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miliosr

"Discussing the Undiscussable"

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I think The Guardian has been reading Ballet Talk for story ideas (miliosr pats himself on the back!!!)

But one of the things about reading "Writing in the Dark" was that her essays in the 90's became less about dance and there were more and more rants.

Yes, you really start to see the decline in her writing in the late-80s/early-90s pieces. The hysterical tone of the anti-Peter Martins pieces is embarassing. Martins could have killed someone and received less criticism from Arlene Croce than he got for how he was managing the New York City Ballet.

I'm dreading the (possible) release of Croce's Balanchine overview. I have the suspicion she'll bury him under a blanket of glassy-eyed 'religious' orthodoxy -- 'The Gospel According to Arlene', if you will.

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I too enjoy Arlene Croce's work, but, like Pauline Kael, she seemed to have championed a certain kind of full blooded American vitality. Her negative pole was always “narcissism” and “self-absorption”. (Kael disliked "Blow Up" for Croce-like reasons.)

There is something of this in her review of The Four Temperaments, where she seems to favor the angry goddess Choleric who “enters in a burst of fanfares and flourishes” and Sanguinic, whose vistas are wide open, and who “rides at the top of the world” over narrow vista-ed Melancholic whose " personal weather is always ceiling zero" and Phlegmatic who is indolent, "given to detached contemplation and to pretentious vices."

She likes Mark Morris despite the sort of Michelangelo David androgynous handsomeness that he shares with other dancers of the time - "it's a look I can do without". Morris is about more than just "dime store narcissism." And Bill T. Jones in 1982 is “marching the New Narcissism into the fever swamps.”

In Afternoon of the Faun, she likes the moment the woman turns away from the mirror and yields to the boy’s hands – and becomes real.

Staunch politics aside, her asides reminded me of the strict American reading of Freud that was prevalent for a time (a dark time).

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Her essay raised a lot of hackles, yes, but it also resulted in some rigorous and much-needed discussion among critics about what we thought we were about. There was a small anthology published (The Crisis of Criticism, ed. by Maurice Berger) that included Croce's essay as well as several responses to it. It's been several years, but it's still relevant work -- I highly recommend it.

From the publisher's description:

"Almost more than artists, art critics today form an elite class that legislates cultural tastes. The Crisis of Criticism is a collection of brilliantly argued, provocative essays that address the problematic nature of the critic's authority and responsibilities. In it, today's leading critics, curators, and artists address the questions at the heart of criticism. Do critics grant cultural permission or is their work merely descriptive? Is there such a thing as critical activism? How can critics bridge the gap between a sometimes hermetic art community and the public? Are critics consumer advocates, sycophants, or artists in their own right? Maurice Berger assembles the top critics in each field to address the problematic nature of the critic's authority and responsibilities. Contributors include Richard Martin, bell hooks, Jim Hoberman, Arlene Croce, Wayne Koestenbaum, Joyce Carol Oates, and others."

Sounds interesting. Joyce Carol Oates' essay, Confronting Head-on the Face of the Afflicted, can be read after Discussing the Undiscussable here.

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Arlene Croce's love for Twyla Tharp can also I think be attributed to her preference for this kind of spunky American exuberance -- the high energy, peppy Tharp trademark. I don't think Tharp's material merited Croce's ecstatic reception.

p.s. I also think it's somewhat remarkable that a critic as high-profile as Arlene Croce was able to remain, in a way, completely anonymous. I looked for a picture on google images and was able to find none. We knew about her beliefs, her tastes, her opinions, but nothing about her personally. I'm not saying that's a bad thing but it's just remarkable especially now with social media and the 24 hours news cycle that she was able to live a completely anonymous, private life while also wielding so much power on the New York dance scene.

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I think The Guardian has been reading Ballet Talk for story ideas (miliosr pats himself on the back!!!)

But one of the things about reading "Writing in the Dark" was that her essays in the 90's became less about dance and there were more and more rants.

Yes, you really start to see the decline in her writing in the late-80s/early-90s pieces. The hysterical tone of the anti-Peter Martins pieces is embarassing. Martins could have killed someone and received less criticism from Arlene Croce than he got for how he was managing the New York City Ballet.

I'm dreading the (possible) release of Croce's Balanchine overview. I have the suspicion she'll bury him under a blanket of glassy-eyed 'religious' orthodoxy -- 'The Gospel According to Arlene', if you will.

You might rant, too, if you believed you were watching a cherished artistic enterprise founder. (The problem with "Discussing the Undiscussable" is that it's a poorly argued, nasty rant.) Croce, like other Martins critics, started out cheering for him, not calling for his head on a stick.

I'd welcome her book, but as mentioned I'm not holding my breath - obviously there's some kind of complication or it would be out by now.

