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Critical mass: vintage reviews: a look at the dance world through seventy years of Dance Magazine reviews.

Dance Magazine has published reviews almost since its inception in Los Angeles seventy years ago. The legacy of Diaghilev and Duncan merges seamlessly into the future envisioned by such revolutionaries as Graham, Balanchine, and Cunningham in the following years. Here are excerpts of critical opinion gleaned from throughout Dance Magazine's history. Original spelling and punctuation have been left intact.

Dance Magazine started out as The American Dancer. Its first issue in June 1927 dict not include reviews as such. But it did contain a critical article by dancer Serge Oukrainsky that set forth guidelines for reviews taken from a high -- a very high -- authority.

JUNE 1927 THE DANCE: WHAT IT IS, WAS, AND SHOULD BE BY SERGE OUKRAINSKY The Holy Scripture says: "In the beginning was the word, and the word was God."

When the divine breath animated Adam, the first movement of the first man was the first dance pose....

In 1933 the editorial offices moved from Los Angeles to New York City, "which is, after all, the artistic hub of the Western hemisphere." The magazine had a new editor, Paul R. Milton, and a house critic, Joseph Arnold. Some popular dancers had already been appearing for a number of years.

JUNE 1933 RUTH ST. DENIS, MANSFIELD THEATRE, APRIL 23-30 BY JOSEPH ARNOLD Miss St. Denis presented her familiar dances of East India and the Far East, assisted by pupils from the Denishawn School. The opening number at the first concert was The Purdah, which she danced originally at the Hudson Theatre in 1906. Twenty-seven years ago! An amazing span for a dancer who is today still an incomparable artist....

Interest in multicultural dance is not new.

NOVEMBER 1933 UDAY SHAN-KAR, CARNEGIE HALL, OCTOBER 21 BY JOSEPH ARNOLD Shan-Kar's dancing is by now well-known in this country. He opened the present dancing season with three concerts in Carnegie Hall and drew the usual enthusiastic audiences.

Some critics made a point of commenting on new dances Shan-Kar presented, designating them good or bad. An Occidental commentator of the Hindu dance must be astonishingly learned in Oriental lore to understand whether one of Shan-Kar's dances is better than another. Hindu dancing, like so much other dancing of primitive derivation, is a dance of signs and symbols, and is generally incomprehensible to the Occidental spectator....

Martha Graham was ever-present on the concert stage. In this review Arnold wondered why she was so prominent; he later come to appreciate her greatness.

JANUARY 1934 MARTHA GRAHAM, GUILD THEATRE, NOVEMBER 19 BY JOSEPH ARNOLD Whatever may be the ultimate judgment on Martha Graham's dancing, historians will be obliged to state that in the year 1933, as in the years 1932 and 1931, this Martha Graham was the leading dancer in America....

And who is this Martha Graham that has made herself such an idol? A very homely girl, a face like a death's head, white and bony. The body hard to define beneath her costumes, but giving no suggestion of attractiveness. In her art she radiates none of the emotional or sexual warmth associated with all the great dancers heretofore, even Mary Wigman....

Miss Graham is always the priestess and the stage is a temple. She dances as though in subjugation to a deity....

The May 1936 issue included the first review The American Dancer ran from abroad -- an unsigned review of La Meri in London. In the same issue Dorathi Bock Pierre reviewed Lester Horton, one of the pioneers of dance in California.

MAY 1936 HORTON DANCE GROUP, FIGUEROA PLAYHOUSE, LA., MARCH 21. UNDER AUSPICES OF THE NEW DANCE LEAGUE BY DORATHI BOCK PIERRE ...It is remarkable and a very heartening thing to see how Mr. Horton and his group have improved since their last concert. The numbers he repeated have all been immeasurably improved, in formation, technique, and conception. True, he is using his dances as propaganda, but they are now good dances in themselves....

Bella Lewitzky, who had been in the first concert in secondary parts, projected herself in this performance and shows promise of becoming a really fine dancer of the modern school....

Dance Magazine was founded under that title with Paul Milton as editor and Arnold (whose byline had changed to Joseph Arnold Kaye) as critic. Martha Graham was pictured on the cover of the issue dated v. 1, no. 1, October 1936, which included a review of one of Doris Humphrey's greatest works.

OCTOBER 1936 BENNINGTON FESTIVAL SERIES. DORIS HUMPHREY AND CHARLES WEIDMAN WITH THEIR CONCERT GROUPS AND STUDENTS OF THE WORKSHOP, VERMONT STATE ARMORY, BENNINGTON, VERMONT, AUGUST 13-15 BY JOSEPH ARNOLD KAYE ...Miss Humphrey intends With My Red Fires to be the third section of the trilogy "on the theme of the relationship of man to man". The first two sections are Theatre Piece and New Dance, seen frequently last season and repeated at Bennington.

The first part of the new work can only be described as the finest choral composition that the modern dance has produced. If that is a statement startling in its vastness it is nevertheless true. Never has there been such a translation of the joy of life, into terms of bodily movement....

But having said this the writer wishes he had the proper verbal bridge to carry him from this height of enthusiasm to the description of a sorrowful anti-climax. Part II, titled Drama, produced Miss Humphrey enacting a very melodramatic villainess, largely through pantomime. As acting it was of a third-rate stock-company variety....

Popular entertainment was not ignored by the new publication. The reviews columns were divided into sections for concerts, books, film, theater, variety -- and radio! The following review is reprinted in its entirety.

