What's with all the attacks on critics these days? First Helen Molesworth, now Claire Bishopit's like a woman isn't allowed to speak her mind. Maybe I'm prejudiced, but is it really such a crime to compare the discursive element in the work of contemporary French choreographers with that of American choreographers and find the latter wanting? Sometimes it seems like writers are afraid to say anything negative about their local scene. While I totally agree with this reviewer that Bengolea and Chaignaud are overrated, I wonder if this opinion was freely expressed only because the two are not based in New York. Similarly, Hlengiwe Lushaba might not be a regular in the New York performance world, but she was the standout performer in Baron Samedi and certainly deserves a shout-out as well.
Are we all so accustomed to our comments being liked and favorited and retweeted by our friends and followers that we freak out as soon as someone actually says something critical?
Women critics should be seen and not heard! (Except for me, of course.) Just like American choreographers! (Except the American choreographers toward which I am biased.)
Um. Ok. Being serious-ish for a moment. I don’t think at all it’s a crime for Claire to say what she did, and her point about local scenes getting insufferably chummy is definitely worth making—I just think that the way she bludgeoned those three was kind of unnuanced and not very discerning. As I remember it she mostly said they were bad at language because they used language badly. And that seems a little below standard, as criticism goes. But also, come on, if anyone can take being challenged, it’s CB—I would imagine she relishes it. I’m a fan of her ideas as often as I am not. I’m just kind of tired of the de- and re-skilling narrative these days.
About home-field advantage, well, first of all—it strikes me as a little funny that you agree with me that B and C are overrated but then are calling my integrity into question over my criticism of them. If you’re at all familiar with my criticism you must know that I’ve been plenty negative about NY artists and I’ve also been plenty positive about non-NY artists. At this point, folks are working so internationally that the distinction isn’t always a firm one (and yes here I am being a bit hypocritical because my entire column is making various distinctions.)
Critics have a right to speak our minds. We have a mandate, actually, and a platform—and so it seems to me that we can and should happily take what we get. If we can dish it, etc. (But come on, use your real name. Anonymous commenting is for dilettantes.)
Yes, I’m afraid my stumbling attempts to differentiate French and New York uses of speech within dance on the PS1 panel wasn’t my finest hour. I got into a tangle as I realized that the word I instinctively wanted to use (‘amateurish’) was no longer a term of derision given my immediately preceding comments on the virtues of deskilling. What I was trying to say was this:
Sarah Michelson has a wonderfully languid, transatlantic voice, and her use of Richard Maxwell’s words as a textural component in Devotion was spot on. However, the collaborations with Jay Sanders (in Devotion Study #1 and 4), also by Maxwell, are self-reflexive to the point of self-involvement. Reciting their own past dialogues feels like straining to create an additional layer that the work doesn’t need; their self-satisfied intimacy ends up sounding inexperienced and misjudged rather than expressive, casual or remote. The movement, installation and music are more than enough to hold their own.
Trajal Harrell and Miguel Gutierrez present a similar problem. Here the issue is less to do with speech than with singing. Karaoke in performance, like karaoke in real life, is an activity that we love to indulge in with our friends but find largely unbearable when performed by strangers. (It’s too much information, like looking at someone else’s family photographs.) Harrell is has been guilty of this on countless occasions (and I don’t think it’s intended to be uncomfortable); likewise Gutierrez in his recent work at the Whitney (Age & Beauty Part 1: Mid-Career Artist/Suicide Note or &:-/). The latter piece was all going well until the two dancers started talking, or rather chanting, ‘We are the dancers,’ using a range of inflections. Changing emphasis on a simple line is excruciating as a theatre exercise, let alone as the central sequence in a performance. Even so, I appreciated the precision of their synchronized recitation—as sharp and tight as the dancing. But for a piece that claimed to be inspired by William Blake and José Muñoz, the banality of this language exercise actively detracted from, rather than enhanced, the totality. Why not use Blake’s own words?
What I admire in the French performers mentioned on the same panel (Xavier Le Roy, Jérôme Bel, Boris Charmatz) is that they are theoretically informed but wear this knowledge lightly, expressing complex ideas in accessible form: either by replacing dance with a lecture or dialogue (Bel, Le Roy) or foregrounding a pedagogic position (Charmatz). Perhaps the New York dance world finds this overly theoretical, but from the perspective of visual art or performance studies their lightness of touch seems impressive. That said, the charm of Bel’s pace and persona is less seductive when mimicked by his avatars (Cédric Andrieux, Theatre Hora) and at times I worry that Boris Charmatz is more impressive as a speaker than as a dancer.
If this hasn’t diminished (or at least nuanced) my thuggery, then I reckon I should just embrace it. In the words of Khia:
I’m a bad ass bitch
And let you know I ain’t with that bullshit
You get me wrong I’ma go off on this bitch
His shit, your shit, y’all shit
'Cause all I’m trying to do is keep it real
And let you broads really know how I feel…
-from the album Thug Misses, 2002