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September 17, 2005

Choreographers vs. Critics

via The Downtown Dancer, Joan Acocella reviews four downtown choreographers and one of them, Tere O'Connor, responds quite angrily.

I have empathy for O'Connor's anger. I've both written and been written about. As an artist, the one thing any artist wants, even more than the viewer liking the work is him or her getting it. Hate it or love it, but please know what I was trying to do and not tell me my work was about something that never crossed my mind the entire time I made it. There's one review I got that I know was supportive and positive - everyone told me so. I hated it; the author's take disturbed me enough that it took a few weeks to recover. To this day I can't bring myself to put it in my press kit.

I'm also a writer. And the toughest lesson to learn when you've done both is that the writer is not having a dialogue with the artist. His or her dialogue is with the reader and potential audience. The point is to tell the reader what s/he saw and thought of the work. S/he doesn't need to understand, or "get" your work. S/he only needs to be able to formulate an opinion based on his or her viewing. The only thing the writer owes the artist is basic professional and ethical standards. If you sent out a press release and invited them to come, view and write, you're fair game. I try to work at a higher standard than that, but that's my choice, not my obligation.

To be even more cold-hearted, if you can get a publication like the New Yorker, a general interest publication that devotes less and less space to dance - and even so only at Acocella's pleasure because she is committed to writing on it - to write about you, count yourself lucky.

For all these reasons I would not publicly comment on a review except in very limited circumstances where the author was factually grossly inaccurate or ethically compromised. A review is a subjective view from the audience's point of view - a point of view I can never fully share in my own work. O'Connor's objections boil down to "she doesn't understand the work" but my take on her article is that she takes all four choreographers seriously, and is not particularly negative and not vindictive. She doesn't seem to take pleasure in O'Connor's work, but I'd say she observed it closely, respectfully and understands it - just not the way O'Connor would like.

I haven't seen O'Connor's work in a long while, but in the piece I saw, when the dancers were miserable and unhappy he showed it by having them do ballet exercises. I don't see that O'Connor understands Acocella's aesthetic with more sensitivity than she understands his so it might have been best to call it a draw and let discretion be the better part of valor.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at September 17, 2005 3:30 AM

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Since the "Ballet and the Female Crotch", lecture at UC Berkeley I have ZERO respect or interest in her opinions.

Posted by: petipafan at September 17, 2005 6:05 PM

I don't have a close overlap of opinion with Acocella either, but that's also not really the point of the discussion at all. It could have been Acocella, Tobias, Rockwell, Kourlas, myself, anyone. The point is that a writer isn't writing for the choreographer. S/he's writing for the reader. When a choreographer feels the need to comment on that dialogue, s/he needs to recognize that fact.

Posted by: Leigh Witchel at September 20, 2005 3:52 PM

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