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December 14, 2006

How not to write a press release

From a release received today from Dance New Amsterdam:

B.J. Sullivan, the New York native responsible for “safety release technique”, created Walk-in-Closet in an attempt to eradicate the dichotomy between the selves we present to the world, and the selves that we keep behind closed doors.

What wrong with this description? It sounds like a grant proposal rather than a release because the sentence describes not what the dance is, but what it's trying to do. As I've said before, the goal of a critic isn't the same as the goal of a grant maker. I don't care what the social benefits of the dance are or what the dance is trying to do (I'll make that decision myself from watching it, thanks); I need to know what it is. What's the music, how many people are in it. Is it possible to describe a moment of the dance - particularly one that gives a picture of the entire mood? Use descriptive language and get a picture in our minds.

The language choices don't work here. "Attempt" weakens the idea that "eradicate" wants to convey. "Dichotomy" in context seems pretentious. The idea of a walk-in closet as a metaphor for a private life is a powerful and familiar one; better language could connect the dots. A possible example (with completely made up facts - my apologies to BJ Sullivan)

BJ Sullivan breaks into the hidden spaces in our lives in Walk-in-Closet, a tense dance for women who spy on each other's private moments while Bernard Hermann's movie soundtracks drone ominously in the background.

Also, while "release technique" is familiar to most NY dance writers, "safety release technique" without an explanation just provokes humorous visions of Susan Klein and Barbara Mahler dancing to Men Without Hats. I know space is limited, but explain the idea - and why I need to know about it - or leave it out.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at December 14, 2006 6:10 PM

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