NOVEMBER 1936 SWING TIME. RKO-RADIO PICTURE STARRING FRED ASTAIRE, GINGER ROGERS. DANCES BY HERMES PAN. MUSIC BY JEROME KERN BY A. C. Much has been written about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Swing Time except, perhaps, one thing:

Astaire and Rogers are the picture; everything else seems to have been put in to fill the time between swings.

Dance routines are fresh and interesting, dancing is superb.

When Hollywood will learn to make a dance picture as good as the dancing, we cannot even guess.

For, as a film, Swing Time is inferior to Follow the Fleet.

Ann Barzel, a senior editor who still writes for the magazine, began contributing reviews from Chicago.

FEBRUARY 1937 CHICAGO RUTH PAGE BALLET, WITH CHICAGO CIVIC OPERA COMPANY BY ANN BARZEL Ruth Page and her ballet have been having some more or less unorthodox moments with the Chicago Civic Opera this season.

There was Carmen, in which even the chorus disapproved of the costumes, and Lakme, wherein Vera Mirova was drafted as guest artist....

Miss Page's first complete ballet this year was American in Paris to the Gershwin score. Nicholas Remisoff designed the decor.

Mr. Stone dances the role Paul Draper rehearsed last summer and his vaudeville experience stands him in good stead.

The thing is dated; but perhaps Miss Page will make up for this lack of the contemporary in her next ballet, An American Woman, choreographed by Gluck Sandor and said to have more than a touch of the new social consciousness.

African American artists produced a steady stream of work. Kaye offered some careful insight into cultural borrowing.

MARCH 1940 DANCE IN REVIEW KATHERINE DUNHAM & DANCE GROUP, WINDSOR THEATRE, N. Y., FEB. 18. BY JOSEPH ARNOLD KAYE Miss Dunham, a Negro, flared into unsuspecting New York like a comet. Unknown before her debut, she is today one of the most talked-of dancers, and one for whom a happy box-office future can be predicted....

This dancer's virtues are a genius for theatre dance choreography, a keen understanding of the uses to which her ethnographic material can be put, and an excellent technique....

Her entire group was excellent, particularly Archie Savage, who is a find. Talley Beatty has unusual athletic qualities, and a lightness of style reminiscent of ballet.... Some admirers of Miss Dunham have gone into raptures because they say she has remained loyal to her race and does not try to imitate the white man, as other Negro dancers have. The fact is, very few Negro dancers have gone out of their element. If any one class has remained loyal to its heritage it is the Negro dancer. Rather it is the white man who has copied the Negro.

Most editors strive to avoid conflicts of interest when assigning reviews. But not the one who asked Lincoln Kirstein, who desperately wanted an "American" ballet, to review the Ballet Russe!

NOVEMBER 1940 BALLET RUSSE DE MONTE CARLO, 51ST ST. THEATRE, PREMIER OCT. 14. MGT. S. HUROK. BY LINCOLN KIRSTEIN ... The Monte Carlo's stage direction is sloppy in the extreme. The company, except for the soloists, are not careful about their make-up, wigs, shoes or stance. It is not only jealousy or envy that makes the young American dancers who pay for standing-room contemptuous of them. It is because the careless arrogance of the Russian management has a contempt not only for technical perfection, but for the essential creative impulse as well....

Casse Noisette [The Nutcracker] was revived by Mme. [Alexandra] Fedorova in a very pretty remembrance of Petipa. The dances themselves were quite charmingly arranged. But if an American company had dared to give the performance the Monte Carlo did an its premiere they would have been howled off the boards. Two girls fell. Three headdresses came off. There was such a jockeying for position that the finale was danced partly off stage....

The whole production is characteristic of the irresponsible, lazy, contemptuous direction of this company, backed by American capital. Even the morale of the dancers has suffered from the negligence of unprofessional directors who employ good artists and pervert their intention. The Russian season opened badly and went worse....

Lucille Marsh become editor beginning with the May 1942 issue; the magazine's new management quickly positioned the publication to be relevant to a country at war. The editorial mix was changed, and reviews did not appear regularly again until the middle of 1945.

An enthusiastic young dancegoer, fresh out of college, began by writing features, then quickly took on many of the reviewing assignments. Still a contributor today, Doris Hering is a senior editor of the magazine.

JULY 1946 TWO CONCERTS BY DORIS HERING The moderns were well represented on Sunday, May 12th, when Anna Sokolow gave an afternoon program at the 92nd Street "Y" and Merce Cunningham performed in the evening at the Hunter College Playhouse.

Seeing both on the same day was a stimulating experience, for they typify opposite poles of approach in the contemporary dance. Anna Sokolow is a realist. She is socially conscious. She is concerned with reaching and moving the greatest possible number of people -- through emotional means. So absorbed does she become in the social and socializing aspects of her art that detail is sometimes neglected for over-all effect; and form is neglected for content....

From this slice of realism it was quite a skip to Merce Cunningham, the escapist. He is not directly concerned with human problems and how to solve them. His dance language is for the initiated few who are as interested in contemplating Mr. Cunningham's navel as he is himself. The effect tends to be over-intellectual and a little precious.

But there are compensations in going along with Mr. Cunningham. He is a dancer to the core. There isn't a crude or clumsy bone in his supple body. His phrasing and sense of form approach perfection....

New media were examined to test their suitability to dance.

OCTOBER 1946 TELEVISED CONCERT BY DORIS HERING Two generalizations can be made from Dumont Television's first modern dance program on July 31, and both of them are negative. First, television has much (yes, even more than the cinema) to learn about filming dance movement. Second, despite its lofty artistic tenets, Dumont showed no discrimination whatsoever in its choice of talent for the initial experiment.... Reed Severin and Doris Hering began dividing reviewing duties between them. This enabled the magazine to cover a wide variety of work. In an early example of a "feature review," a format still used, Severin covered the extraordinary confluence of two remarkable premieres.







