IN CONVERSATION WITH ROSARIO MANZANOS: THE JOURNALISTIC LANGUAGE IN DANCE CRITICISM
Rosario Manzanos, “Criticism and Culture of Ballet” Award at the XXVIII International Ballet Festival of Miami (IBFM). (Photo courtesy of the personal archive of R. Manzanos)
One of the initiatives that distinguish the International Ballet Festival of Miami (IBFM), founded in 1995 by Pedro Pablo Peña (1944-2018) and now under the direction of Eriberto Jiménez, is the delivery -since 2007 – of an award in recognition of lifetime achievement for prominent figures in ballet culture and criticism.
As is customary, the “Criticism and Culture of Ballet” Award (‘Crítica y Cultura del Ballet, in Spanish) is placed in the hands of the selected personality at the beginning of the closing gala of the event, which this year took place on Sunday, August 13, at 5 p.m., at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium.
On this occasion, it was awarded to the renowned Mexican journalist Rosario Manzanos (Federal District, 1958), who since 2013 has been a columnist for the prestigious newspaper Excelsior, the second longest-running newspaper in Mexico City (its first issue dates from 1917).
Rosario collaborated with many other publications and was head of the Dance Department of the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) from 1989 to 1993. In 2003, she received the Fernando Benítez National Prize for Cultural Journalism, and in 2017, the National Dance Prize Contemporary Jose Limón. Her most recent book, a compilation of interviews entitled “Vida al Aire,” was presented in Miami on Friday, August 11, at the Miami Hispanic Cultural Arts Center (MHCAC) as a collateral event for IBFM.
The public present at the presentation were able to ask Rosario questions. For those unable to attend, his edited version of our conversation – we are both irrepressible talkers and have known each other since immemorial times, you can imagine – should be a first approach to her opinions about the award, cultural journalism and dance criticism.
“This award,” she affirms, “has come to give new meaning to my work because it seems that the field occupied by those of us who dedicate ourselves to criticism, at least in Mexico, has been shrinking. Specialization and meritocracy are not viewed with such good eyes in the artistic and cultural nucleus.”
“I am happy about the award, and I jump for joy,” she exclaims, “because I am also sharing it with great authorities that I admire a lot. Also, you are among the winners, and you are the person that, in some way, or many ways, or all ways, opened the way for me to conceive a very clear and very specific theoretical framework on dance. Do you remember?” [Rosario refers to a course on methodology for dance criticism that I had the honor of teaching at various Mexican institutions in the early 1980s]. She pauses and admits, amused, “I still mentally review your category maps when I need them.” Immediately afterward, she returned to the matter at hand today. “Receiving the award is a way of legitimizing my work as a critic and my work as a specialized spectator who spends most of her time observing what others are doing.”
Rosario studied dance as a child [at the National School of Dance of the National Institute of Fine Arts (INBA) in Mexico, where she graduated as a Specialized Ballet Dance Instructor] and recounts that, almost from day one, she discovered her true passion. “I remember seeing myself watching my colleagues, and I liked to see what they did. Since then, I recognize myself as someone who has been in the audience watching what happens and is fascinated by the results. My fantasy was not in being the protagonist of a work, but in the joy that gives me to observe what others can do.”
Regarding her first article on dance, which she wrote in 1988, she says that “it was not properly a dance critique, but rather a report on sonideros, a popular form of urban dance that exists in Mexico.” It was published in Proceso magazine and was very well received. [Rosario was a reporter for the cultural section of Proceso from 1988 to 2013] “My first critical review, as such, was about the National Dance Award. The second was about the Folkloric Ballet of Amalia Hernández. Both were research papers. For me, even doing a 400-word story involves background research.”
“Right now, at the level of the written press, I am the only person who criticizes dance in Mexico,” she answers when we address the issue of dance criticism in her country. “Which is enormously frustrating for me because I don’t have interlocutors with whom I can discuss. I don’t have that exchange. And in the digital media, I have not seen material carried out in terms of what is required journalistically when you dedicate yourself to criticism.”
Considering that the exercise of art criticism is not exempt from controversy, the question arises: does writing about a show that has not been fully achieved create any conflict for you?
“Of course. If I write about a production that has not fulfilled a series of specific points that I consider to be vital, of course, they get very angry. But there is a perverse mechanism involved because there are national economic funds for groups and artists, and one of the requirements demanded by the calling for each of these contests is that they submit press releases. So, they desperately want you to write about them. But they are faced with the fact that what they write about them are informative notes, not analyses of their work, which for them is a problem. It is something terrifying in times where politics is to democratize, and it is considered that everyone has the right to a forum because you are going to find shameful things, which I try not to write about.”
“To all those interested in being dance critics, I recommend, first of all, that they study dance,” is what she expresses when we ask her for a recommendation. “But one thing is what you must know, and another thing is what you are going to write. How are you going to capture it in a note that is for a newspaper or a magazine? Media that people are going to read at the hairdresser. Or that tomorrow will be yesterday’s publication to use today as a wrapper in the market, I don’t know. If I want the reader to read me, then I need a hook to do so. That is why journalistic language is crucial.”
“I believe in cloak-and-dagger journalism,” she adds. “And I think being an editorial writer or critic requires that you understand what journalistic language is and stick to it,” Gabriel García Márquez said [Rosario also studied at the International Film and Television School (EICTV) of San Antonio de los Baños in Cuba, founded by Gabo] “that it is like breathing, and you are going to control the reader’s breathing, You’re going to say: here you can breathe and here you can’t. I believe that in criticism, there is no reason to be boring or tedious. On the contrary. What happens is that, simply, the specialized narrative elements of journalistic language are lacking.”
We have already said goodbye when Rosario seems to have the impression of remembering something and proclaims, “I insist, having an award of an international nature allows me to explain that, indeed, it is possible to achieve it. To my colleagues, to my fellow journalists, and even to those who would be interested in devoting themselves to writing about dance. I can tell them: outside of Mexico, writing about dance is considered a special category worthy of recognition.”
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