DCA Annual Conference / August 2-4, 2013 / Vancouver

“Re-Defining the Field: Shifts in Critical Perception and Dance Writing”

VANCOUVER – The Dance Critics Association will head to Vancouver, British Columbia from August 2-4 for the 2013 DCA Conference. The theme this year is “Re-Defining the Field: Shifts in Critical Perception and Dance Writing” which will explore the changing field of dance and dance criticism and how writers are adapting to new questions. Panels planned for the 2013 conference will assess some of the current issues impacting dance writers and the professional dance field. We are excited to announce that our
2013 conference will be held in tandem with the World Dance Alliance-America’s  “Involve + Evolve: Dance as a Moving Question” conference at the Scotiabank Dance Centre.

The conference will begin on Friday, August 2nd with a keynote panel focusing on the question, “Who are dance critics today?” This panel will discuss who self-identifies as a dance critic today, and the distinction between dance writers and critics.

Other panels will include discussions on topics including:

● Re-Branding: How dance organizations rebuild and redefine themselves

● The shift in focus from product to process in writing and choreography

● Artists who use multimedia in performance

● The critic-audience relationship: How to build and maintain it

● Vancouver’s local dance scene

New to the DCA Conference this year will be several “action” panels that focus on building and implementing strategies to make the DCA a more relevant and active organization. Our field is changing as fast as the dance we watch. This conference is a chance to get support and perspective from other people who do what we do, and to find new ways to approach our practice both individually and collectively.

The DCA conference will be held in conjunction with the WDA-A’s annual conference, which runs from July 29-August 4th. The WDA-A has organized performances in the evenings on Tuesday, July 30-Saturday, August 3rd. All performances will be held at the Scotiabank Dance Centre theaters at 6:00 PM each evening. For a list of performers see here: http://www.wda-americas.net/conference/event-guide/

For more information contact:

Mariko Nagashima


To register, please visit: http://www.dancecritics.org/conferencepayment.html

Celebrate International Dance Day with DCA News

April 29 is International Dance Day, as established in 1982 by the dance committee of the International Theatre Institute. This day was chosen because it marks the birth of Jean-Georges Noverre, an 18th century dancer/choreographer who gave ballet its narrative structure and helped shape the concert dance we know today. This year, he turns 286.

Celebrate dance and celebrate Jean-Georges by checking out the new edition of the DCA News, a special double issue stuffed with thoughtful articles, insightful reflections and profiles/interviews with veteran and up-and-coming writers.

Among the highlights:

– Get to know George Jackson, one of Washington, D.C.’s longest working dance writers

– Meet Marina Harss, award-winning translator, editor and critic-to-watch

– Read about the illustrious career of legendary critic/historian David Vaughn

PLUS: Janet Light looks at the history of DCA conferences; 2012 Gary Parks scholarship recipients Mariko Nagashima and Emmaly Wiederholt share their conference experiences; Suzanne Carbonneau honors Pulitzer Prize-winning dance critic Alan “Mike” Kriegsman who passed away last fall; and much, much more.

Members can access the latest edition of DCA News here (scroll down to the bottom).

The DCA News was edited by Mindy Aloff and designed by Sean Doyle.


Now Accepting Applications for the Gary Parks Scholarship ’13

Deadline for Applications: MAY 1, 2013

“I was a relative newbie when I received the Gary Parks Scholarship. It was wonderful to meet folks who, despite less than ideal circumstances, keep on writing. I felt welcomed into this world. Dance writing friends are a must for survival in this difficult business.”

Nancy Wozny (2004 Gary Parks Scholar)

The Dance Critics Association is pleased to offer the 2013 Gary Parks Scholarships, named for the late, well-loved reviews editor of Dance Magazine.  Gary Parks was a point of contact for dance writers around the world, a friend and mentor to many.  This scholarship to the DCA annual conference is designed to encourage that same sense of collegiality.

DCA is offering two scholarships of $500 each for emerging or experienced writers to attend the annual conference at The Dance Centre in Vancouver, August 2-4, 2013.

The Emerging Writers’ scholarship is designated for a critic with less than three years of professional experience. The scholarship includes complimentary admission to the entire conference and up to $500 to cover travel and lodging expenses. The recipient will be required to attend and complete writing assignments for the Kamikaze Workshop, an intense and much beloved multi-day exploration of dance writing. The recipient will also be required to attend the entire conference and write an article about it for the DCA News.

The Experienced Writer’s scholarship was established to support critics who, because of great distance from the conference or challenging financial reasons (freelance writer or staffer with no financial support from publication), could not otherwise attend the conference.The recipient of the Experienced Writer’s scholarship will be expected to attend all conference events and panels and report on an agreed upon topic for the DCA News, deadlines to be negotiated with the editor.

