Semi-Douche: Roslyn Sulcas on Alexandre Roccoli

summerseve2.jpgI can’t give Roslyn Sulcas the full douchey for her harsh review of Alexandre Roccoli’s Unbecoming Solo that ran last weekend at Chez Bushwick as part of fi:af’s “Crossing The Line” series. Why? Because she isn’t altogether wrong in her descriptions. The performance was inchoate, and for all its use of pre-recorded interviews there was nothing literally conclusive about the piece–not that these are necessarily bad things. But she gets the semi-douche for sounding as if she had no intention of taking this evening seriously, and for letting her judgments spin off into blasé nitpicking.

My feeling is that when you approach the avant-garde, you should give the benefit of the doubt that the artist does not mean to waste your time. If they eventually prove to be doing this, by all means, pan away. But Sulcas’ tone suggests that she’d rather not have even had to go to Chez Bushwick at all (it sounds as if she had never been there, referring to the Chez Bushwick studio merely as “a large room”), and her review is so dismissive that it’s obvious she was not about to expend any energy in trying to engage in a relationship with the work, or open herself to possibilities of new experience.

Tellingly, she took the title at its most narrow–and shallow–meaning, that is, she called Roccoli’s costume “unbecoming,” rather than try to imagine how unbecoming might have to do with, say, how he dances in front of a white projection screen and the absence of a video projection could be considered something that “un-became,” or how Roccoli’s subject develops through the words of other artists, and in that way, you could say Roccoli himself un-becomes, or never arrives. I get particularly frustrated when critics fail to rise to the responsibility of consideration. Even Julia Roberts in Mona Lisa Smile remands a complainy Wellesley art student who asks if she has to like a Jackson Pollock painting: “No, you don’t have to like it. But you do have to consider it.”

Furthermore, Sulcas’ claim that Roccoli did not provide “even thoughts on the subject” of why European artists might not be interested in making work in New York is totally unfounded, particularly since every interview was tuned in some way to the nature of making work both in New York and in Europe. This seemed rather obvious to me. Perhaps Sulcas was reacting to Roccoli’s disinterest in shaping these casually offered ideas into an over-edited, manipulative sequence of sound bites.

I went to the Roccoli performance, and nothing about it struck me as “annoying” or lazy, as suggested by Sulcas. On the other hand, the work seemed satisfyingly open-ended. And the use of casual interviews–interviews that go their own way and are not manipulatively steered by an Oprah or a Charlie Rose–as a backdrop through which the dance moved (sometimes syncing up, sometimes not) was rich and, at times, riveting. The interviews themselves tell you a lot about what concerns New York dance aritsts: mainly the work, but at an uncomfortably close second, money.

And Chez Bushwick’s “Force Majeur” program (of which Roccoli is the first artist in residence) and the “Crossing the Line” series are explicit in their will to facilitate cultural exchange between New York artists and artists internationally. This is exactly what Roccoli was doing. It’s hard to understand how Sulcas missed this or didn’t think it was material in the work, since the materials used in the work were so explicit.

And maybe our ideas just differ. What she found “unfocused,” I found candid and liberating. She cited a lack of technical rigor in the work, but I found it to be rigorously articulated in its movements.

In the end, Sulcas’ eager dismissivity and passivity in seriously considering the work may have given us an answer to what she even knew to be Roccoli’s idee fixe: “Why most of the European choreographers of my generation are not inclined nowadays to come to New York City.” I hope, for New York’s sake, that Roccoli and company won’t hold Sulcas’ butt-headedness against us. I hope he comes back.



  1. What is also important to note, which went blithely unmentioned, was that this was the first performance presented at Chez Bushwick that has been open to critical review. Both the “Shtudio Show” and “Ambush” series both refused to be reviewed critically, since they were showcasing works in progress.

  2. WORD UP! I was so moved by Alexandre’s work—I found him, his investigation, and his results to be impressive, troubling, beautiful—and completely authentic. And, as a curator of the FIAF festival, I am scheming about ways to engage a broad, generously considered, and democratic response to the work we present in next year’s festival.

  3. Hi Lizzie! Thanks for your comments.

    Sadly, mainstream media will not be able to provide anyone with “a broad, generously considered, and democratic response.” They don’t have the time or the space. And the very idea of a critic hinges upon the belief that their observations are authoritative, not democratic, and necessarily control discourse. So, to the blogosphere!

    I’m gonna post soon regarding an interesting article by “The Death of the Critic” author, Ronan McDonald.

  4. I don’t know what privileged world Miss Sulcas comes from but seems like little regard is given to fostering dance. Dance is one of the most difficult careers to develop by the cheer size of its demanding sacrifices This type of review is mostly destructive as it leaves no room for evolution, in many cases effectively castrating any chances for a brighter future for dancers and choreographers.

    I have seen shows and then read the review by Sulkas and I am left dumfounded by how many great details are left unmentioned, particularly the names of great dancers (regardless of how much one could dislike the overall choreography).

    It reeks of ego and that stinks a lot more than the work she pretentiously reviews.

  5. I would like to invite you to see our show to have your opinion.


    Pablo Croce

  6. I hada our show reviewed by Mrs Sulca and was really impressed by her lack of objectivity.

    I would like to invite you all to com see our show.

    Please let me know if you would like to come. Our guest.

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