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Terry Teachout has died


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Teachout was one of those critics who worked both sides of the street -- as a playwright, and as an observer.  Ballet was one of his interests, and his "All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine" is a lovely introduction to the works and their importance in ballet.  He wrote regularly for the Wall Street Journal, and occasionally for more outlets than I could manage to list here.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/terry-teachout-wall-street-journal-drama-critic-dies-at-age-65-11642115600?fbclid=IwAR30vpZ0aMIf4Qtq1AklXdY3a-U67TH0TC9xW4_k9ztYVSKrGwa9E-g9QVY

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Terry Teachout also wrote about the arts for Commentary right up until his death.

Dance was only ever a small part of his writings and, I have to say, not a very impressive part. I always got the impression from his dance writings that he had overread Arlene Croce and Lincoln Kirstein when he was young, and then became trapped in their biases. This led him to make sweeping declarations regarding the superiority of ballet to modern dance, which in turn led him to make some feckless predictions (i.e. that dancer/choreographer/artistic director Robert Weiss' ballets would soon be entering the repertories of ballet companies across America).

I think the Croce/Kirstein influence in his work led him to miss what was going on in the ballet world; namely, that William Forsythe, Kenneth Macmillan and Jerome Robbins would become the dominant influences in the 21st century and not -- as he had predicted -- George Balanchine. 

Edited by miliosr
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5 hours ago, miliosr said:

Dance was only ever a small part of his writings and, I have to say, not a very impressive part.

His take on New York State Theater as a venue wasn't exactly distinguished either: his assessment of it ("The balconies are too high, the auditorium too deep, and unless you're lucky enough to be sitting in the first fifteen rows of the orchestra, you feel as thought the stage is a mile or two away.") suggests he experienced it as a theater-goer, not a dance-goer. (As public spaces go, the Promenade is a wonder: I thank the ghost of Philip Johnson every time I'm there.) One may not care for the work of Jasper Johns, Elie Nadelman, Lee Bontecou, or Reuben Nakian, but to call the works of theirs that are on view in the theater's public areas "undistinguished" is a little wide of the mark. Teachout found the theater "squat on the outside and strange on the inside" and "not at all the sort of place where one might go expecting a revelation."  One can practically hear him sigh that they just don't make them like the Palais Garnier anymore. 

OFF TOPIC: The Jasper Johns show at The Whitney is terrific! I recommend it highly.

Edited by Kathleen O'Connell
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I lived in Wisconsin for a few years in the early 2000s and enjoyed attending plays at the American Players Theatre in the summers. As far as I can tell, Terry Teachout was the only major theater critic who ever traveled to Wisconsin to review them. I appreciate that he would regularly review plays at regional theaters around the country. 

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20 hours ago, Kathleen O'Connell said:

One can practically hear him sigh that they just don't make them like the Palais Garnier anymore.

Which would be ironic considering Teachout rarely showed any interest in what was happening on the stage of the Garnier (or on any other European stage for that matter.) My guess is he was a strict Croceite in that regard. She loathed the dominant position John Cranko's Stuttgart Ballet came to hold in Europe both through Cranko's work and through the work of those who had some connection to the company - Kenneth Macmillan, Glen Tetley, John Neumeier, William Forsythe, Jiri Kylian. I suspect that loathing became an article of faith for him as a young critic.

13 hours ago, FPF said:

I lived in Wisconsin for a few years in the early 2000s and enjoyed attending plays at the American Players Theatre in the summers. As far as I can tell, Terry Teachout was the only major theater critic who ever traveled to Wisconsin to review them. I appreciate that he would regularly review plays at regional theaters around the country. 

This will probably be one of his most important legacies. He never displayed a similar 'get-up-and-go' spirit with his dance writings, though. To the extent he travelled at all to write about dance, it was done fitfully and mostly to see Balanchine spinoff companies where he hoped to find some remnant of that mid-century American modernism Arlene Croce had found (and wrote about) at the New York City Ballet. But by the time Teachout made it to New York and started his life as a working New York critic, the modernism he had read about in The New Yorker in general and Croce's reviews in particular was already dead and gone. So, like Jennifer Homans, he was left proclaiming the 'death of dance'. (Teachout quite literally wrote a piece in 1996 [!] titled 'Who Killed Dance?)

Edited by miliosr
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I could mostly take or leave Teachout's criticism, but I was never less than charmed by his delight in building a curated collection of affordable art to hang on his own walls, which he dubbed "The Teachout Museum." He'd dutifully report on each acquisition in his pioneering blog, "About Last Night." (You can read some of those blog entries here.)

He wrote about his little collection and the care that went into building it in his 2004 Commentary article "Living with Art - To appreciate beautiful works, nothing beats owning them; you don't have to be rich to play." Here are some selected quotes:

" When I first moved to Manhattan, though, I did notice the etchings and small lithographs by famous artists hanging on the walls of the apartments of older middle-class New Yorkers, and from time to time it even occurred to me that I might like to own such things myself." 

...

"While not a collector by temperament, I do have an orderly mind, and I immediately grasped the difference between a roomful of unrelated artworks and a shapely, coherent collection. I realized that what I wanted to do was assemble a group of prints that told the story of American modernism—but from my point of view, not that of the Museum of Modern Art or anyone else."

...

"I look lovingly at my copy of Downtown. The El each time I pass by, marveling at the chain of coincidence by which this exquisite specimen of prewar American modernism passed from Marin’s hands to mine. How many people have owned it? Did the last owner care for it as much as I do? Or was it hung in a dark hallway, there to be ignored and gather dust? Whatever its provenance, it has taught me a priceless lesson, which is that living with a work of art is the ultimate test of its quality—and the ultimate way of appreciating its beauty. I am lucky to own Downtown. The El, and luckier still to have wanted to own it. I hope someone else will want it as much, someday."

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Thank you for posting, sandik. I'm sorry to hear this.

I seem to recall that Teachout wasn't the only one less than thrilled with the Theater formerly known as State, but I don't remember where I read it. Something about it being a problematic gift to Balanchine.

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(Teachout quite literally wrote a piece in 1996 [!] titled 'Who Killed Dance?)

In fairness, it wasn't exactly a golden age.

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would become the dominant influences in the 21st century and not -- as he had predicted -

The 21st century has a long way to go.

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