To apply:

All applicants must submit three published reviews or critical essays, along with a cover letter. The cover letter should specify which scholarship – emerging or experienced – is being requested, state professional qualifications and discuss why the applicant feels that he or she would benefit from attending the DCA conference. Any relevant special circumstances should be addressed as well, including financial need, specialization in a particular form of criticism or English as the critic’s second language.

Please submit materials via email to: aliduffy22@yahoo.com, or if applicant does not have access to email, submit three copies of entire application to: Gary Parks Scholars, c/o Ali Duffy, 2610 22nd St. Lubbock, TX 79410. The emerging writers’ scholarship will be awarded on a competitive basis. The experienced writers’ fellowship will be awarded via a lottery.

Deadline for receiving applications is Wednesday, May 1, 2013.  Applicants will be notified by May 17, 2013 in time to make arrangements to attend the conference. Questions? Email:aliduffy22@yahoo.com.

The Gary Parks Scholarship exists with the generous support of the critical community.  If you would like to help us extend this opportunity to our colleagues in the field, please seriously consider a tax-deductible contribution to the Gary Parks Scholarship Fund. Send your contribution, marked “Gary Parks” in the memo line to: DCA, POB 1882 Old Chelsea Station, New York, NY 10013.

Nearly 40 Years of Talking about Dance

Conferences & Seminars Sponsored or Co-Sponsored by the DCA 1974—2012

The Dance Critics Association was founded in 1973 and held its first conference the following year. In the nearly four decades that followed, the organization has held annual conferences and seminars exploring dance writing’s role in society and the evolving issues and trends that have shaped and challenged it.

From the earliest gatherings, where Alwin Nicolais and  Agnes De Mille were keynote speakers, to recent collaborations with the Society of Dance History Scholars, Dance USA and the World Dance Alliance, the DCA has continued to bring together innovators in the field of dance writing with the next generation of writers and advocates.

Now, the Dance Critics website is pleased to host a comprehensive list of each conference and gathering, detailing annual themes, speakers, organizers and panelists, meticulously compiled by Janet Light and edited by Mindy Aloff.

“The idea for this document arose at a teleconferencing board meeting in the spring of 2004,” recalled Light in a letter accompanying the new digital iteration of the document.

At that year’s conference, in Philadelphia, the DCA’s 30th anniversary,  board members decided to create a small booklet listing the organization’s board presidents and newsletter editors from DCA’s inception; Aloff suggested including DCA-sponsored annual conferences and seminars to consolidate the organization’s history.

“I volunteered to compile it,” Light wrote. “I put out a request for conference brochures, programs, and any information that members were willing to share. I also dug through my own files and came up with enough material to get started.

Alwin Nikolais, one of the first keynote speakers at a DCA conference.
“The initial idea was to provide a chronology that could provide future researchers with nuts and bolts information about DCA programs through the years… The document also records how a group of very dedicated and smart people have created and shaped an entity known as the Dance Critics Association. The goals are lofty and the range of programs remarkable.  Perhaps this can serve to inspire, as well as inform, a new generation of writers, as it did me while working with the material.”


The list of DCA sponsored or co-sponsored conference and seminars between 1974 and 2012 can be found here.


The Reinvention of the Dance Writer: Notes on Notation

From critics and columnists to bloggers and dance notators, we can redefine a dance writer as someone who not only writes about dance, but writes dance itself.

By Kirsten Wilkinson

As we all know, writing about dance can be challenging, even at times seemingly impossible.  How do you describe an ephemeral art form?  Dance in itself is an art form ruled by the immediate; the here and now.  It is difficult to even record on film, converting a three dimensional experience to a two dimensional screen.  One performance can differ drastically from the other depending on cast, performance space, audience, mood, energy, and brilliance in step or momentary loss of footing.  Many of us who write about dance descriptively usually focus on either sparing an audience from a disappointing show or praising the prowess and vision of a choreographer/dancer/director.  However, what about those dance writers who are literally writing the dance down?

A diagram depicting Laban movement analysis.

Dance notation had, and continues to have, a very controversial role within the dance world.  Probably the most well known type of dance notation is Labanotation, also occasionally referred to as Kinetography Laban.  Developed by Rudolf Laban in the 1920’s, this system of movement analysis for the purposes of documentation and reconstruction has proven to have the longest extended life among dance notation systems.  Debates abound concerning the validity of Labanotation that does not include notation practices for recording movement motivation and the intention of expression, nor solely spatial patterns and placement.  Various institutions exist that teach and promote Labanotation including the Dance Notation Bureau and the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement. Labanotation is not something an individual can just pick up and read.  It takes years of study and practice to recreate and restage a dance from Labanotation, and that is assuming the original choreography has been recorded in this movement language in the first place.