If the major theme of these comments has perforce been gloomy -- that the ballet has fallen on evil days -- then let everyone relax, for this month anyway. For on the first program of its second subscription season The Ballet Society presented a work of such extraordinary beauty, strength, imagination, craftsmanship, and deep poetic insight that I was left unreservedly happy and enthusiastic. To Mozart's E-Flat-major (K.364) Synfonie Concertante (the tide of the ballet also), George Balanchine has created choreography which I haven't the slightest hesitation in describing as a great and remarkable piece of work, beginning on a high key and progressing from one stunning climax to another....

Just as in the music the themes are played by a violin and viola, so are they given focus in the dance through two girl soloists -- Tanaquil Le Clercq and Maria Tallchief -- the first sunny, high-strung, centrifugal, the second of darker humour, proud and mysterious.... As a whole, then, you see a ballet not coldly intellectual but always profound, modest in its theatricality but always theatrical, intricate in its marvelous construction but delicate in its effects, excitingly musical in its technique but reasonably unbound to the score itself, classic in its style, warm in its emotion, suspenseful in its patterns -- or, to put it simply, a work of art....






Only two weeks after Synfonie Concentrate, Balanchine was again taking bows from the City Center stage, this time for another masterpiece, Theme and Variations, which was premiered by Ballet Theatre during its four-week New York season this fall. One thing that immediately struck my attention was Balanchine's astonishing adaptability to the conditions under which he works. Whereas in Synfonie Concertante he gave his ensemble of School of American Ballet student dancers only such movements and functions as would let them seem to be professionals (without in any way impairing the force of the music or the choreography), in Theme and Variations he has exploited not only Ballet Theatre's larger technical resources but the company's rather flashy, theatrical style plus the possible musical-comedy predilections typical of a good many in their audience....

Working with these tools and a flamboyant musical base taken from Tschaikovsky's "Suite No. 3 for Orchestra," Balanchine has arranged his abstract choreography in such a style as to recapture the spirit of ballet in the time of Petipa -- and much more besides, giving new life to contemporary dance itself. After a group of dances for the two soloists and the girls of the ensemble, he proceeds with a solo for [Igor] Youskevitch, another for [Alicia] Alonso, and then an adagio for both, winding up with an exciting finale for the entire corps de ballet....

And so you feel refreshed and cleansed and buoyed up, in slightly the same way a brisk, exciting set of tennis might affect you afterwards. You have, moreover, seen dancers who for once look happy and intelligent, bold, free and open in their movements, people who are adult and unneurotic enjoying themselves because they are doing what they love to do and what comes most naturally to them....

Not everyone is interested in inventing the future.






The Marquis de Cuevas, whose Grand Ballet spent four weeks (beginning October 30) at the Century Theatre, has been called the "Diaghilev of 1950." Nothing could be less true. For Diaghilev rescued the Russian ballet from a slough of sterile vehicles for self-centered virtuosi. The Marquis has done much to draw the ballet back to that decadent level....

The magazine continued to grow. Lydia Joel, who had worked here for a number of years, become editor in 1952.

It may seem hard now to recall a time before The Nutcracker dominated winter stages. But all traditions have to begin somewhere. This one included a student dancer who would appear in these pages again many times.

APRIL 1954





. . . The premieres were widely divergent. They ranged from Balanchine's grand guignol Opus 3,4 (reviewed in the March issue) to his expansive two-act version of The Nutcracker and to Jerome Robbins' unpretentious Quartet. Because the works were so different in content, they became a fascinating test of the basic style of this fine company.

It is a theatre approach in which the emotional identity of the individual is usually placed secondary to his dancing self....

It is interesting to see this lack of strong emotional overtone at work in the season's major premiere, The Nutcracker. Despite the complexity of the scenario and of Horace Armistead's scenery and Karinska's costumes, the work had an unhurried simplicity of dancing surface. In contrast, for example, with the Sadler's Wells's Sleeping Beauty, Balanchine's version of The Nutcracker was casual and did not dig into the highly symbolic literary content. The story was merely a scaffolding for the dance designs and for Balanchine's own orderly vision of the world of childhood....

Of the two little boys (Rusty Nickel and Eliot Feld) who performed the Nutcracker, we preferred the latter....

Some of Graham's alumni were turning out to be downright radical. Epic would turn out to be one of Paul Taylor's most notorious works.




OCTOBER 20, 1957


Watching Paul Taylor's Seven New Dances, we were reminded of a review of Francoise Sagan's latest novel. The reviewer, Francis Keene, maintained that the book reflected the hopelessness of the post-war generation....

This could be said of Paul Taylor. His concert was a withdrawal -- an excursion into non-dance -- an effort to find the "still point" in his approach to movement. The effort was courageous and sincere.

But it contained a misapprehension. For stillness con be realized only if it is contrasted with movement....

Mr. Taylor achieved his goal most fully in Events II, a duet for Donya Feuer and Cynthia Stone. . . . Also effective was Events I in which Toby Armour sat pensively downstage, slowly changed her position to lie down, then sat alertly listening to a moaning like wind in a revolving door. In the background two girls ran swiftly by.

But Mr. Taylor's quest became excessively nihilistic in Duet and in Epic. Duet found Mr. Taylor standing still and Toby Glanternick sitting still. And that was all, except for an occasional piano-plunk by David Tudor following a non-score by John Cage.... In Epic, Mr. Taylor made a slow, deliberate progress across stage while the voice of a telephone operator droned the time, second by second....

