There’s an important – and thrilling – conversation taking place in the New York dance community right now and if you’re not aware of it, you should be.
It all started two weeks ago, on January 11, with a review of the American Realness Festival in the New York Times by Alastair Macaulay, the Times’ chief dance critic (and former board member of the DCA). In conclusion, he wrote: “American Realness too often hunts down examples that are unoriginal and clique-ish. Rather than enlarging the world of New York performance, it shrinks it.” Needless to say, this irked some of the artists involved and their supporters, who lashed out on social media.
About a week later, on January 17, Claudia La Rocco, a former dance critic at the Times, contributed an essay to ArtForum called “APAP Smear,” addressing the glut of festivals that accompany the annual Association for Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) conference. She didn’t like much of what she saw.
Her essay was unrelated to, and didn’t reference, Macaulay’s review but it similarly seemed to suggest that, when it comes to the artists and festivals that bill themselves as transgressive, perhaps the emperor has no clothes.
Andy Horowitz over at Culturebot picked up on La Rocco’s jeremiad and sympathized. In a passionate essay published January 19 called “Considering Alastair, Questioning Realness,” he admitted to often disagreeing with Macaulay but came to the critic’s defense, writing: “…in this observation of the clique-ishness and self-satisfaction of ‘downtown’ dance/performance, particularly as embodied by American Realness, [Macaulay] is not incorrect.”
But Horowitz then spun the conversation into new directions, questioning certain values and assumptions about that festival and the problematic and exploitative system of arts presenting in which it operates. He cited one particular incident of an artist, Ann Liv Young, interrupting the performance of another artist, Rebecca Patek. He wasn’t there but he had words to say about it.
Siobhan Burke, another dance critic at the Times, was there. She recounted her experience in a thoughtful reflection called “Acting,” which was posted on the website of The Performance Club, a collective of arts writers founded by La Rocco. Burke clarifies details of the Young/Patek incident, raises questions and grapples with her own reaction.
But you’ll miss the real depth of the conversation if you just stick to the primary texts. Read the comments. More questions and issues emerge. Things get complicated; there are a lot of angles to consider. And, to their credit, the authors willingly engage.
Rarely does such a raw, robust conversation catch fire in the dance community. Whether or not you care to weigh in, you should at least take note.