A Critical Change at The Village Voice

Editor’s Note: The correspondence below originally appeared in the spring 2011 issue of DCA News and is reprinted with kind permission of the Dance Critics Association. The Dance Critics Association received the following letter on May 2, 2011.

Dear Colleagues,

I thought that I should give this news to those of you who haven’t already heard it from me or discovered it via the dance grapevine: I have written my last review for the Village Voice.

The reason? What are often termed “irreconcilable artistic differences” have surfaced between me and Voice arts editor Brian Parks and forced me to make the difficult decision to stop submitting reviews to the paper and its Web site.

Brian—who edits theater, dance, art, and books—is an astute editor and a lovely, tactful, overburdened man. Tiny clues here and there over the past year or so should perhaps have alerted me to the coming impasse we reached not long after I’d finished deluging him with long, March-Madness reviews. Brian’s background, I believe, is primarily in theater. What I write doesn’t seem like arts criticism as he defines it. To put it more baldly: I do not write enough strongly negative reviews.

I’m aware that others share his views about my style of criticism. But while I often question my values, my impressions, and my writing, I’ve been doing what I think I should be doing for over 40 years. To comply with Brian’s wishes, I would have to change not just the kind of writer I am, but the kind of person I am.

So, although I’ve been invited to submit ideas for features or interviews to the Voice from time to time, if I wish, I will be looking around for other outlets—presumably blogs or online publications. I’m starting work on a book, but I seem to be addicted to critical writing, unable to quit cold turkey. Any advice will be appreciated.

Deborah Jowitt

Deborah Jowitt, an award-winning dance critic and historian whose books and thousands of articles have been published worldwide and a teacher of dance history and criticism, has been part of DCA from its earliest years and has served it in just about every capacity possible to serve; in 2006, she was DCAs Senior Critic Awardee.

About Deborah Jowitt’s Departure from The Village Voice
It should be made clear that Deborah’s decision to entirely stop writing dance reviews for the Voice is her own. To explain how we’ve come to this: After editing her for some time now, and reading her for years before that, I’d become frustrated that Deborah’s dance reviews were almost all generally positive write-ups of the shows she was covering. (This has been an issue for many people here at the paper, over many years.) There were virtually no negative reviews. But of course all of us in arts journalism know that every arts field has all sorts of bad or mediocre work going on, many times by established figures and in prominent venues. This work needs to be addressed and challenged by a paper’s critics, just as the good work needs to be saluted. That’s part of a newspaper’s vigorous critical practice, and what The Village Voice does in all the rest of its arts coverage, from the sections I handle, through our film and music sections. The dance reviews have not been doing this.

So it was my request to Deborah that she be willing to write negative reviews where they were called for. If she could not change her current practice, then I would have to give a bunch of her review space to other dance writers who were willing to practice a more balanced version of criticism. Just as we do everywhere else in The Village Voice. Deborah was unwilling to do this, though, and has instead decided to write no reviews for us at all. I’ve expressed to her my interest in still having other kinds of dance pieces from her—interviews, news stories, perhaps an opinion piece about something noteworthy happening in the dance world. She’s immensely knowledgeable, and I’d be eager to have some of those kinds of pieces. She’ll in fact be doing an interview with Susan Marshall for us in early June. I want to express both my great respect and affection for Deborah, but the dance coverage simply needs to be more vigorously balanced—an obvious journalistic goal.

Brian Parks
Arts and Culture Editor
The Village Voice
36 Cooper Square
New York, New York 10003
212-475-3300 x12040
Brian Parks, an award-winning playwright, is best known for his play Americana Absurdum, which consists of two short plays, “Vomit & Roses” and “Wolverine Dream.” At The Village Voice, in addition to his other editing, he also oversees food coverage and supervises the food blog. In the past, he has served as chairman of the Obie Awards.

Photo: David Dashiell


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