The distinguished cultural historian Walter Sorell began contributing reviews to the magazine. He covered a wide variety of work.

JULY 1958




MAY 18, 1958


Pearl Lang is an extraordinary dancer whose sense of drama complements her lyrical quality. Her projection is of captivating immediacy. She knows how to create an atmosphere of urgency about her as a performer as well as a choreographer.

Miss Lang's new piece, Nightflight (Anton Webern), is a strongly symbolic dance and poetically suggestive in its various phrases. It tells of life's complexities in a boy's growing years into manhood, of its dubious visitations and treacherous temptations before he finds his way into the light of fulfillment, may it be love or self-awareness, or both. This "traveller" into life was danced with great accomplishment Bruce Marks....

On the same program was Sophie Maslow's Americana Raincheck. In it Ethel Winter proved again that she is an endearing and versatile dancer, and Beatrice Seckler made one wish she could be seen more often....

The first U.S. tour of Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet was a sensation. The effect of its powerful dancing -- on Western audiences and performers alike -- cannot be overestimated.

JUNE 1959




APRIL 16-MAY 9, 1959


Had the choice been ours, we'd have read nothing in advance about the Bolshoi Ballet.... And rather than attending performances night after night, we'd have seen one work each week over the number of weeks it would have taken to cover -- and fully savor -- the repertoire of four full-length ballets and two variety programs they brought to this country.

As it was, we often felt as though we were being buffeted upon an unruly and capricious sea.... Sometimes there was not enough opportunity between one performance and the next to distinguish between the artistically mediocre and the merely unfamiliar. Sometimes it was tedious to yield oneself to the leisureliness of productions like Romeo and Juliet and The Stone Flower. Sometimes, as in Giselle, that sense of structural leisure was rewarding....

Although realism is their artistic by-word, the Russians seemed to us to be fundamentally romantic in point of view. They favor the idealized, the concentration upon extremes of good and bad, joyous and sad, with little in the way of intermediary shading....

Curiously, their leading dancer, Galina Ulanova, does not really adhere to the general point of view. Like Alicia Markova, she has earned the right to bring her own portrayal to a production, even if her style is not exactly in keeping with the over-all tone.

Ulanova dares to understate. And more important, she dares to mingle light and shadow....

The only other artist in the Bolshoi Ballet who shows signs of approaching Ulanova's almost spiritual dimension is Nicolai Fadeyechev. As the Prince in Swan Lake and as Albrecht in Giselle, he, too, had the slight echo of melancholy even in his most unfettered moments. And he seems to have found the just balance between elan and repose....

In her third year of reviewing for the magazine, historian Selma Jeanne Cohen considered a novel work by Alvin Ailey that would become a contemporary classic.

MARCH 1960



JANUARY 31, 1960


... The other new work on the program was Revelation[s], a suite of Negro spirituals. There were some striking individual sections here. The opening "songs of trouble" contained exciting stage designs, suddenly broken by huge surges of movement and resolved into mourning masses of stillness. The baptismal scenes were filled with fervor and deft characterizations. The company danced them all with a wonderful muscular awareness of their emotional import. But the suite was much too long for sustained effectiveness and became at times an almost literal reiteration of the musical phrase....

Dancers -- and dance audiences -- were changing as the new decade began. The beat culture was still novel.

APRIL 1961



FEBRUARY 5, 1961


Girls with shredded hair and bitten fingernails ... men with beards or their shadows ... a furry-faced figure in a cape, another in a velvet suit ... musty sweaters and tangled mufflers ... and suddenly a row, carefully sticking together, of minks, styled coiffures, sequin calots. This was the audience assembling for Aileen Passloff's concert.

The curtain went up, and suddenly the audience was transferred to the stage in a dance called Cypher. Here the figures were all in black, cleverly varied in line by designer James Waring.... And the dancers, sometimes in twos, sometimes alone, created an image of brooding futility.... It was a polished and poetic depiction of the empty people in the audience....

Again one felt, as in her concert of last year, that if Miss Passloff can work her way through the beat trap, she will be a choreographer of stature. She is a fine dancer. She has imagination. And there is an incipient sense of form in her works.

Alwin Nikolais showed astonishing foresight in his use of multimedia.

APRIL 1964



FEBRUARY 20, 1964

There are echoes and memories which all of us share. Sometimes we do not even know that they exist. And yet, when we meet them, we know they belong to us. Such was our realization during certain sections of Alwin Nikolais' evening-long Sanctum.

The stage opened red and menacing. A silhouetted figure (Murray Louis), hanging by one knee from a trapeze, whirled above a tangle of bodies on the ground....

When the lights came up, the figure appeared curiously defenseless. He was lowered into the scudding mass and disappeared. Who was he? Perhaps all of us. Where did he go? Who knows! ...

More writers were added to the reviewing staff in these years, bringing a variety of voices to the magazine. The opening of Lincoln Center on Manhattan's West Side began a transformation of that neighborhood (and, some would odd, the city's arts) that continues to this clay. The distinguished Edwin Denby considered its effect on NYCB.

JUNE 1964



. . . During the first two weeks at the New York State ... the company added two pieces to its repertory, Balanchine's Clarinade and a revival of Tudor's 1943 Dim Lustre. it also presented Midsummer Night's Dream, and twenty-six other ballets, most of them respaced for the much larger stage. The house has always been full, and has become more and more lively. The company started well, and hit its stride in a week. Now the dancers are dancing their heads off. I wouldn't have thought it possible, but with more space to cover to the same musical phrase they have stepped up their speed and sweep of style....

