DUmb Critic Hack Award: THIS TIME, IT’S PERSONAL

DOUCHEWell, well, well. We’re back and we’re bad, and we’ve resuscitated the DUCHIES (pronounced, DOUCHE-ees) because Jenny D.’s recent review of a mixed bill at BRIC Studios in Brooklyn has us fired up. The interesting thing is that C.C. was personally involved and invested in one of the pieces she took down.

Now, before we all start tearing our hair out and screaming, “But you can’t criticize a review of something you were part of!”, I can. Not only is this a blog, and therefore, I make up the rules. But, I can’t think of anything more healthy than an artist responding to a critic in a manner that is thoughtful and critical. Why is this dialog not happening in the first place? Why are artists afraid of critics, and vice versa? Well, there are probably a lot of reasons. But the greatest value the medium of bloggery has, a value that is sadly underemployed, is the way it can mediate immediacy in discourse and public discussion. It’s an experiment, but here goes.

According to J. Dog, “the program was a flaccid and dispiriting affair.” And she’s partially right. Only two of the night’s five acts, all curated by Ishmael Houston Jones, were at all interesting or moving.

The first of these was Pele Bausch’s “ism”, where she and Christine Sandifer gently moved about the space, their bodies wrapped in plastic bags that have be stuffed under flesh-tone nylons, so that with each miniscule movement, you heard a soft, swishing of crinkling plastic, like gentle sheets of rain falling on leaves. It really was magical in its way; the sound creating a total aural analog to the entire force and presence of the human body. In this regard, I think J. Dog under-recognized them.

Now, the second, and here’s where it gets fun, was the solo “Empty Every Night” by dance artist, Jeremy Laverdure. Jeremy is not only a friend of mine of several years, but he and I are actually collaborating on a dance piece together, some of which found its way into his solo (with my acquiescence). This means, not only do I have a vested interest in the success of some of the choreography, but I also have the inside creative scoop on how some of the choreography came about, which, in this particular instance of dance, is deeply important: The opening moments of Jeremy’s solo were lifted from Jerome Robbin’s “Afternoon of a Faun.”

Now, the fact that J. Dog doesn’t mention this raises some questions. Namely, Did she recognize it? One would expect that maybe a seasoned dance critic would have. Perhaps A.M. might have been more cognizant of the material which, as performed by Jeremy, was exact, even if it was filtered through his unorthodox body (unorthodox to the choreography since he is a tall and solidly built man, while the movement was designed for the lines and limbs of a female ballerina).

Secondly, and trickier, is, if she had noticed it, why wouldn’t she have mentioned it? Is it an unimportant detail? She writes in the beginning of her review that “Dance seems to have entered into post-postmodernism.” So she’s aware of developments in dance, and, I would assume would be sensitive to the evocation of older forms or styles. You would think watching a young dance artist treat the work of a legendary choreographer would have some resonance; at least some relevance.

Now, none of this is to say that she would have enjoyed the piece had she recognized the choreography. That’s a false positive. But it does draw concern as to how attentive she might or might not be to what she’s watching. I think even an average viewer would have noticed that Jeremy was dancing in a balletic style. It makes the movement humorous and meaningful at the same time. But Dunning either didn’t see that, or didn’t care to comment on it. I’m not sure which is worse.

But the choreography is what it is. I obviously love the idea and the execution. But the critical discrepency can always be chalked up to tastes. So, there you are.

But the second thing that annoys me about Dunning’s piece is her direct attack on Jeremy as a performer. She writes: …he did not have the presence or comic skills to pull off the coy soliloquies, mock vamp and other bits.

So, aside from my own enamored appreciation of Jeremy’s performance–I was very moved, to tears and to laughter–it also seemed the entire audience was very much into Jeremy’s stage presence. At least, that’s what I recall. If anyone was there and cares to chime in, please do. There’s always the chance that I was too absorbed in my own reaction to objectively evaluate the crowd’s response. But I seriously felt like Jeremy drew big laughs, commanded the audience’s attention through the more poignant passages (they could detect when laughing time had ended), and presented an entertaining, if intentionally understated approach to dance.

Now, I have been to performances where audiences were going nuts and I was like, Oh, hell no. But in that case, I don’t think I have ever specifically questioned the performer’s “presence” or “skill” as a performer. If I have, then hang me up to dry. But still, to make such an attack seems incongruous with how his performance was received. I’m obviously making an attempt to provide some kind of objective evidence to counter Dunning’s comment. If I were acting as the hard critic, I would just be like, She’s wrong. But we do things a little differently around here. Everything is open for discussion, and my opinions are not set in cement. But the fact that J. Dog spent more of her frugal word-count writing how good he wasn’t, rather than considering any of the merits of his work, of which there are many, makes me question the level of her engagement in the performance, and her willingness to fully consider what an artist may be going for.

Now–and I’m just going to throw it out there and see where it lands and/or what it stirs up–there is also the possibility that Dunning was dumb to the political resonance that Jeremy’s solo work exhibits. Political how?

Well, it’s queer performance. (Keep your eyes peeled for a review that will come out in next month’s “Rail” where I discuss two other recent queer performances.)

Jeremy has a queer presence. He’s a tall hairy guy, who wears a thick, bushy moustache, and he performs in a combination of underwear, women’s wear, wigs, ballet shoes and various other paraphernalia. It’s queer, both as in homosexual and as in gender different. The references–to Robbins, to ballet, to jazz dance, to diva monologues–and even simple phrases like “You look really young in this picture” resonate with specifically contemporary queer notions of gender, sexuality, interpersonal relationships and relationships to objects and culture.

NOW, like with what I was saying regarding the conceit behind the choreography, it isn’t the particulars that make Jeremy’s work good, but Jeremy uses the particulars to make good work. He presents them with heart, humor and wit. And anyone with any sort of access to queer culture will be sensitive to it. Again. Doesn’t make it good, de facto. But it does make it fabulous.

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