The Digest: Jan. 26, 2011

Josephine's Echopraxia, "stifle," part of the Seattle edition of The A.W.A.R.D. Show! L-R Rosa Vissers, Marissa Rae Niederhauser, Meredith Horiuchi, Meredith Sallee, Allie Hankin. Photo by Ryan K. Adams

Republicans Don’t Care About Saving Money–They Just Hate Us: One of the big things that’s got the arts & culture world a-twitter is the recent news that some evil Republican party satraps, in a dark conference room somewhere, billowing with the smoke of illegally imported Cuban cigars made of actual Cubans, have concocted a wicked plan to balance the federal budget by eliminating the NEA, NEH, public broadcasting subsidies, and a host of other things that liberals everywhere love. This has predictably led to plenty of hand-wringing amongst arts supporters, who proceeded to try to defend federal arts dollars (no easy task given creatives’ infamously poor math skills). LA’s Culture Monster piped in with the rather extreme claim that the $1.6 billion in total annual federal arts and culture dollars feeds $30 billion back into federal, state, and local tax coffers (I have no idea where they get their figures, but if the arts actually gave you a 1,800 percent ROI, we’d all be rich).

Now, far be it from me to ever to suggest arts and culture funding is a bad investment (actually, I do have a problem with the idea that it’s an “investment” at all, but that’s a different story), but no matter how you try to justify the investment, it won’t work for the Republicans because they don’t care. This has nothing to do with anything other than partisan hatred; no matter how good your math, you won’t win. They just happen to hate us. We’re “elitists” and they want to take us down. There’s a fantastic essay in the current issue of n+1 magazine on just this topic. And how much is the Republican “plan” nothing but partisan b.s.? Well, amongst other things, it calls for eliminating subsidies for organic farming, but not non-organic farming despite record cash revenues. So don’t even bother, people, and don’t worry about brushing your math skills–this isn’t about budgets or economics, this is just the latest front in the culture war, from the people who really like waging it.

Tragedienne: Horrible news coming out of Russia. Among the victims of the suicide bombing of Domodedovo Airport in Moscow was Ukrainian playwright Anna Mashutina, who wrote under the name Anna Yablonskaya. Unfortunately, I”m unfamiliar with Yabloskaya’s work, but remembrances have poured in from all over, from John Freedman at The Moscow Times to The New York Times to the Guardian in the UK, where Natalia Antonova described Yablonskaya’s work as “about family life, love and sex. Never the type to try to shock her audience, her writing was very subtle, feminist but not overtly political.” Yablonskaya’s most regarded play Pagans is scheduled for a reading at the Royal Court in London on April 7, 2011, as part of their international playwrights season.

Dance Critic Critique: Over at the DanceUSA blog, former NY Times dance critic John Rockwell offers his thoughts on the role of the dance critic. I have to admit that I’m oddly ambivalent about what he has to say. On the one hand, it’s all by-the-book true, even the parts at the expense of people like me (“Right now, a print critic is different from a blogger in that there is usually still at least one major daily newspaper per town, and hence its critic assumes a disproportionately influential role in the local community”). His sentiment that “[W]e see the critic’s role as a noble one–trying to encapsulate in resistant prose the artistic experiences we encounter, maybe helping to educate our readers and provide them a sounding board for their own opinions, advancing the standards of an art form we love,” is a perfectly noble way of putting it. It’s also J-school by-the-book unreality, which is my other hand: first of all, Rockwell’s adorably out-of-touch if he thinks most towns still have a “dance critic,” as opposed to some freelancer who occasionally gets to cover something besides the ballet, and as a blogger whose career path seems predicated on the eventual collapse of traditional publishing, I call b.s. on all the high-minded sentiment about how being an arbiter of taste (the traditional role of the critic) really adds to discourse.

The truth is, critics are a dying breed because they exist largely outside of a discourse, which is where people like me come in–people who actually believe in trying to generate discourse–and yes, I’m rather proud to not be above being an “institutional booster, especially of fledgling companies,” or serving “the dance community or particular artists.” Why shouldn’t I support artists whose work I believe in? Why shouldn’t I try to support the community?  So let’s all get over ourselves and admit that the only reason Alastair Macaulay’s job still exists is because ballet companies areabout  the only people in the dance world with money to advertise in the newspaper, which is why the Times thought it was worth it to send him around the country to see The Nutcracker ninety-billion times.

A.W.A.R.D. Show Seattle: On to supporting the community: this Thursday night, The A.W.A.R.D. Show! kicks off in Seattle at On the Boards, and anyone interested in a brief guide to Seattle dance should, ahem, feel free to read my preview. Really, the program includes most of the really interesting artists from the region, from Zoe Scofield (whose newest work premieres at Jacob’s Pillow in a few months) to Waxie Moon, Seattle’s most innovative queer performer, to Portland, Oregon’s experimental dance-movement company tEEth, to the work of choreographers I respect and have been enthused by, from Ellie Sandstrom to Olivier Wevers to Marissa Rae Niederhauser.

East of Where?: East of Borneo is a fantastic online visual art magazine out of LA, and it’s one of the most-visited sites on pretty much every computer in the Culturebot newsroom. Seriously, we love this site and you will too. So, just because, I’m linking to the latest little treasure a reader has uploaded to their site: the publisher’s note-cum-manifesto in the first issue of Little Caesar magazine from 1976. Written by Dennis Cooper before he was a darling of the downtown scene, or a resident of Europe, the note casually announces that “We’re not fifty year old patrons of the arts. We’re young punks just like you.” It’s a page of history, and worth checking out along with everything else East of Borneo presents.

Odds & Ends: If you happen to be a reader from LA–welcome!–be aware that one of New York’s finer devised theater companies, The Civilians, will be presenting a cabaret evening of songs from a work-in-progress musical commissioned by the Center Theatre Group on Feb. 5. “A Pretty Filthy Evening” will showcase songs that the company has developed through their documentary theater approach, centered on the adult entertainment industry. Mmm…porny! Here in NYC, Jordana Che Toback and Clarinda Mac Low are this season’s SPLICE over at DNA, where Jan. 27-30, their a dinosaur attacks a lighthouse is playing (tickets here). And speaking of dance, DFA’s Dance on Camera Festival is…entering its last week! Damn! Should have been on top of that a little more (emails help people). Fantastic work being showcased daily–for the line-up, see the website.

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