Some fans will remember how, ten years ago, they used to applaud demonstratively after Four Temperaments to save it from being taken out of repertory. It has always been a key piece by which to judge the company. On the new stage it is gloriously danced by everyone, each and all. A particular delight at one performance was seeing [Maria] Tallchief dancing at top speed with marvelous musical details of phrasing. [Jacques] D'Amboise too was at his grandest....

It is a pleasure that [Suzanne] Farrell, [Gloria] Govrin, [Patricia] McBride, [Patricia] Neary and [Mimi] Paul, each of them a phenomenal young dancer, are each so strikingly different. Lovely Farrell is at her loveliest in Meditation. You see her yield completely, fainting with a soft abandon in a supported deep back bend, and before you see the recovery, she is already standing apart, mild and free, as if in thought....

The Judson Church, in New York City's Greenwich Village, became the epicenter of creative dance at a time when happenings were groovy.

MAY 1966



MARCH 29, 1966

It was called A Concert of Dance, but titles tend to be rather meaningless these days. Someone must have taken it seriously, however, for after the first number, Deborah Hay's No. 3, there was an explosive shout of "Hoax!' No. 3 consisted of Deborah Hay running around the hall while three helpers knocked down three stacks of bricks.

Trisha Brown's A String came next. In the first part, "Homemade" she moved just enough to allow a projector strapped to her back to flash pictures of herself around the hall. Some of the shots were quite intriguing. In the second part, "Motor," a motorbike tailed her with its spotlight as she took short runs on a skateboard. For the third part, "Outside," she put on sweatpants and did exercises.

Alex Hay and Robert Rouschenberg performed Deborah Hay's Serious Duet. They got themselves entangled in long streamers attached to their belts, dipped water from two pails and poured it back, stretched a rubber hose between them. Then they hid inside a hut-sized cardboard box while Deborah Hay moved slowly across the floor in Rise....

Challenges to conventions -- some theatrical, some social -- were frequent. And not all originated in New York,

JUNE 1967




APRIL 21-22, 1967

But is it dance?" a friend queried after I had described Ann Halprin's Parades and Changes to her. If one thinks of dance exclusively as a rhythmic continuity of movement through space, then Parades and Changes does not qualify. But during this performance that didn't seem to be a very important point.

Like Alwin Nikolais, whose approach in some aspects resembles hers, Halprin grew up through one of the pillar traditions of contemporary dance. With Halprin it was Humphrey-Weidman....

The curtain was up as the audience assembled.... The dancers, dressed in trousers and shirts, strode down the aisles and lined up neatly on stage. They had their backs to the audience as various drops and batons began to arrange themselves with smooth formality.

The dancers turned to face the audience and began to disrobe. At first it was fun just to see how different they looked without their clothing -- how some became more attractive, others less so. Then one's interest shifted to the cleverly timed device of having some dancers dressing while others were undressing.... All of this was understated, almost ritualistic.

Endless carpets of brown wrapping paper were stretched across the stage. The dancers, by now all nude, become entangled in the paper.... By degrees all gathered up huge armfuls of the paper and began jumping into the pit.... Thus did anarchy turn into order, or at least a momentary satire on order....

In I970 William Como become editor of the magazine. Doris Hering was made associate editor and principal critic, with a small group of other writers contributing regularly.

Within two years of its debut, Dance Theatre of Harlem, founded by New York City Ballet principal Arthur Mitchell with Karel Shook, was playing Broodway.

JUNE 1971



MARCH 8, 9,10-1971

It's a good sound, the crackle of affectionate applause. Cheering is even better. The Dance Theatre of Harlem received both in its sold out Broadway debut.

I don't think the dancers' beads were turned by this vote of confidence. Their director Arthur Mitchell is too wise to let that happen. And besides, he is a man with a far bigger mission than applause getting. He also knows that it will take at least five more years to tell the real story (at present the Dance Theatre of Harlem is a scant two years With its dancers at every conceivable stage of development). Those five years are urgently needed in the course of any artistic endeavor to mold a company with its own style, its own secure dancers, and its own bulwark of choreography.

Right now the men reflect Mitchell's own perky, highly energized manner. Like kids following a father, they obviously adore him to the point of wanting to be exactly like him. As for the women, they seem to be in need of a ballet mistress who can soften their gestures, round their port de bras, lead them away from the idea of strength for its own sake....

Robb Baker covered the Chicago premiere of a landmark combination of ballet and popular culture by Twyla Tharp for Robert Joffrey, whose own rock ballet Astarte premiered in 1967.

APRIL 1973




well gimme the beach boys

and free my soul

i wanna get lost

in your rock `n' roll

and drift away. . . .

Twyla Tharp has made a new work for the Joffrey Ballet. Like the above lyrics to a current Top 40 record (written and sung by someone named Dobie Grey), the piece pays homage to the Beach Boys, capturing and capsulizing the pleasant -- perhaps even positive -- sense of escapism that has always characterized their music, from the group's beginnings back in the late '50s down to the present day.

Twyla Tharp? Joffrey Ballet.? The Beach Boys? Strange bedfellows, you might think. is this the same far-out avant-garde Twyla Tharp who used to make dances with a metronome and (or so it seemed) a slide rule? Who avoided music entirely in many of her works? Who relished working in "non-theatrical spaces" such as museums, art galleries, gymnasiums and the great outdoors)?...

