Inside Art- TDT Season Finale

This particular post may seem a bit self-serving, but hey, this whole blog is kind of like that, so I’m just trying to be cohesive.
As most of you know I have been working with Texas Dance Theatre in Fort Worth as a choreographer (and occasionally as a dancer).  It is a great group of dancers and artists, and I am really excited about the work that the company is bringing to this area.  I’m also thrilled to be part of a company with such potential to grow and develop, because that gives me a great chance to work and grow as a choreographer.  It’s difficult to find consistent work in concert dance at my age and experience level, and TDT provides that for me as a choreographer, which is just thrilling.
The TDT 09-10 season finale ended last Friday with a performance at the Fort Worth Community Art Center’s Scott Theater.  The performance included 6 dances – 5 works by local choreographers and 1 work by a guest choreographer.  It was an incredibly polished show, well-received by our audience as well as our critics.
And that’s what I wanted to share with you here.  Our reviews.
I’m not sure how I feel about getting reviewed.  It makes me very anxious.  And it causes me to come to terms with the fact that I cannot make a dance that is all things to all people.  On the other hand, what an honor that someone would take the time to comment on my work!  I don’t think reviews determine the value of art, but it is nice to be taken seriously as a working artist.
So far 3 reviews have been published (either in print, online or both).  One describes my work but is rather critical of the emotional component.  Another doesn’t mention my work at all (which is fine- a 2 hour show is hard to fit into less than 1000 words, and not every dance can be a highlight).  And one spends a paragraph describing my dance in a very positive way.  Obviously that’s wonderful, but it’s made even better by the fact that this same critic reviewed a previous work of mine less than favorably (it wasn’t negative, but it also wasn’t positive…)
Because it’s my blog, I’m going to repost just the comments made on my choreography (but the links to the full review will be at the bottom of this post).  And, because it’s my blog, I’m going to respond here…  Humor me.
Click to Read more.  Don’t click if you’re already bored…

 In Krista Jennings Langford’s Returning Away, three ballerinas challenged a fourth. Intricate patterns were interrupted by a repeated gesture — palms up at the waist, then brought up to the face. Did it mean shame, sustenance or reverence? –Chris Shull, Fort Worth Star Telegram

It’s comforting to see that this critic “got” it.  Yes three ballerinas (although I would petition for the term “dancer” as this was not a classical dance) challenged a fourth.  Yes I made intricate spatial patterns.  Taken out of context from the rest of the article, the final question of what this “gesture” means seems harmless.  However, the review as a whole called the concert “ambiguous” in terms of emotion.
So what?  The last thing that I’m concerned with is if my audience “gets” the “meaning” behind every single movement of my dance.  It’s wonderful when they do (and most audience members that I talked to did understand the general meaning of my work), but it’s not required.  I think a marker of contemporary dance (and art in general) is its openness to ambiguity.  I’m fine with different interpretations of my dance (especially since my starting point for this dance is so specific that no one would ever guess it without talking with me) as long as the viewer is defending their take on it with the movement that they see in the dance.  This critic saw shame, sustenance, and reverence… and I think that’s great.  Can we not have more than one emotion at one time?  I don’t know about you, but I’m capable of feeling many shameful, sustained, and reverent all at once, which yes would be confusing…. kind of the point of my dance, which is meant to show a confusing, conflicting, search for identity.
But in spite of all this, I just disagree with the assessment that the dancers’ emotional expression was ambiguous throughout the entire show.  I felt that every dancer in every work did a great job performing whatever emotion they were charged with.  It seems like this critic just wants more literal interpretations in dances, but contemporary dance is not always literal.  Sometimes it’s meant to cause you to question, not to give you an answer.
(For the record, the gesture this critic questioned was meant to convey the dancers’ search for identity. Sometimes that search led to shame, other times it led to frustration at her current station in life, and it ends with a feeling of freedom in accepting her identity… but that is what I hoped audiences would feel, if not dissect intellectually).
Some of the same lush, curving movement from Confugium shows up in Krista Jennings Langford’s returning away, but what makes it arresting is the deployment of dancers in space. The four dancers start out scattered, their limbs creating different viewpoints that give the effect of a breeze rustling flowers. They also dance in tandem, in trios and duets, backs arched and arms stretched out.   -Margaret Putnam, for theaterjones.com
Her mention of Confugium references a work by TDT dancer and ballet mistress Emily Hunter.  And that’s the only part of this review that I don’t like.  I don’t think these two dances are all that similar, even in movement.  Yes, they come from a similar movement style overall, but I can’t think of any portion of these dances that uses the same movement (and I know both of these dances very well).  However, if that’s how it came across to this particular critic, then I respect her evaluation. 
I am thrilled to hear that she views my work as “arresting,” and compares it to such a beautiful image of flowers.  I also love that both reviews have taken note of my use of space, which is something I’m always doing my best to address as I make a dance.  As a writer, I am grateful that both have taken some of the short space that they have for a dance review to mention and evaluate my work.
I will be posting more pictures from the performance (and rehearsals) as well as video clips when I get these materials!
To read the full reviews of Texas Dance Theatre’s season finale, click through these links:

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