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p.s. I also think it's somewhat remarkable that a critic as high-profile as Arlene Croce was able to remain, in a way, completely anonymous. I looked for a picture on google images and was able to find none.

None? Just google Arlene Croce and a picture should pop up immediately. I don't know why Google Images sometimes doesn't turn up an image as handily as plain old google, though that has been my experience. You can find Croce under images as well, just mixed in with a great many other images.

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She's never been invisible, at least not in the restaurant critic way. There are photos on the jackets of most of her books, at least the hardcover editions, and she was often in the middle of a group in the lobby when she was attending NYCB extensively. But it's true that most critics were not as visible to the public in the past as everyone is today.

We used to giggle when the local papers ran "pictures" (usually line drawings based on photographs) of their byline writers. No one looked like their image. Now, those publications that still run photos have much better presses, not to mention their online editions.

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I too enjoy Arlene Croce's work, but, like Pauline Kael, she seemed to have championed a certain kind of full blooded American vitality. Her negative pole was always “narcissism” and “self-absorption”. (Kael disliked "Blow Up" for Croce-like reasons.)

She'd have a field day with Hubbe's new "La Sylphide."

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I too enjoy Arlene Croce's work, but, like Pauline Kael, she seemed to have championed a certain kind of full blooded American vitality. Her negative pole was always “narcissism” and “self-absorption”. (Kael disliked "Blow Up" for Croce-like reasons.)

Kael and Croce had some things in common personally and stylistically, but aesthetically they could sometimes be at different poles. Kael once called Croce -- with all respect, as Michael says in "The Godfather" -- a "romantic perfectionist," a description which would only be partially and occasionally true of Kael.

Quite a thread you started here, miliosr. :)

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Quite a thread you started here, miliosr.

Wait until I write my summary of the first three compilations of her writings. I've finished with the first two and I just started the third one!!!

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Quite a thread you started here, miliosr.

Wait until I write my summary of the first three compilations of her writings. I've finished with the first two and I just started the third one!!!

Then perhaps we should make a book club event out of this -- do you want to give the titles of a few essays that feel really central to your reading of Croce, so we can all come in with the same references.

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I'm keeping a running tally of all the companies/acts/events she wrote about over the time period covered in the three books (1966-1987). When you see who she wrote about over and over and over again, we should have plenty to discuss!

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One of her running themes is Sleeping Beauty. She goes into extraordinary detail about every production she ever saw, and it can be summed up in one way: she hated them all.

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One of her running themes is Sleeping Beauty. She goes into extraordinary detail about every production she ever saw, and it can be summed up in one way: she hated them all.

I don't know -- I remember some positive comments about the fairy variations in a Royal Ballet production...

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So, I've reached the point in Arlene Croce's third collection of writings where she first discusses Bill T. Jones. In a July 12, 1982 review titled "Names and Places," she writes scathingly of Jones:

"Jones is the apostle of postmodern pop; he has marched the New Narcissism right into the fever swamps." [Note: Bolded text is my emphasis.]

Jones would retaliate the following year by making a commissioned piece for the Ailey company titled -- you guessed it -- Fever Swamp. Apparently, this so incensed Croce that she mentioned the incident specifically twelve years later in "Discussing the Undiscussable".

It's probably just as well that Croce closed up shop just as the Internet was really getting going given that she was thin-skinned regarding pre-Internet snark from 1983.

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I couldn't resist posting the following. From a 12/19/83 review of the New York City Ballet discussing Peter Martins:

"Placing himself in Balanchine's service, he rose to the kind of stardom that makes him, in his turn, master of the art and the one who must now set the terms of it for the next generation. A loyal knight, he has earned the prize. The enchanted kingdom is in his keeping."

Croce would sure come to regret those words!

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I have a very long commute to work now and routinely bring along one of Croce's books for commute reading. This week I read her surprisingly positive review of MacMillan's Mayerling.

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In the debriefing Croce did with Susie Linfield in the aftermath of "Discussing the Undiscussable," Croce had this to say about Kenneth MacMillan:

"A talented man like Kenneth MacMillan was constantly pushing against the limitations of dance. He always wanted dance to do the work of literature, let us say, or to be like a movie. Or he wanted to be able to tell someone's life story, or handle ideas. MacMillan could bring off astonishing effects, even though he never made a whole ballet that in my opinion was really successful. But you felt the impact of his creativity against the resistance of the form. He is the only choreographer I know of who has managed to create some kind of theatrical friction out of the clash. Everybody else I know goes straight on down to the bottom of the sea. But this is why there are no rules in art. Things can happen, and it all depends on who is trying to make them happen. I don't recommend Kenneth MacMillan's methods to anybody else. I don't recommend them to Kenneth MacMillan. But I could see how he was stubborn. There was a certain substance there. It was fun."

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