Yes. That Twyla Tharp. And the progression to the Joffrey and the Beach Boys is not so abrupt as one might imagine. Twyla's recent pieces have been to similar good-time popular music of another era (the early Jazz Age -- Bix Biederbecke, Scott Joplin, Willie "the lion" Smith, Jelly Roll Morton), with a little good-time baroque/classical Torelli/Mozart thrown in for good measure....

The key here -- as in most of Twyla's work -- is distance. Deuce Coupe is a piece about Beach Boys music, not simply to it....

The mania for Soviet defectors reached a fever pitch when Mikhail Baryshnikov made his U.S. debut with American Ballet Theatre. Not since Rudolf Nureyev's defection in 1961 hod the arrival of a foreign dancer made such news.



JULY 27,1974


. . . Thunder broke in the theater at Baryshnikov's entrance. It rolled in peal after peal of applause throughout the ballet and for twenty-seven minutes after. When Baryshnikov executed diagonal brises voles (flying brises, quatrieme demie position) and twice appeared to be about to fly off the stage, the crowd roared as it does at Madison Square Garden....

Since his defection in Toronto in July, the Russian danseur had been making headlines in the press -- his fame was such that, as Richard Nixon and his administration were failing, New York cabbies know Baryshnikov's name.... The test of his genius was to come in Giselle, before a knowledgeable audience at [the] State Theater. Baryshnikov's debut was a baptism of fire....

What thoughts were in Baryshnikov's head (the dark blond hair worn en brosse) as he waited in the wings? The last time he and [Natalia] Makarova had been on the same stage (the Royal Festival Hall, London 1970) had been in another Giselle....

It was the season in which Makarova reached her zenith as Kirov ballerina. At the end of the season, she defected. . . . Had anyone guessed then that, five years later, Makarova and Baryshnikov would be dancing Giselle in a New York theater? One could not be untouched by the pre-science of the fate that had brought them to this place, and the sentiment affected the occasion. it was less of a performance than a rite of initiation for Baryshnikov, to whom "the West" is still more metaphysical than geographical....

Baryshnikov's form is so pure that he might be the exposition of a classroom manual, aloof from the astonished gaze, insensible to the raptures of the common throng. His placement is perfect in the most difficult combinations, as when he executes a qrande pirouette (about ten complete revolutions) all from a single preparation.

Contrary to the style of most Russian dancers, his preparation is almost undetectable, and this gives his allegro steps a magical quality -- as though they have happened, rather than as though he has performed them. He finishes every combination with precision and sweetness, as though he had not in the least exerted himself, but could continue indefinitely, even to mounting the air....

David Vaughan was one of the astute writers who contributed regularly to these columns when Tobi Tobias was reviews editor.




Jimmy Waring and I played a game once: think of companies for Rudolf Nureyev to dance with. One begins to feel that sooner or later he will get around to even our most far-out suggestions; it would be easier for him if he just installed himself permanently in the Uris Theatre, say, and let Hurok Concerts move the various companies in, one after the other. That was where they presented him and Margot Fonteyn, from November 18 to 29, in a program similar to the one they had performed in Washington, D.C., last summer. Fonteyn danced in three out of five numbers, Nureyev in all of them....

Now the dance critic of New York Magazine, Tobi Tobias has long been interested in the Bournonville technique and style, which increasingly fascinated American audiences.





MAY 18-JUNE 5, 1976


... Bournonville dancing is essentially allegro dancing, allegro with a distinctive lightness and lift, based on a short, springy plie. It doesn't much explore the possibilities of line and extension, the characteristic beauties of legato dancing, but concentrates on ebullient batterie; traveling jumps that scoop their way through the air -- up and over, Up and over; and fleecy footwork -- fostering an illusion of the performer's skimming blithely over the ground -- that is soft and precise in absolutely equal measure.

The arms are characteristically held still, in a low semi-circle (bras bas), by their very stability and quietness directing the attention to the brilliant articulation of the legs and feet. (You notice this in Scottish dancing: the simple dignity of the arms and torso, set against the intricate beating, brushing footwork.) By contrast, on the bold, often turning, leaps that carry the dancer through space, the arms will flare out in a motion of frank generosity, or rise naturally to crown the head. A deep port de bras involves the whole torso in its fluency, so that the arms are not sketching decorations but behaving as an organic part of the dancer and the dance. You don't see arms that lunge, flail, grab and claw at empty air, or that affectation-around-the-wrists ballet so easily succumbs to because the arms, in Bournonville ballet, aren't being asked to supply the dance's energy or carry its message. The body is given a strong, supple, tranquil center, and the impetus for the dancing comes from there....

What would happen if a guy asked

another guy to dance?

MAY 1978


Ever since my wallflower days at the junior high sock hops back in Indiana, I've wondered what would happen if a boy asked another guy to dance. Girls danced with other girls at the sock hops, and nobody ever batted an eye. But the shock effect of two guys dancing to, say, a slow ballad together would have been staggering in that time and place -- as it would have been on the American dance stage in the late Fifties as well.

Twenty years later, in urban contemporary American society, things have loosened up a bit, in both art and life .... Onstage, it's no longer just Ted Shawn showing that male dancers aren't pansies; off-stage, it's no longer danseurs giving interviews about how much weight they can lift and how they've got-a-wife-and-kids-at-home. At last we've come to realize that men (or women) can have as wide a range of relationships among themselves as with the opposite sex. The shadow and subtleties of these relationships are a gold mine of material for the artist, and movement -- dance -- is a medium extremely well suited to chronicling this new message, which is neither "gay" nor "straight," but simply human and extremely complex.

