Tag Archives: Deborah Jowitt

The first thing let’s do, let’s kill the critics

By Bob Hicks

Bless me, reader, for I have sinned.

For 40 years Moses wandered in the wilderness. And for roughly the same amount of time I have stumbled through the landmines of contemporary culture, wearing the sackcloth of the most extreme form of penitent journalist.

Honore Daumier, "The Critic"I have been a critic.

Well, apparently I have. That’s what everyone tells me. Lord knows I’ve denied it over the years. For a long time, when people called me a critic, I’d correct them. “I’m a writer,” I’d gently explain, “and these days I happen to be writing about theater.”

It did no good. No one believed me. And “Writer Who Writes About Theater” doesn’t fit in a byline, anyway.

A few years ago I was chatting with Libby Appel, who at the time was artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. “You know, I’ve never really thought of myself as a critic,” I told her.

Libby’s eyebrow arched. (Sometimes eyebrows actually do that.) “Oh, you’re a critic,” she said emphatically.

I like to think she was delivering a description, not an accusation. I like her and respect her, even though I’ve sometimes argued in print with shows she’s directed, and I think the feeling’s been mutual. Still. There was no question in her mind. I was, without doubt, One of Those People. And Those People occupy a curious position in the artistic firmament. “Critics never worry me unless they are right,” Noel Coward once commented. “But that does not often occur.”

Then again, what exactly is right?

Continue reading The first thing let’s do, let’s kill the critics

Criticism: what’s it all about, Alfie?

By Bob Hicks

Shoving Deborah Jowitt out the door because she’s not “negative” enough is like firing God because he took that seventh day off. It’s short-sighted, presumptuous, and bound to come back and bite you in the butt.

So, ouch to Village Voice arts editor Brian Parks, who pulled the plug — at least, in the pages of his once-vital publication — on one of the most important voices in American dance writing. Not to wish plagues of locusts in his cornfield, but what was the man thinking? (To give Parks his due, he explained his disagreements with Howitt clearly, and he didn’t fire her: She decided she wasn’t willing to do the things he wanted her to do.)

Over at Arts Dispatch, Barry Johnson tackles this troubling question and broadens it to a consideration of the nature of criticism itself: what is it we want from a critic, and why? It’s a provocative analysis, and we highly recommend you read it for yourself. Get off this blog and haul on over to AD.

Save our dance critics

Art Scatter is NOT a lamentation site dedicated to cataloging the disappearance of critics from newspapers. It just seems that way sometimes. And this is one of those times. Though we won’t wallow as we lament.

The specific occasion of this post is an LA Observed post on the resignation of dance critic Laura Bleiberg from the Orange County Register, which leaves the Los Angeles mega-plex with exactly zero professional dance critics. The story says she left the paper to work in the development office of a prominent theater company, South Coast Rep. It does NOT say she was forced out, and it’s possible that the Register will hire someone to replace her. But given Lewis Segal’s buyout from the LA Times and Deborah Jowitt’s departure from the Village Voice (see our post on Jowitt below), I guess that’s hard to imagine.

So what’s missing exactly when the critic at a regional newspaper leaves her post? I did a quick scan of Bleiberg’s recent stories for the Register. She struck me as knowledgeable about her subject, a clear writer, a solid reporter. Is she on Jowitt or Segal’s level? She certainly doesn’t have their advantage of location — they get to see and comment on a far greater array of dance companies, and that’s difficult to compensate for. BUT… two stories stood out among those I read, a preview and a review of an Orange County-based dance company, Backhausdance.

Here is the lead of Bleiberg’s review:

The final ovation showered on the two men and six women of Backhausdance Friday night had a poignant, underlying significance that transcended the normal curtain-call applause.

To this viewer, it heralded a symbolic victory – for both this promising contemporary troupe of homegrown dancers, and for Orange County.

I googled in vain for more reviews of Backhausdance’s concert. Bleiberg’s was the only one. She had followed the company for the five years of its existence; she knew its founder and choreographer Jenny Backhaus and what her aims as a choreographer are; she understood where the company fit into the ecology of dance in Orange County; she was confident enough to make a strong assertion about the company’s importance. For Jenny Backhaus and the potential audience for her work, Bleiberg is FAR more important than Jowitt or Segal, and it’s a blessing to Backhaus and her audience that she’s as good and sympathetic as she is.
Continue reading Save our dance critics

Deborah Jowitt out at Village Voice

images-21.jpgI heard from Art Scatter friend Tim DuRoche that the Village Voice has let go Deborah Jowitt, its dance critic of 40 years standing, along with film critic Nathan Lee. Confirmation comes from dance critic Elizabeth Zimmer at the Arts Journal. The only other source I could find on the internet was Gawker (sorry), but it seems to be true. According to Gawker, she will be able to freelance for the Voice. Perhaps she will.

As the print media disassembles itself, arts writing of all sorts has become an early casualty, even “popular arts” such as film. Every week, it seems, brings news on the newspaper business website Romenesko that another critic position has been eliminated at a major newspaper. And as Gawker points out, the alt.weeklies — and the Voice was the ur-alt.weekly — have not been immune. The Voice has previously discharged the eminent pop music critic Robert Christgau, after all. Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times eliminated its dance critic position, leading Lewis Segal to take a buyout from the paper. Segal is an excellent critic, and the idea that the LAT Times will go without his writing is sad — there is great dance in LA.

Back to Jowitt, for a moment.
Continue reading Deborah Jowitt out at Village Voice