One goal of this blog is to be a space where my wordbrain can develop a new voice, can hear and follow a new thread, something epistolary and rambling, not the crisp percussive sentences of 50-cents-a-word journalism, not that lardy dardy know-it-all bravado. A creative writing exercise.
If people know my writing, it is for my dance criticism/journalism—a form I’ve been slapping around for the past decade and a half. So let me address how I see my current relationship to dance and dancing in general and specifically in New York and why I don’t feel very interested in the project of dance criticism.
Some background: I’ve been a dancer since 1977, a choreographer since 1983, and a published “writer-about-dance” since 1994. I initially saw this as a ladder, an organic evolution from bodymind to wordbrain.
Now I realize it’s a circle.
I’ve been “dancing” again (I use quotes because I prefer the term “physical theatre” for what my body is able to do now). An episodic solo called “rudder” that has expanded with each iteration, from Dance Place in DC in 2006 to David Parker and the Bang Group’s West End Theatre (WET) series in 2008 (NYC) to the DC Capital Fringe Festival in 2009.
The process of creating my first dance since 2003 has been pretty amazing, something I intend to document in a later post.
I’ve learned a lot about my relationship to criticism by being on the other end of the pen again. I don’t much care for being “reviewed.” It’s painful to see the intellectual, emotional, and physical vessel into which I have poured 11 minutes of a rarified, magnified bodymind be tossed off in a single paragraph of selective inattention. Even when the writer praises the piece, the words feel reductive and only scratch the surface.
When I directed a loose conglomeration of performers and dancers called Toothmother in DC and Baltimore from 1987 to 1996, I received a generous share of confused, devious, occasionally poisonous ink from the local press. Eg, “Chris Dohse has taken a theme that’s been done to death and followed it into the grave.” That copy has punch, sure. I’ll never forget those words, but they ain’t criticism; they’re scorn.
By the way, I’ve said some of these things before, in a Dance Critics Association panel organized by Wendy Perron called “Dancers Who Write.”
So. Why have I stopped writing about, or “reviewing,” other peoples’ dances/performances? Why do I want to make my own instead?
The first answer that comes to mind is that I have an inkling that I can be an adroit jester, fabricator, and prevaricator onstage, that I’m actually a “better” (there’s that word again, 2 posts in a row) dancer now. Performing feels juicy again. I seem to have created a kind of vaudeville act called “Chris, he who is authentic in his body and the moment.” And I have a hell of a good time doing it. When my wise friend Angela saw the concert at WET last fall, and I paraphrase and exaggerate her words, she said the moment the lights faded up on me, half the audience leaned back, appalled, and half leaned forward, enthralled. So it’s working, my little solo with its aim to show me inhabiting my battered and faltering body in the here and now. Old age ain’t for sissies, I think Bette Davis once said.
My critical writing has also always been a performance of a carefully crafted persona, let’s call him “Chris, he who speaks authoritatively.” I’m tired of him right now and I don’t feel a call to play that part. When I do review things in the future, when I analyze and deliver judgment on things seen, be it paintings, dance, books, or film, it will be from sheer pleasure and curiosity and a challenge to see if my typing can capture my experience. I no longer feel I have anything to prove in this format. I’ve always been guilty of writing both subjective and performative criticism, a laughing-stock form that I seem to make up as I go along. More about this in a later post.
These paragraphs have already gotten away from me.
So. Quoting James R Kincaid, the “barely daring” category on this blog will be an inquiry into “the practices of knowing, rather than simply the object that is known.”