San Francisco's contact improvisation group, Mangrove (which performed at Eden's Expressway February 10-11), is an interesting case in point. Contact improvisation is a free-form energy-conserving movement technique based on acrobatics and various Oriental mind-body disciplines; it was originally developed by Steve Paxton at Bennington College and started up on the West Coast at about the same time....

The year before her instant classic, Terpsichore in Sneakers: Post-modern Dance, was published, Sally Bones took a look at a seminal choreograpber.



The James Waring Festival at Judson Memorial Church April 21-30 was a pleasure in many ways. For someone like me, who had heard much about the late choreographer but had never gotten around to seeing his works, it was a concentrated history lesson. Twelve dances in two weekends! Seeing so many of Waring's dances all together was a lesson in choreographic method, too, making me realize how much of the choreography we see now must have been affected by the Waring touch -- either directly or indirectly. So many of the elements we think of as post-Cunningham or Tharpian or ballet burlesque live in Waring's dances in germinal form....

Elizabeth Zimmer, now the dance editor of the Village Voice, saw Mark Morris as a beacon of hope in this review of an early performance at Dance Theater Workshop.

MARCH 1983


... [Mark] Morris's New Love Song Waltzes, to Brahms, kept his fourteen-person ensemble in almost constant, charged-up motion. Coupling and coming apart in the complex manner of Twyla Tharp, they rode the passionate dramatics of the score. These Waltzes included turns for pairs of men and pairs of women, and many slippery reshufflings at a moment's notice.

Morris, who has studied and performed ballet as well as contemporary, Spanish, and Balkan dance, is growing into a clever, brave choreographer with a command of humor and a lyrical sensibility. A native of Seattle, he's planning to make the Pacific Northwest his base. Here's hoping New York's dance series finds room for him regularly; he's a bright, eclectic star in an increasingly dim firmament....

As dance continued to gain new audiences, Dance Magazine, with Joan Pikula and Marilyn Hunt as successive review coordinators, continued to track the latest trends. The Quebecois company La La La Human Steps had everything the mideighties wanted: high-speed, high-tech violence, all wrapped up in Human Sex.





MONTREAL -- This city's first Festival International de la Nouvelle Danse (September 19-29) focused a good deal of attention on eight Canadian groups among fourteen world-class companies, allowing visitors and locals alike to see at close range how home-grown dance compares with the foreign variety....

The new dance extravaganza was neatly packaged to show both Canadians and guests to best advantage. It opened with the high-tech energy of La La La Human Steps from Montreal and ended with the marvelous madcap nonsense of Toronto's Desrosiers Dance Theatre.

La La La's smash opening at the Spectrum, a pop-music club, pinpointed the exaggerated, almost compulsive use of rough-hewn dynamics and multimedia technology favored by many of the Canadians.... Packaged like a rock video, Human Sex is speedy, slick, and tough, a turbulent vehicle for a rock musician and five dancers including Louise Lecavalier, winner of New York's 1985 Bessie Schonberg Award for outstanding dance performance.

In Human Sex, Lecavalier is a mean little animal, a mustachioed blonde who launches herself every few seconds into disorienting and dangerous-looking kamikaze flips, crashing into her partner, Marc Beland, and knocking him flat....

The search for new forms led some choreographers in the eighties to shun slick glamour in favor of more fundamental effects. Shades of Yvonne Rainer!




SEATTLE -- The Seattle metropolitan area has been deep in discussions of "arts stabilization" lately, focusing mainly on maintaining the health of the big three -- symphony, ballet, opera. It was all the more refreshing, therefore, when King County launched an ambitious series of new-arts performances called Performa '87 this past September.

On the afternoon of September 19, about 150 people found their way along a serpentine path through waist-and shoulder-high wild grosses in Redmond's Marymoor Park to be part of Seven/Uneven. Billed as "An Outdoor Gymnastic Performance/Site Installation," it perfectly embodied the series' goal of fostering and presenting new, challenging art ....

Pat Graney choreographed the movement of the seven gymnasts....

The movements themselves were not restricted to the usual gymnastic tricks. Graney had the performers land heavily on the mats below the bars to emphasize the elemental force of gravity the gymnast toys with. Most of the time the performers used the bars as supports for silhouetted postures. And it was during these times when the performers stood sharply etched against the full open sky, that the event was most striking. Their sudden falls from the upper to lower bar were somehow moving....

In 7989 Richard Philp became editor in chief and Gary Parks, reviews editor. More than seventy correspondents from around the world now contribute to the magazine.

It was a long way from the Bolshoi's dazzling American debut in 1959 (see page 26) to the dispiriting engagement covered by Lynn Garafola, a contributing editor of the magazine and the author of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.







JULY 10-22, 1990


As artistic director and chief choreographer, Yuri Grigorovich has presided over the Bolshoi Ballet since 1964, the same year Leonid Brezhnev came to power. Elsewhere in Soviet society, the "era of stagnation," as the Brezhnev years are now called, has ended. But at the Bolshoi, under Grigorovich, it continues, impoverishing everything from the repertory and overall esprit de corps to the style and technique of the individual dancers. Ultimately, the Bolshoi today faces a moral crisis -- a failure of belief in the very art that gave the company its identity and made it a world-class ensemble....

Twenty years of this impoverished, undemanding idiom have left the Bolshoi in a sorry state. Turnout, balance, strength, control, timing, clarity, epaulement -- all have gone. Fifth Position has become an anachronism; pointework an embarrassment. Many of the women can't get fully up on toe or, like ballerina Lyudmila Semenyaka, fall off pointe in mid step. Technique isn't all that's suffered. Energy has dwindled; acting has lost conviction; in the corps, purpose and discipline have slackened....

