience multiple times. There were especially long pauses between the pieces in the second half. And using pop music with lyrics was, for me, a distraction when I am trying to focus on movement, created in a moment in time, never to be seen again. The ephemeral nature of dance is why I support the arts in Philadelphia.

    For anyone who disagrees with Mr. King that BDC could benefit from some outside advice and mentorship needs to take Mr. King’s advice, and watch the show again.

    • I was in attendance for he entire show as well. It started at 7:20 and concluded around 9:35. I’ve also been to shows that were 3 1/2 hours.. Way longer than BDC’s. I know some of these ladies personally. I had questions as well but I went to them as asked for Answers such as what happened during the pauses. There were technical issues during the second half that accounted for the pauses. I think personally as a dancer myself and as a spectator in the audience, to address their use of some of the music selections, I think it depends on preference. I’ve been to shows other than BDC’s where they used pop music. Both at that show and at BDC’s I personally enjoyed the use of pop music. I think It depends on preference and the willingness to go away from the norm. Not everyone wants to hear classical music, solely instrumentals etc. I go into a show not knowing what to expect but I go with an open mind and a willingness to expand my horizon. Just because someone doesn’t like something doesn’t mean another person won’t. It’s all preference and everyone is entitled to their’s as well as their own opinion. Not everyone has to agree with the writer or opinions of others. Of the ladies that I know personally, they are very well educated as well as dedicated women to their craft, And I’m sure BDC has outside sources who give advice, suggestions and mentor them.

  2. “I am sure the choreographers had it in mind to create some works dealing with evolution of women-whatever that means….” And you’re saying your not a mysogenist? Your passive aggressive tone clearly indicates otherwise. From what I can see you’re upset that commentators did not agree with you. Just as you had your opinion about these ladies and their show. Spectators from the show and commentators have the right to have an opinion about your article.

  3. There’s a lot of backtracking in this piece the fact that you apologize in one paragraph and in the next paragraph state that “I never said the entire show”. The fact that you tried to cover your self and type that in caps shows exactly the type of person we are still dealing with.

    So instead you decided to write a list full of excuses for your blogging style.

    You apologize for not being a dedicated journalist, and then pull a throw back quote on why its okay to not stay and review the entire show. So how did you come up with the show was 3 hours long??? Oh you didn’t stay for the entire show.

    Your whole entire review is null and void due to the fact that you lied. You said you didn’t stay but you estimated the time? HAVE YOU EVER HEARD AN ESTIMATED REVIEW? If you were a film critic you’d already have 2 reviews for Suicide Squad and the movie isn’t even out till next month. Then wonder why your getting all negative feedback and blame a whole company (not the bloggers) for not taking criticism from somebody who is incapable of understanding his job.

    You put your own foot in your mouth and try to pat your own back at the same time. You should have just stopped a long time ago. Honestly I’d quit, I’m starting to think you have some stake in Philadelphiadance.org because the fact that they allow this to continue with such a lazy blogger is just insane. If you were an actual journalist and this was the news paper your editor wouldn’t have allowed you to put this out, you lack basic fundamentals. You don’t even have one quote from a member of the dance team or feedback from the audience.

    The dangerous thing about this is Its more then obvious now that you hate women, I used misogyny but now i see hatred and the proof is as clear as a quoted sentence in court.

    When the blogger says…
    “I am sure some of the choreographers had it in mind to create works dealing with the evolution of women – whatever that means”

    Highly disrespectful, its obvious your taste in women is tarnished with some sort of hate, you’ve been corrected numerous times by many members of the audience that there were children along with adults for you to condescendingly disrespect women as if you’ve never had one or a mother that loved you deserve serious soul searching. I mean lets be honest, the evolution of women isn’t something anybody is confused about…..and once again I’m a man.

    You even pulled the race card. Im not entertaining that…by the way I’m a Black man. I have no idea who you tried to get on your side with that reach.

    Basically if any dancers want a blogger to review ONLY HALF THEIR SHOW you got the perfect blogger for the job….just make sure they are all males you’ll have a better review one that he can understand better.

    And to imagine this most likely isn’t your first blog, so i wonder how many other choreographers you did got literally a “half assed review”. You should just delete everything, maybe take a communications course and come back and do better.

    I have much respect for Beyond Dance as i yet to have read one response from any member. You women are stronger than you realize keep the passion going and the drive a live we need more shows that show the essence and support of women. This man understands. – John

  4. Gregory King, you are a class act. Please continue writing about dance and reviewing the work of young and established companies. The world of dance needs more competent, qualified and benevolent critics like you to advance its capacity of artistic expression and its level of professionalism.
    Claudia Zuccato Ria

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