Bronislava Nijinska, notorious for her scattered but careful documentation.

But the concept of dance notation did not start with Mr. Laban, and explorations of other modes of dance notation have not ceased to exist with his passing.  Most choreographers have their own form of dance notation.  One that particularly stands out for me is the choreographic notes of Bronislava Nijinska, famed sister of the notorious Vaslav Nijinsky.  Nijinska wrote down everything anywhere; on scraps of paper, the backs of cards, reusing telegram slips, pantyhose packaging, even on the backs of visa applications. Eventually she converted her notes from her more famous pieces into organized notebooks.  Thrillingly, while standing in my workspace at the Library of Congress, I can follow some of her movement notes, pointing my foot here, lifting my arm there, turning toward stage left, etc.  Nijinska devised her own notation system based off of two lesser-known movement notation systems, Stepanov Notation and Beauchamp-Feuillet Notation.

Stepanov Notation was devised by Imperial Ballet dancer Vladimir Ivanovich Stepanov, published in the 1890’s.  Beauchamp-Feuillet Notation was widely used in Baroque dance between 1700, when it was published, and sustaining into the early 19th century.  These two systems pulled from a common dance language, ballet.  Having never been familiar with Beauchamp-Feuillet notation, I again pulled out a manual dating from the early 1800’s and began following the notes easily; changment, pique, derrière, en lair, etc. while following the figures that were drawn out before me.  But attempting to convert a contemporary piece of choreography into Stepanov or Beauchamp-Feuillet would most definitely result in movements being lost in translation.  I mean there really isn’t a symbol or ballet term for some of the things presented by say Bill T. Jones or Joe Goode or Twyla Tharp.

Laban's map of movement.

Progressive modes of movement notation continue to develop.  Technology has opened a floodgate of possibilities concerning movement notation and computers.  However, challenges remain.  Budget, space and time discourage many of us from creating work with the immediate assistance of computers and body attachment motion recorders.  Even today with the availability of digital recording devises very few choreographers will capture all of their rehearsals or creative process on video.  And even fewer of us actually write down our notes or movement thoughts, whether in one distinguished form of notation or in our own form.

The definition of a dance writer continues to morph.  From critics, to columnists, to bloggers, to recorders of dance, the idea of defining a dance writer as someone who not only writes about dance, but writes dance itself can be eye opening.  Also challenging the idea that a dance writer who writes about dance cannot actually be recording it in their own dance notation form can begin to erase the line in the sand between professions in the dance world.  Many who devised their own system of dance notation that have become widely used were dancers themselves.

Of course, some movement just can't be captured in notation.

Who’s to say that a new form of dance notation cannot be born from a dance writer?  After all, both dance writers and dance recorders are often working towards a similar goal: capturing that moment of creative brilliance and preserving it in writing for future audiences to enjoy.

A brief history of The Nutcracker

A closer look at the origins of the accidental holiday classic.

By Alyssa Schoeneman

With the winter holidays rapidly approaching, audiences across the United States are enjoying local and touring productions of The Nutcracker. Though Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite” was an immediate success after its 1892 concert debut, the complete ballet did not gain popularity until after George Balanchine’s 1954 staging for the New York City Ballet.

Birth of The Nutcracker and the early years

In 1890, fresh off the success of The Sleeping Beauty, Tchaikovsky was commissioned to compose a new double-bill program for the Imperial Theatres. This program was to feature an opera – Iolanta – and a ballet choreographed by Marius Petipa, Ballet Master at the Imperial Ballet and Tchaikovsky’s former collaborator on The Sleeping Beauty.

Petipa sourced Alexandre Dumas père’s “The Tale of the Nutcracker,” – an adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffman’s story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” – for the ballet’s libretto, or storyline. Petipa simplified the story’s plot for the ballet, specifically excising a flashback story entitled “The Tale of the Hard Nut”; The Nutcracker ballet now tells the story of a child who receives a magical nutcracker for Christmas and falls into a majestic dreamworld filled with toys and treats.

The Nutcracker’s choreographic composition shifted early on when Petipa unexpectedly became ill. Russian dancer/choreographer Lev Ivanov was called in to finish Petipa’s work, and though historically Ivanov is said to have choreographed the entirety of The Nutcracker’s 1892 premiere, it was still Petipa’s name that was listed as the choreographer on promotional posters in St. Petersburg.