Only a handful of principals have escaped the prevailing blight. Of the season's ballerinas, Nina Ananiashvili alone had the technique and imaginative power to command the stage....

The Bolshoi didn't care, nor did its primary presenters, the British-based Entertainment Corporation, which charged the highest ticket prices ever for ballet at Lincoln Center ($105 for the best seats) -- and got them by marketing the company to not-for-profit organizations as the perfect gala fund-raiser in an era of Soviet-American rapprochement. For such audiences the Bolshoi may still live up to its gold card reputation. For everyone else, the message of the season was clear. The company has become second-rate, and no one, from Grigorovich down, appears to care, so long as the dollars keep flowing in to underwrite the status quo.

Who would have thought a "Balanchine ballerina," emblem of le style frigidaire, could rouse The Sleeping Beauty? Joan Acocella, who served as associate editor for criticism from I983 to 1985 (and who is now the dance critic for The Wall Street Journal), took a look at a marked shift in NYCB's repertory.





APRIL 24-JUNE 30, 1991


"Before I die," Balanchine once said, "I would like to present The Sleeping Beauty in a production that would make Petipa proud, though he might not recognize it." Balanchine died before he could get together the money to do this, but his successor, Peter Martins, managed to raise $2.8 million -- of which, reportedly, New York City Ballet benefactor Anne Bass alone gave the better part of $1 million -- and with it has mounted a Sleeping Beauty that is vivid and lively and that Petipa would probably not recognize....

Of the season's five Auroras, Valentina Kozlova was simply not strong enough for the role. Margaret Tracey was fresh, natural, able, and not very interesting. Judith Fugate was best in the somber moments, particularly the vision scene, to which she gave a kind of dark, windblown feeling. But the stars of this show were Darci Kistler and Kyra Nichols.

In these two women New York City Ballet has what no other company, worldwide, has at this moment: two truly great ballerinas. Nichols is the stronger technically, but technical mastery is merely the base on which she builds her art. That art lies in the subtlety of her phrasing.... Her small steps are small and perfect -- seed pearls. Big steps, when she wants to make them big, are huge. She can knock off pirouettes a la seconde as if she were hitting homers out of the park, four in a row. She is no actress, but in her dancing alone there are a thousand dramas.

Kistler, since she broke her foot in 1983, has not been as strong as Nichols. Her great gift, unmatched by any other dancer today, is the grand impulse with which she weaves space into time. In the vision scene, as she charges through the lines of the nymphs, she seems to pull all the stage space behind her, like a mantle, braiding it into the musical line. Kistler is an actress, immensely detailed -- even, this season, too detailed -- and all her details work by suggestion. When, in her variation in the grand pas de deux, she raises her arms higher and higher, the image expands in your mind, telling you Aurora's future. She is not just raising her arms; she is raising flowers, raising her children, raising her bedroom curtains on a lifetime of sunny days. Nichols takes you inward, and you find a whole world. Kistler takes you outward, and you find a whole world....

The crucial question facing a company founded on the vision of a genius: what happens when that person dies?





OCTOBER 8-20, 1991


Some eulogies are better left unsung. Ronald Protas and Linda Hodes, the new artistic directors of the Martha Graham Dance Company, decided to open the troupe's first New York season since the great choreographer's death with the premiere of her unfinished work, The Eyes of the Goddess.... Though the premiere may have been conceived as a bow to Graham's memory, the gesture backfired. The Eyes of the Goddess is a bleak, clouded reverie in which nonsensical choreography is encumbered by the gaudy costumes and props Graham became fond of in her later years. It is a relief to realize that the witty, self-knowing Maple Leaf Rag, and not this confused meditation on death, was actually Graham's last work....

In the cobbled-together [posthumous autobiography] Blood Memory, Graham (or her amanuensis) would have us think that the Halston-to-Madonna years were her best. Does anyone truly believe this? An insert in the City Center program states, "We believe that live music is artistically preferable to taped accompaniment. Unfortunately, we cannot afford it." Can't afford it.? What are Protas and Hodes spending their money on? How can a major American dance company afford to appear in New York City without live music? Guest appearances by Misha and a gala hosted by Jackie O can't make up for neglecting to present Graham's work in the way it deserves....

Despite his own advancing age, Merce Cunningham continues to advance into new territory, as noted by Bill Deresiewicz, now the New York dance correspondent of the London newspaper The Financial Times.

MAY 1996




FEBRUARY 6-11, 1996


Reality, in Merce Cunningham's conception, is a succession of unique, unrepeatable events. This gull wheeling, that cat leaping, those people walking in just that way, now. But the repetition of performance (the "same dance" again and again) dulls this truth. To reawaken it Cunningham stages the programs he calls Events, collages of new and existing material assembled differently for each occasion. Events, in other words, are events: unrepeatable, unique....

The season was [Jenifer] Weaver's last with the company after seven years of increasingly astonishing virtuosity, and Cunningham sent her off with a valedictory solo that celebrated her balance, lightness, and stretch. The stage cleared, the sound-score fell silent, and suddenly it was just Weaver and her legs: a leg held high to the side brought ever so slowly down to the ankle, then back up past the knee with foot flexed, and finally pointed at the apex of a renewed extension. A chain of further immaculate extensions, and then the vision ended, never to be seen again.
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Title Annotation:70th Anniversary Issue
Author:Parks, Gary
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Jun 1, 1997
Previous Article:Seventy.
Next Article:Realm of the dance: vintage news.

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