Of the many things I should be doing on my 4 hour bus ride back to NYC from the Dance Critics Association Conference in Washington, DC, blogging about the events of the weekend is not high in priority. But I can't help sharing the excitement and information I experienced. I took excessive notes through the many panel discussions (yes, I am still a student by nature) and will soon post separate entries about the seminars and details of the conversations, but to start here's a general overview of my weekend. There's tons more to say but this is just a start.
It should be noted that I take great amusement in my excitement because I rarely get this optimistic/excited/inspired/intrigued by something these days.
Being the overambitious person that I am, I decided to join and attend the Dance Critics Association (DCA) annual conference in Washington, DC this weekend even though I’m a far cry from the established writers in attendance. It was perhaps one of the most insightful, educational, inspiring, and stimulating weekends of my (miniscule) career.
I arrived in DC just early enough to catch the beginning of the conference. After receiving my nametag (so official!) and registration folder with the schedule and membership card information, I walked to find a seat for the welcome and first panel discussion. It was held at The Kennedy Center, Washington’s big, beautiful theater that houses companies like Suzanne Farrell Ballet, The Kirov, ABT, Joffrey, and others when they tour. It is huge! I got out of the cab and was a bit lost at first, but I slowly found my way to the elevator and up to the Terrace Gallery, where the sessions were held.
Inside there were about 80 seats set up as the audience and a single long table in front for panelists to sit at, complete with skinny microphones at each seat that reminded me of the kind hosts held on those old tv game shows you see reruns of.
The people who may have been kids watching those dated shows made up the majority of the audience. The first thing I noticed was that I was the youngest one there – by at least 30 years. I had to laugh to myself as I took a seat in the last row in the corner trying simultaneously to be inconspicuous and to pay respect to those who have been writing about dance for so long.
There was a lot of chatter as I flipped through the schedule and presenter biographies. Eavesdropping was no option – there was too much going on. As I read through the packet listing who would speak over the weekend (Alistair Macaulay of the NY Times, Laura Jacobs of Vanity Fair, John Rockwell formerly of NY Times, Apollinaire Scherr formerly Newsday…) I looked around in excitement, wondering which faced belonged to which name I so admire in print.
Soon a familiar face came to the podium to start the conference: Robert Abrams, my editor at ExploreDance and current DCA President. He kicked things off and the first of many lively panel discussions got underway.
Soon after that and the amusing keynote speech by Macaulay ended, I went to lunch with a fellow dance blogger and “media master” (as indicated by his DCA nametag), the ever-intriguing Doug Fox of GreatDance.com. We continued the interesting discussion started in the first panel and brainstormed about what he could speak about during his later panel on Dance and New Media.
After getting settled in my hotel and sitting through another lecture, I got to see one of the programs included in the Kennedy Center’s Ballet Across America series. Not only was it my first time being in that theater, but it was my first time to see the 3 companies being presented. I won’t be writing an official review for this one (wasn’t a press ticket, and I have other reviews I’m backed up on!) so this bare bones account must suffice: Pacific Northwest Ballet did “Jardi Tancat” choreographed by Nacho Nuato. The six dancers roamed barefoot across the stage to chants and drums. I enjoyed their energy. Next, Kansas City Ballet performed Todd Bolender’s “Still Point,” which I was less fond of. The dancers were pretty but the piece itself doesn’t offer much excitement for the three couples. The last, and best, piece of the night was Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs” danced by The Washington Ballet. This was the only piece I’ve seen before (Pennsylvania Ballet a few years ago) and I really like it. Tharp’s partnering is an intriguing mix of traditional social dance and her notable contemporary style. The disco ball that sets the mood got a great reaction from the audience, but The Washington Ballet’s dancing was equally as luminous. Certain couples were better than others, but overall it was a hit.
Sunday I got up early for the rest of the panel discussions. These, to me, were much more interesting than the first day’s topics. And, it should be noted, there were a few more of the under-50 crowd in attendance, haha. Not that it mattered really, but it was interesting to observe who showed up for what panels.
I’m not good at the whole small talk, socializing, networking kind of thing that is a huge benefit of these conference events (a skill I really must work on) but I was fortunate enough to be introduced to several interesting people. Walking to the elevator Saturday I met Lee, a freelancer for Dance Magazine. Sunday morning I sat next to a younger critic from the Washington Times. Of course I knew Robert and Doug. I also ran into the editor of Pointe Magazine, Virginina, whom I interned with two years ago. We caught up briefly and it was nice to see her. Other people I recognized there but didn’t get to talk to included Wendy, editor of Dance Magazine, and Barbara Weisberger (founder of PA Ballet!).
But perhaps the most exciting introduction was the last of the day before leaving the conference. In the final panel on Dance and New Media anyone in the audience who has a blog was asked to stand up just so all could see how few there were. Of course I stood up and maybe about 5 others, most of whom were the youngest there (my thing with age has a point and I promise I’ll get to it soon in this post or in those to come about the panels…). They wanted us to each briefly explain our blogs but unfortunately there wasn’t enough time to get around to doing so.
After that finished, and a wrap up report from John Rockwell, I started to gather my things to head out. Soon two of the older critics came over to me. “Did you say you have a blog?” the man asked me, and we got into a conversation about The Winger and how he had no idea about blogs or anything like that. I gave him my card (a DCA promotional card Robert made me, which is very exciting haha) and he and the woman next to him introduced themselves: Alan Kriegsman and Jean Beatty Lewis, both formerly of The Washington Post. Lewis was the first dance critic for the Post. And she proceeded to tell me that the modest Kriegsman was the only person to win a Pulitzer Prize for dance criticism. WOW! I felt so honored that two such distinguished critics bothered to talk to little old me, just getting started in this dying field. And that they were interested because of my blog. Wow.
Maybe I’m the biggest dork on the planet (I readily admit to it) and am living in the clouds thinking that dance writing is one of the many things I want to pursue when the atmosphere is of pessimism and jadedness in the field thanks to recent layoffs, etc, but I was SO inspired by the whole weekend. These people have such an immense wealth of knowledge about the art form and a deep passion for spreading the word and advocating for it. I couldn’t help thinking I was in the company of a wonderful but sadly dying breed (no, not because of their age. Because of opportunity to do what they do).
I’ll be posting detailed reports of the various panel discussions soon, but keep in mind it’s all through my naïve eyes and ears. If there’s one thing to know it’s that critics – particularly dance critics- are passionately opinionated people. And they raise deep questions with so many answers that their can never be a conclusion. I’m going to attempt to share some of their many thoughts while adding my meager two cents in these posts to come.
Feel free to comment and add to the discussion. Just because they’ve been doing it for years and had their voices heard at the conference doesn’t mean it’s the end all be all. Share your opinions even if just in blog comments for now!