Editor Wendy Perron Tells Choreographers: “Shut Up! No Blogging!”

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It’s a matter of for whom the blogosphere tolls.

According to Dance Magazine editor Wendy Perron, when it comes to matters terpsichorean, the blogosphere must never toll at all.

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In other words, says Perron, if you’re a choreographer, please keep your thoughts, your musings, your ideas, your observations, your instincts, your discoveries, your pride, your prejudices, your fears, your insights, your revelations and your breakthroughs to yourself.

Just do your work, she says, which some might argue is great advice.

Instructing choreographers to shut up about it on self-maintained blogs, however, is terrible and mystifying advice.

Read these excerpts from Perron’s piece, which bears the headline “Blogging About the Process of Choreography — Ugh!”:

…explaining how you make a dance, the problems you encounter and how you solve them, is not going to help either you as the choreographer or your potential audience. To dig into your imagination enough to make a dance, you need to be embroiled in a place where there is no explanation.

….What if you’re in the studio working on a piece, and you’re thinking about what you’re going to say about it in your blog? Wouldn’t that compromise your process?

The tone and the substance are both unfortunate.

First, pitting authenticity and artistic exploration against each other in some aesthetic boxing ring is an unfair fight — like asking Mark Morris and Jose Ruiz of So, You Think You Can Dance? to dance Spartacus on the same stage simultaneously. (We will now take a 15-second pause while you envision that.)

Authenticity (integrity in the work) and artistic exploration (the process by which the work is conceived, developed, honed, tested and presented) are neither devalued nor confused by discussing, meditating on or even recording the creation of a work, whether for public or private consumption.

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Perron’s ostensibly believes that such discussions, meditations and recordings compromise the work the moment they become public — that blogging is, almost by definition, showboating. She offers no specific evidence to support her view. She neither names names nor cites specific dances which, in her view, are denuded of artistic integrity because the choreographer of the dance blogged about it.

While writing this post, an example from a different discipline popped into my mind. It is well known that Leonard Bernstein kept a diary that I often see referred to as the “West Side Log” — it tracked the creation and development of the musical West Side Story. One entry, from July 8, 1957, I’ve seen quoted many times:

I can’t believe it — 40 kids are actually doing it up there on the stage. Forty kids singing five-part counterpoint who never sang before — and sounding like heaven. I guess we were right not to cast “singers”: anything that sounded more professional would inevitably sound more experienced, and then the “kid” quality would be gone. A perfect example of a disadvantage turned into a virtue.

Now, I happen to believe that the only difference between a diary and a blog is that the blog is public, although some blogs are actually kept anonymously or pseudonymously (I know of at least one).

Perron’s philosophy would hold that by the very act of keeping a diary, by the very act of consciously documenting his process, Bernstein frittered away the fundamental integrity of his compositional work. Are you prepared to make that leap? Oh, but Bernstein’s diary was private. True. Does anyone believe Bernstein never intended for it to be public, that he wasn’t consciously writing with one or both eyes on posterity? On one level, isn’t Perron’s argument really about the timing of diary-like content? Would she legislate in-the-moment process blogs out of existence?

Perron’s other counterargument is clearly stated in her essay: while some choreographers can write with penetrating and engaging accuracy about their work as it is taking shape, they are few and far between. Unlike, say, “Tere O’Connor, who writes very considered contemplations about dance making, based on his decades of experience,” Perron writes, young choreographers possess neither the spirit nor the substance of articulation.

Frankly, I don’t know whether that’s true — I do not claim to have conducted a Web-wide survey of choreography blogs and therefore vetted their contents for bad grammar, narcissistic strutting, integrity-tempering or low-digit IQs. What I do know is that good writing is good writing, and subject, discipline and genre, like gender, race and age, have nothing to do with it. Youth is no bar to writing cogent prose. Some geezers write like Neanderthals. Age guarantees nothing.

Meanwhile, at least one blog has taken Perron to task for this whole topic. It’ll be interesting to see if Perron responds.

If a choreographer finds it helpful, soul-nourishing or meaningful to explain their thinking, rationale or impulses, or to document their internal or external processes, or to promote the resultant work via the media available to them in this challenging artistic climate, who is Perron to play the censor and order them to keep their traps, if not their legs, shut?

Also, with so much dance criticism gone the way of the bunny hug and the turkey trot, wouldn’t it make sense to try to mentor choreographers with an interest in writing, rather than gag them?

Sounds to me like someone doesn’t want to update her RSS feeds. I’ve got time. Let me know when to stop by.