Regular readers will know that we are fond of T. S. Eliot’s definition of criticism as “the elucidation of works of art and the correction of taste.” Those tasks are a large part of what The New Criterion is about, and we are grateful to be able to offer regular examples of such criticism in many areas of cultural endeavor, from fiction and poetry to the visual arts, theater, music, and the dance. The impending publication of Laura Jacobs’s Landscape with Moving Figures: A Decade on Dance (Dance and Movement Press) provides a sterling instance of what we mean. Laura has been the dance critic of The New Criterion since 1994. In that time, she has distinguished herself as the best in the business. She has an uncanny talent for communicating the substance—the feel, the texture, the physical presence—of the dancer’s art. It’s not just that she was trained as a dancer herself—other dance critics are. She infuses that firsthand knowledge with an unsurpassed ability to bring the reader into the heart, the engine-room of dance. Consider, to take just one example, this passage about George Balanchine’s great ballet Mozartiana:
Mozartiana is about endings and beginnings. Notice the steps. Skips, hops, jetés—schoolyard steps, tossed like seeds. And look at the way Balanchine gives first-year ballet steps to the ballerina, but sostenuto, almost decon- structing them, the way one must in the beginning to learn them. Those arabesque-passé-passés in the opening Preghiera (Prayer), like steps on stilts; the slow-motion chaînés in the ballerina’s solos; the échappés done with a scissory half turn—these simple steps scaled greatly contain wisdom, a floating valediction, like late Matisse cutouts. The ballet is something to be scaled, and so the prayer at the beginning, the ballerina posed in a garden of little girls, is the invocation before the ascension.
Landscape with Moving Figures will be available around the time this issue hits the newsstands. In the meantime, as an hors d’oeuvre, turn to Laura’s essay on the New York City Ballet later in this issue.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 24 Number 10, on page 2
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