Archive for September, 2006

Pas de Deux

Monday, September 25th, 2006

Coming up is the Battle of Ideas Festival at the Royal College of Art in the UK. The festival thrives on the outrageous, out-of-fashion, and outlandish arguments to spur debate — along with a healthy dose of press coverage — and often tries to ring a death knell to political correctness.

In preparation for the Festival, organizers have been running an online series of “taster” interviews. Attention getting stories include Bob Geldof, you are not our messiah, and Darfur: Damned by Pity.

What caught me most off-guard was the interview with the former dancer turned critic Jeffrey Taylor. Taylor’s un-pc beef? British dance is in decline because it is no longer appropriate to touch children.

Huh? When was it appropriate for adults to be all over a child’s body? Back in the good old days of ballet class, apparently.

Taylor laments that ballet classes are now “observed” to ensure that the children are safe from the wandering hands of a ballet master. Note that Taylor is not referring to sessions with professional dancers, or young adults. He’s talking about children.

Touching the student is “a very natural part of the human process.” Why is it so necessary to have your hands on the child’s body? Taylor explains, “Classical ballet technique is one of the most unnatural physical regimes ever invented by man.”

Maybe I’m missing something, but let me see if I get this right. Ballet was invented by man to put bodies into unnatural positions so difficult to accomplish that children’s bodies — yes, we have to get them while they’re young and fresh — need to be pushed, prodded, and man-handled to attain the man’s fantasy of beauty.

Hey kids, where do we sign up?

Doesn’t this come across as… well… a bit sick? Is Taylor just upset because he’s spending all his time these days touching his pencil? Or, is he just nostalgic for those fun-filled and fancy-free days pursuing “art” with kids?

Moreover, is it true British ballet is in decline? If so, is it from the change in approach to training?

Honestly, I am not sure. We all understand the physical freedom demanded by any art that uses the human body as the center of expression: art models, physical theatre, modern dance, performance art, etc. Surely, though, there is a difference if the process involves someone who is twenty years old as opposed to a nine year old kid.

Or, am I just too politically-correct? Am I, too, part of the conspiracy to ruin British classical ballet?

- Bill Reichblum

Interview: Lane Alexander

Monday, September 25th, 2006

Photo: Lane AlexanderIn this week’s podcast, Ana Maria interviews Lane Alexander, co-founder and Director of the Chicago Human Rhythm Project.  Lane talks about the evolution of CHRP, the Rhythm World Summer Festival, the Global Rhythms Festival coming up in November, and how tap and percussive dance has finally come into its own. 

 Interview: Lane Alexander [19:15m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Honest Air Travel

Monday, September 18th, 2006

Festival travel often needs air travel. Have you ever wondered about the pre-flight announcement? Have you ever questioned the approach to air safety? Have you ever imagined yourself versus the Atlantic ocean with the little life vest under your seat? Is it true that your mobile phone would interfere with the cockpit communications? And, what’s a cross-check?

The Economist has provided a script answering these questions:

…your safety is our first priority. Actually, that is not quite true: if it were, our seats would be rear-facing, like those in military aircraft, since they are safer in the event of an emergency landing. But then hardly anybody would buy our tickets and we would go bust.

…Your life-jacket can be found under your seat, but please do not remove it now. In fact, do not bother to look for it at all. In the event of a landing on water, an unprecedented miracle will have occurred, because in the history of aviation the number of wide-bodied aircraft that have made successful landings on water is zero. This aircraft is equipped with inflatable slides that detach to form life rafts, not that it makes any difference…

…switch off all mobile phones, since they can interfere with the aircraft’s navigation systems. At least, that’s what you’ve always been told. The real reason to switch them off is because they interfere with mobile networks on the ground… On most flights a few mobile phones are left on by mistake, so if they were really dangerous we would not allow them on board at all… We will have to come clean about this next year, when we introduce in-flight calling across the Veritas fleet. At that point the prospect of taking a cut of the sky-high calling charges will miraculously cause our safety concerns about mobile phones to evaporate.

…Please consume alcohol in moderate quantities so that you become mildly sedated but not rowdy. That said, we can always turn the cabin air-quality down a notch or two to help ensure that you are sufficiently drowsy… After take-off, the most dangerous part of the flight, the captain will say a few words… Cabin crew, please make sure we have remembered to close the doors. Sorry, I mean: ‘Doors to automatic and cross-check’…

Now you know.

- Bill Reichblum

Critic’s Revenge

Monday, September 11th, 2006

Have you ever wondered if critics are as capable of taking criticism as they are at dishing it out?

