My friend Maury called me today to tell me I was in the New York Times this Sunday. My reply? “Wha-huh?” (I think that’s all I could say.) He was surprised too, and had heard about it himself from Michael Smith, who used to work with him.
So I had a dig around on the website and found the article. It’s about plus-size and odd-size performers in dance companies, written by Claudia La Rocco. Here’s the relevant section:
When the choreographer Larry Keigwin envisioned “Bolero NYC,” he said, he imagined performers of “different shapes and sizes.”
“My objective is to mirror New York,” he explained last fall. “I’m not going to put a bunch of ballerinas on stage imitating that.”
But neither did he look to his peers; instead he held open auditions. The final group, which danced with his company last month at the Skirball Center at New York University, might have been a snapshot of the foot traffic on any given city block.
Differences for civilians are one thing. “Bolero NYC” shared a program with two other Keigwin works, including “Natural Selection,” performed without one of its original dancers, Hilary Clark. Reviewing the show in 2004 in The Santa Barbara News-Press in California, Ted Mills took issue with Ms. Clark’s body, drawing unfavorable comparisons with the “unceasing athleticism” of the other dancers. “Not that you’d know from the publicity or, from what I can tell, most reviews,” Mr. Mills wrote, “but Ms. Clark is a plus-size dancer, and her inclusion in this last work raised questions about Mr. Keigwin’s intentions.” Mr. Mills saw “old-fashioned shock-the-bourgeoisie” tactics at work.
Ms. Clark’s membership in the company ended shortly after that review. When rehearsals resumed on the company’s return to New York, she said, she was not informed. Mr. Keigwin said that the break had stemmed from “a combination of things,” but Ms. Clark is skeptical. She heard through a friend, she said, that Mr. Keigwin wanted “a more classically modeled company.”
Ms. Clark, who now performs with Tere O’Connor Dance, found her dismissal, she said, to be “a result of the larger issue” that “the unfortunate and superficial assumptions of who and what type of body should be dancing diminishes dance’s very potential and range of experience.”
On one hand, to be quoted in the Times is pretty damn cool, and I’ve been tooting my horn all evening. On the other hand, the article sounds like I single-handedly destroyed Ms. Clark’s career. I don’t really think I had an issue with Ms. Clark and much as I did Keigwin.
I don’t have that particular review up online yet, but here’s what I wrote about the one piece.
Mr. Keigwin’s final piece, “Natural Selection” was a “world premiere”, though a version had been performed in North Carolina last month. Not that you’d know from the publicity or, from what I can tell, most reviews, but Ms. Clark is a plus-size dancer, and her inclusion in this last work raised questions about Mr. Keigwin’s intentions. Unlike Ms. Clark’s earlier solo piece, “Natural Selection” didn’t feel tailored to her talents, and the unceasing athleticism of the rest of the company (with dancers being spun, thrown, and catapulted) couldn’t help but focus our eyes on Clark’s weaknesses, instead of allowing us to see her on her own terms.
Plus-size dancers are such a rarity in the field that I doubt most audiences know what to think. Last year’s Faculty Dance Concert at UCSB featured a similar dancer (Summer Lederer) in a work with Catherine Cole, choreographed by Valerie Huston. I mention it only because its attitude towards its performers (Ms. Cole is missing a leg, which Ms. Huston used to great advantage) was uncompromising and rewarding, unlike Mr. Keigwin’s use of Ms. Clark. His felt like a tactic not unlike the shouting during intermission, to afflict the comforted, to render mute the dance critics. To not mention Ms. Clark is cowardice; to write on her without caveats is to risk offence. But so be it.
Make of that what you will.