The Nutcracker premiered in St. Petersburg’s Imperial Mariinsky Theatre on December 18, 1892 on a double bill with Tchaikovsky’s opera, Iolanta. While dancers and choreography received mixed reviews, Tchaikovsky’s score was a hit.

Becoming a tradition

Ballerinas in their first flight of The Nutcracker: the Ballet Russe at the 51st Street Theater, 1940 (Picture courtesy the New York Times)

Variations on The Nutcracker’s original choreography have taken many forms since the work’s original premiere. Adults have been cast as Clara and the Nutcracker Prince in several instances, which suggests more of a romantic central love story; Alexander Gorsky’s 1919 production and Vasili Vainonen’s 1934 version were examples of this choreographic choice.

The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo brought an abridged version of The Nutcracker to New York City in 1940. Annual performances in England began in 1952. In 1954, the New York City Ballet gave the first of many annual performances of The Nutcracker with George Balanchine’s staging.

And the rest is history.

The Nutcracker Competes

For those who cannot see a production of The Nutcracker on a local stage, or those fanatics who want to compare and contrast productions from around the world, the Ovation channel brings you the Battle of the Nutcrackers. This show pits five premier international dance companies against one another in the ultimate Nutcracker showdown. For more information (and some Nutcracker performance clips), click here.


Crumbling Letters

As dance writers, it is our responsibility to document this moment in dance history and preserve our words for the future.  Don’t let the next deadline prevent you from taking time to protect your writing – and don’t assume it’s any safer in digital form.

Some thoughts on preservation from Library of Congress Dance Archivist

Kirsten Wilkinson

Today I am reminded of scrapbooks.  As dance lovers, many of us one, or at least something approximating one (or at least our mothers’ do).  Whether an organized notebook or an overflowing drawer filled with photographs, newspaper clippings, magazine articles, awards, tickets, programs or letters, these tangible items leave a trail of information about our personal and professional histories in dance.

I am also reminded of how fragile paper can be.

As a dance archivist at the Library of Congress, I often come across yellowing, torn, folded pieces of paper that could be anything from a 1941 Martha Graham Dance Company Program to a love letter from Balanchine.  Today, I found a scrapbook in with newspaper clippings from 1909-1929.  As I carefully carried it to my workstation, where I would begin to document and gently preserve them in an acid free storage container, I looked behind to see a flurry of brown flakes floating behind me, making me the library version of Gretel.  But these breadcrumbs might be pieces of important sentences, not snacks for crows, so I swept them up and brushed them into a mound on my desk, hoping to piece together the tiny typed symbols.

Dance archives at Jacob's Pillow

Such images underscore the fragility of the printed word and allow us to feel secure in the seemingly indestructible nature of our Word files.  But consider that a computer virus can wipe out our work faster than the sun or humidity can destroy a newspaper.

As dance writers do we think enough about preserving our work?  Or are we more concerned with what we’re writing now?  I’m sure someone has that article on file, we think. It’s on a zip drive, so it’s safe, right?  Well depending on how old your technology is, or if that domain name is paid for… don’t be so sure.  Watching the tangible written word deteriorate before my eyes made me realize that each of us is the keeper of the key to dance history through our compositions.  But how to ensure the longevity of these critiques/articles/interviews/opinions?  A few suggestions…

Smart practices for preservation

–       Get that glue away from your scrapbooks! If you have clippings and other paper that is glued to a scrapbook page there are various ways to avoid the eventual paper trail I described earlier.  However, the easiest solution is to make a photocopy of the page and file items by date someplace safe and convenient.

–       Keep the originals. I like the smell of old newspapers too, but that’s not why I keep them around – it is the basic rule of thumb for any preservation effort: YOU ALWAYS KEEP THE ORIGINALS.

–       Discard any metal paperclips or staples, they will rust and make a lovely orange and brown mess all over your paper.

–       Put the scrapbook in a dry, dark place out of the sun and away from water. I like plastic storage containers for my scrapbooks because I know that even if the water is ankle deep everything inside should stay dry.  Water and sun is the enemy of preservation.

–       Try not to handle the originals too much.  Use your copies for references.  I know this sounds like common knowledge but I can’t begin to tell you how many of us just don’t do it.

A note about technology:

However you backup up your work is your choice (options include disk-on-key, external hard drive, and “on the cloud” web-based storage), but I encourage you to make hard copies of your writing and file them by date along with your other copied items.  Technology changes (daily so it seems) and tangible paper does not require a forgotten password, a firewall, a username, a SIMcard, or an outlet. It is always available and will be even if your iWhatever dies, crashes or goes out of style.