Of course, artistic development and achievements have always been intertwined with critical appraisal. Our art forms have a long tradition of influence and inspiration from critics. For example, for the performing arts: Aristotle, Cicero, Longinus, Saint Augustine, Rousseau, Hume, Arnold, Lessing, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Bukharin, Esslin — well, you get the idea.

There are also examples of a different kind of critic. This is the type who turn their small-minded misanthropy toward those who bring something new to the world: artists. These critics exist in that negative space known as: it’s always easier to tear something down than it is to build something up. (Taking the high road, no names mentioned. But, please fill in your own.)

Usually, it is pretty clear which kind of critic is reacting to a work of art: the passionate intellectual who is putting new work in context; or, the angry little imp who enjoys their position of authority to make or break fragile careers.

This week, we learned what lurks in the heart of a generally well-known and well-respected critic — and, his heart is on the dark side.

The cultural critic for The New Republic, Lee Siegel, was caught using an alias to go after individuals who wrote their displeasure with his writings on The New Republic’s Blog. Identifying himself not as Lee Siegel, but as Sprezzatura, he used the magazine’s blog of his own work to vilify and demean those online readers who dared to disagree with him.

How rough was it? Well, “Sprezzatura” response posts included:

(Under the heading “Siegel is my hero,”)

How angry people get when a powerful critic says he doesn’t like their favorite show! Like little babies. Such fragile egos… Siegel is brave, brilliant…


You’re a fraud, and a liar. And a wincingly pretentious writer. You couldn’t tie Siegel’s shoelaces.

Ouch. (By the way, does anyone have their shoelaces tied by someone else these days? Prince Charles?)

When the editor of the New Republic was informed that Sprezzatura’s posts seemed awfully similar to Siegel’s voice, the New Republic investigated. TNR suspended Siegel from the magazine and its online version.

Siegel has told interviewers that he made a mistake, and misused the opportunities of a blog.

This critic has used his own darkness of soul to bring us some light:

  1. If you have a blog, don’t masquerade as your own best fan;
  2. If you want to be a critic, you should welcome your work being exposed to all for agreement or disagreement, or even - the kiss of death - indifference;
  3. If you want to be a critic, do not hide - be honest.

In other words, a critic is in as vulnerable a position as an artist — your work is open to any and all reactions from an audience. An artist, though, does not lurk in the shadows to cut others down, but builds us up by leading with the truth.

So, this week’s critical spotlight on a critic has taught us something after all; and, that’s the job of a critic! Thank you, Sprezzatura!

- Bill Reichblum

A Life of Irony

Monday, September 4th, 2006

This is a holiday weekend here. So, it is a good time to lean back and smile at (at least) two of life’s little ironies.

Last week’s post on Bob Dylan acknowledged his strongly articulated stance against today’s technology, music, and delivery systems. Ruben’s comment on the blog posited a different point of view of Dylan’s modus operandi. Well, it’s time to add yet another point of view.

I’ve been watching the U.S. Open on television. As in all these kinds of events, there is always one commercial that they play again, and again. This one features none other than Bob Dylan pitching the iPod with music from Modern Times. Don’t take my word for it: watch it yourself. Given what he was ranting about: Isn’t that ironic?

Then there is this week’s story on George Johnson. George made it to 112 years old. How did he do it? Lots of exercise, eating only the right foods, and avoiding all sin, right? Well, here is today’s second irony. For George Johnson, the key to living long was gulping down waffles with maple syrup (Vermont’s main export) and eating sausages. (The Vegetarian Society will now reply.) Given everything we are told about what we put into our bodies: Isn’t that ironic?

From the dramatic irony of Oedipus’ journey, to approaching a debate with Socratic irony, what can we apply from these ironies?

  1. When an icon takes a stand against today’s commercialism, he still wants you to pay money to attend his concerts and buy his CDs, as well as the products he is selling.
  2. If you have favorite foods, go ahead and enjoy them.
  3. Don’t take life too seriously (especially when it comes to advice from rock stars and other establishment professionals.)
  4. Go to festivals: There, you can apply lessons 1 through 3.

- Bill Reichblum

Interview: Ulrike Becker (Part 2)

Sunday, September 3rd, 2006

Photo: Ulrike BeckerUlrike Becker is one of three artistic directors of the contemporary dance festival Tanz im August. In this, the second part of our interview, Ulrike talks about plans for the SODA educational project and new space for dance in Berlin. Some other dimensions of the festival are also on the table: how to present the foreign and the young, and what risks that involves; what format works best within the framework of the festival to help emerging dance artists develop new pieces; and how to keep the audience lingering after performances.

 Interview: Ulrike Becker (Part 2) [16:25m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download