Monday, February 19, 2007

Dancehunter Turns TWO and Talks to Herself

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photo by N. Wozny

So how’s life in the blogosphere?
You mean the blabosphere? A bit overkill there. I run a tight blogship, mostly reprints and a venue for the homeless stories. When a choreographer calls me and asks for a story five days before the show, I can say “sure, why not, let’s talk.”

And dance writing?
It’s still not a profession outside of New York, and even there it's had iffy moments. I’d tried to quit but I can’t.

Don’t you have a habit of quitting things?
I quit something when I learned what I came to learn, and carry that learning to the next thing. I don’t feel nearly done with dance writing but you never know.

Will people ever get over the dominance of print media?
Print media is being retooled and dance coverage is on the upswing right here in Houston. Plus now print media has a strong web presence. For the sake of trees, I urge you to become a web reader. It takes a while to get used to reading from a screen without holding something in your hands. We do love our things. Dance people of all people should embrace the ethereal nature of the web. The money part needs to catch up; lots of people writing for no pay.

What about dance writing on the web?
There’s so much wonderful writing these days, there’s no need to pillage the environment to read about dance. Head to Doug Fox’s Great Dance to find them all. Apollinaire Scherr’s blog Foot in Mouth... and Toby Tobias’ Seeing Things are two of my favorite stops.

You’ve been cheating on your art form and covering opera and theater. What’s up with that?
I love opera. I grew up listening to Milton Cross on the Texaco Opera broadcasts. It’s not Saturday without opera. As for theater, it’s a word thing.

Last year you claimed to have no attention span and an air-tight memory. What do you claim to have this year?
I carry a sense of being alien to everything I see. I think the skill comes from being a first generation American of parents that did not have the luxury of being outsiders. They assimilated at lightening speed. Even though I grew up in the middle class suburbs of Buffalo, I carry that “I’m a stranger here myself,” vibe. It’s very useful for looking at dance.

Anything else?
I'm left-handed. We make good dance watchers.

What’s the freakiest thing about being a dance critic?
I’m haunted by the some of the dances I don’t review. They follow me around. Currently this is happening with Miguel Gutierrez's piece Difficult Bodies. It's a wonderful piece and just a feast of movement to write about. It’s as if the choreographer leaves space for me to wander around. I suppose I am still wandering about.

You lazy bum, why didn’t you review?
Because I wrote a preview and it’s problematic to preview and review.

You get too invested in the work to be unbiased. You start cheering for that team; it affects the chemicals in your brain. You have a predisposition to like the work. But still, it could be fun for those very same reasons.

What are the most prevalent sins of dance critics?
Spending your word limit on letting people know how smart you are
Forgetting to mention the dancers, music, sets, lighting or other parts of the whole
Not even trying to figure it out
Too much description
Excessive fussing with fancy action verbs

And which are you guilty of?
All but the first; I’m not that smart.

Any new venues?
Houston Chronicle, Culture Vulture, Spacetaker, Goldrush, Old venues: Dance Source Houston,Dance Magazine, Dance Spirit, and artshouston.

What do you love about dance?
It’s the A-train to strange. Nothing gets you there faster, and I have a need to escape the normal. We all do. Some, more than others. Plus, our brains need abstraction. Dance owns abstract.

Why is dance still the orphan of the arts?
Well humans are still aliens to their own bodies. No change there. A prevailing culture of homophobia doesn’t help. Hopefully that will erode with a democratic president. Dancers are also the least self-promoting people I have ever met. That has to factor in. I also think the world is entirely content ignoring dance. While waiting for my children to come home on New Year's Eve I watched an old episode of Seinfeld. He claims he has never seen a ballet and never plans to.

Ok, so Seinfeld has never seen a ballet. So what?
Well, it reminds me of what Donna Walker-Kuhne said in her Dance USA on tour keynote, “People are just fine without what we do.” You see, I thought they weren’t. I’ve always looked at people that don’t like dance as a dull and dim-witted bunch. It’s simply not true and that is hard to take.

Is there anything good about dance being under the radar?
Sure. Less compromise. More experimentation. Think about the NEA before the culture wars.

What about audiences?
We need them, younger ones, loyal ones. People that bring their friends.

What’s the best way to grow your audience?
Try being an audience member. Dancers don’t see enough shows themselves.

Other ideas?
I wish the thousands of kids studying at suburban dance studios all over the U.S. would start showing up at dance concerts the way they show up at competitions and conventions. This could happen if teachers and studio owners were more involved with their local dance communities and if parents took their children to more live performance. Suburban parents expose their children to the arts more through lessons than attending performances.

What about competitions and conventions?
It’s an interesting world. Kids get a taste of performing and the people that run the show and teach are making a living. All of that is good for dance.

Why is there such a huge gulf between the commercial and concert world of dance?
It’s rooted in economic and aesthetic differences. I have a fantasy that these worlds will start talking to one another. I’ve seen bits of hope.

Is it true that you watched every episode of So You Think You Can Dance?
I missed a few. It’s good to see how the mainstream views dance. I loved the category called “pop.” I’m waiting for a "Judson church" category. I was story surfing and ended up writing a piece on Mia Michaels for Goldrush.

What’s the best way to get a piece out of you?
Call me up. 281-370-0156. I am always impressed when an artist cares enough about their work to ring me up.

How does good press or any press factor into a career?
Less than you would expect. A career exists outside of what is written about that career. It’s your work that counts, not what any critic or feature writer has to say. Plus, when you get that article, I guarantee there will be something that is either wrong or not quite right. Perhaps a quote is chopped a bit and you will cringe a bit. Resist the urge to call the writer and complain. Send a thank you note instead.

What about dance writing in Houston?
It’s getting better, and there is way more of it than say two years ago. Of course I wish there were a slew of dance writers, especially for modern dance. Dance Source Houston filled in a huge gap. The Houston Chronicle is covering some two-weekend events. The Houston Press is great with previews and bless the people over at artshouston who have come forth with a 1,000 words for dance every month for several years running.

What do we have to be thankful for here in Houston?
Glad you asked. Well despite all the seemingly bad news we have a strong community that just keeps on truckin’. We also have people that don’t make just dances but MAKE dance happen, like Christina Giannelli, Toni Valle, Louie Saletan, Andrea Cody, Karen Stokes, Sixto Wagan, and Maxine Silberstein. I am sure there are others but those people came to mind.

What do you want to learn more about this year?
Chinese dance and Step.

What are you doing artwise?
I got over stuffing humanoid shapes into bottles, and then moved to rearranging a cloth doll in a daily mediation. I learned a tremendous amount how much is communicated by just the position of a body-like form. My new thing is making up names. I call it identity poetry.

And you do write under these names?

Still watching medical TV shows?
Always, for your safety. Although I am not getting the OR time I need to improve my surgical chops in Grey’s Anatomy. But after a few seasons of House my diagnostic skills are through the roof. Should you go in to any dimension of neurological fit during a dance concert know that you are safe with me by your side.

Recently seen?
LeeSaar The Company in Part II as part of the 92nd street Y Harkness Dance Festival, just riveting through and through.

Recently missed?
Travesty Dance Group due to being stranded in NYC with a bad case of the jet blues.

What’s your ideal job?