Criticism takes guts

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I had a nice conversation with a delightful woman at the intermission of Friday night's opening performance by Donna Uchizono's modern dance company. The choreographer presented two works. One is called State of Heads. The other is Low. The former came first and it left my new friend speechless. In a bad way.

"I like to see dance that's emotional," she said. "What do you think the point of that was?"

I didn't know. Maybe there wasn't a point. Maybe there was. Then again, what's the point of any art? I asked. "To be enjoyed," she said. I had to admit my ambivalence — maybe, but maybe not.

I don't believe art has to have a point. It doesn't need to justify itself to exist. I do believe, however, that art should be understood, even if that understanding is oblique or imperfect. The experience of art sometimes requires a willingness to suspend expectations, even logic. Art, after all, is the result of a creative mind striving for something that didn't exist before and that, strictly speaking, doesn't fit into expectations that are naturally conditioned by events that predate that art.

Uchizono's State of Heads is abstract, conceptual, and cold emotionally. There's no romance. No sexual spark. There's no revelation of inner conflict. No introspection. Nothing like that. If my friend was looking for these, it's no wonder she was left cold. Perhaps this was the case for many in the audience.

Dottie Ashley, a staff critic for the Post and Courier, evidently shared my friend's sentiment. But instead of telling us how she felt, she tells us how the audience felt, charactering its reaction as "disgusted and disappointed." Sounds like Ashley was disgusted and disappointed. But she doesn't say that. Nor does she quote anyone. Yet she managed to condemn the performance without the risk of making a judgment. Backed up by majority sentiment, she tells us to "spend your $32 elsewhere."

The dance isn't what's disgusting.

Honest and clear-eyed criticism takes guts. Of that, my friend had no shortage. She didn't like State of Heads. She understood the points I made about contrasts of movement and texture, the evocation of abstract emotions, and so on. Still, she didn't like it. Fair enough. In the expression "there's no accounting for taste," what's really meant is that you can't quantify, or take an accounting, of subjective preferences. They are what they are. I didn't agree with my new friend. Nor did I think her opinion was right. She doesn't have a taste for dance of this kind, which is fine. She was honest about it.

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