There is something romantic about a love letter, something nostalgic about a newspaper clipping, something exciting about seeing your name in print.  Don’t lose those wonderfully human feelings by allowing your legacy to crumble into dust or worse, get lost in the cloud.

Yes, preserving your work takes time. Yes we all have more writing to do, a deadline to meet, a blog to spit out.  Finding room for files of paper can be challenging (I know, I live in 420 square feet at the moment).  But I implore you not to let these obstacles become the reason we forget a memorable performance or fail to gain insight into a particular artist.

Your paper trail – our collective paper trails – are all we have to lead future generations to the dance we love.

If you have more questions about preservation practices for dance items or would like to contact our author please feel free to email Kirsten at kirstendancer@yahoo.com and check out her regular blog at www.kwdanceblog.wordpress.com

Kirsten Wilkinson is a Board Member of the Dance Critics Association. She is a Dance Archivist at the Library of Congress within the Music Division. Her archival experience also includes time at the University of Maryland Performing Arts Library, where she was a liaison between the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange and the library while the company gifted their collection to the university. She also spent time at the Rosebud Indian Reservation researching plausible and viable techniques for documenting, preserving and accessing Native American Dance forms.

Revisiting Judson Church

George Jackson’s DCA News essay on Jill Johnson and Allen Hughes republished, with fine archival photos, on Movement Research blog:

Judson Church & Its Dance Critics by George Jackson

“George Jackson’s 2010 reflection examines the work of Jill Johnston and Allen Hughes, two dance critics who paid early homage to Judson Dance Theater in the 1960s. Jackson contrasts Jill Johnston’s breathless, energetic writing in the Village Voice with Allen Hughes’ spartan, un-biased prose, published in the New York Times in between years as a music critic. As Judson turns 50 and we return to its history with new questions, we are indebted to the curiosity mustered by these critics during Judson’s early years, and the attention they sustained through its heyday. Jackson’s piece was originally printed in the Dance Critics Association newsletter; this re-publication marks its first appearance online.”

– Movement Research


About George Jackson:

George Jackson began writing about dance for his college newspaper at the University of Chicago in 1950 and has since reviewed for the general media (Washington Star, Washington Post, Times of London, PBS, NPR) and dance publications on four continents (recently for Ballet Review, Dance Chronicle, Dance Magazine and danceviewtimes.com). He has lived in Vienna, London, Cogenhoe, Chicago, New York and Washington DC. As a child he figure skated and later took ballet class, majored in microbiology and worked as a science researcher, instructor and editor. Currently he is writing a novel.

Joining the Debate: Do we need professional critics?

Recently, the New York Times launched a discussion thread in the Opinion page section Room for Debate questioning whether or not we need professional critics. They solicited responses from eight practitioners in the field to weigh in with thoughts, including Meagan Bruskewicz, who shared with the DCA a few weeks ago about her decision to pursue a PhD in dance history.

The discussion was kicked off with the following prompt:

Everyone’s a critic.

Blogs and social media have empowered anyone with an Internet connection to weigh in on the movie or book du jour. This has had a profound effect on the newspaper industry, which continues to shed full-time critics, while the ones who stay enthusiastically defend their craft.

Is professional criticism still important? Can professional criticism stay relevant when media companies’ budgets are tight and the media landscape is overflowing with opinions?

Bruskewicz, in her response, wrote:  “I think there is room for anyone to add his or her voice to the discourse… Yet I feel the distinction between amateurs and professionals should remain and still does — even a cacophony of emerging voices cannot take away from the authority of well-established professional critics and renowned publications.”

To read all of the responses, from other critics, visual artists, a performer, a novelist, and a filmmaker, visit Room for Debate here.

Anton Ego, the critic of Pixar's "Ratatouille"

DCA Board Member Brian Schaefer responded to the conversation on his blog, My Two Left Feet, and finds an unlikely muse in the character of Anton Ego, the critic in Pixar’s brilliant animated feature “Ratatouille,” who he believes offers a model for broadening the conversation and reclaiming the positive contributions of criticism:

“Ratatouille presented what I consider the best contemporary representation of criticism in popular culture in the way it deals with the transformation of the critic Anton Ego and the way it celebrates the idea that “everyone can cook” or, in this case, that “everyone can be a critic.”  That doesn’t mean they are cooks or critics, it means they have the potential to be and our job as those who value and practice criticism today is not to protect it but to share it.”

So what do you think?  Do we still need professional critics or will a more democratic arena of voices serve dance just as well, and perhaps better in some ways?  Share your opinions with us.