Dance Critics Reveal Intricacies of their Jobs at Momentum Dance-Hosted Discussion
A group gathered on May 6 at the Coral Gables Library to listen to three local dance critics answer questions from moderator Mary Lisa Burns, dean of dance at the New World School of the Arts, about the work of a dance critic and what most influences their writing and reviews. The panel discussion was hosted by Delma Iles, artistic director of Momentum Dance Company.
The panel was made up of Octavio Roca, philosophy professor at Miami-Dade North and dance critic for Artburst Miami; Celeste Fraser Delgado, associate professor and coordinator of Arts/Humanities at Barry University and one of the founders of Artburst; and Marj O’Neill Butler, writer for MiamiArtZine and playwright.
The trio shared their varying points of view on the elements that affect their dance critiques the most.
Butler said a dancer’s technique and how they finish their moves is what she looks for in her dance critiques. Roca said he takes into account the many first-timers in the audience. Fraser Delgado said she feels no need to comment on the choreography when it’s a classic dance, and went on to comment that sometimes it’s interesting to just focus on dance for a written piece. Butler echoed her sentiment, saying that to her, choreography almost comes second.
Shifting the focus of their discussion, Roca said that the dancer is very important to the performance and can fill a venue. He also finds it interesting to see a dancer’s capabilities. Fraser Delgado continued the thought, saying the discipline and technique of a dancer’s body will change a performance’s look.
Roca and Butler both agreed that a dancer’s control while performing is a vital part of the technique they learn as dancers and this is particularly true in ballet. Iles however said there are many different ways of approaching technique, other than just a dancer controlling their movements.
To this point, Karen Peterson, artistic director of Karen Peterson Dancers, who was in the audience, asked how exactly is one of her company’s wheelchair-bound dancers supposed to be able to convey that vital dance technique.
Legendary late dance icon Merce Cunningham also came up in the discussion, with moderator Burns sharing that she looks at dance through a Merce Cunningham eye — she was at Cunningham’s studio when Mikhail Baryshnikov was there. Roca recalled seeing the same Merce Cunningham piece performed by two different groups in two very different ways.
Iles stressed the difficult job of critics to convey what happened in a performance to those who didn’t attend, a task that the three on the panel are up to. They’re passionate about their role in critiquing dance. Roca for one is aware that they are a dying breed. Fraser Delgado said she is very excited about reporting on how the Miami dance community is developing as it happens, while Karen Peterson stressed the importance of including their arts coverage when applying for grants.
Prior to the panel discussion Iles introduced two dance performances by dancers from her troupe. “To the West,” choreographed by Eleanor King in 1943, was danced by one of Momentum’s principal dancers Barbie Freeman. Then dancers Emily Noe and Rebecca Pelham took the floor in “Process of Elimination,” choreographed just this year by Iles with music by David Chesky.