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,
* 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