Last week, The Stranger received a series of indignant e-mails from longtime choreographer KT Niehoff, whose show was reviewed in last week's paper (along with three others). Niehoff insisted that we "stop pandering to the lowest common denominator" and "go make something" and that she was "ready to go head to head with you." We stand by the original review—which was only mildly critical of Niehoff's piece and found several things to praise—but decided to loan her our megaphone for a week to make a case about how crappy we are. We promised we wouldn't edit her submission in any way.
Take it away, KT.
OK—let's get this out of the way. Yes, I am KT Niehoff, the creator of A Glimmer of Hope or Skin or Light, yes, my work was reviewed in The Stranger last week, and yes, the review pissed me off.
I am weary of the quip, sarcastic reflections The Stranger dishes out as art reviewing. As a choreographer in Seattle for 15+ years, I have learned to accept the Stranger reviewer lurking in the corner with a mind-made-up-before-I-even-showed-up energy. It makes me want to scream, "Allow yourself to have an experience!" But I have not done my part either. I have embodied that desperate artist hoping someone will care enough about the work to deem it worthy of writing about. And I have been silenced by this power. I'm done. It's time to review the reviewer.
Last week's review lumped four artists/events into one sloppy soup. The article began with a sarcastic paragraph about how dancers can't get it together to coordinate their schedules so their shows stop happening on the same weekend.
My first thought was "why would a reviewer waste a paragraph on a throwaway scheduling comment?" And why the implied negative in the fact there is enough dance in this city to support four shows in the same weekend? Music and theater venues produce multiple artists every weekend in Seattle. Why not be proud of a grown-up city with a thriving appetite for contemporary dance? Why not applaud it?
My colleague Amelia Reeber (who mounted her show this is a forgery last weekend at the Erickson Theater) was among the four artists reviewed. She was described this way: "twirls and spins... frolicking like a Greek nymph (or Isadora Duncan)."
Every dancer on the planet twirls and spins. For a dance critic to describe a dancer as twirling and spinning, well, it's akin to reviewing a cellist as playing some notes. It's so broad as to be meaningless. And why is it a unique, groundbreaking contemporary dance artist is equated to a century-old physical vocabulary? I request enough knowledge from you to make more relevant analogies. Reviewers can educate. They can connect the time we live in and the people making work in relationship to that time to their actual forbearers—in Amelia's case, Deborah Hay, DV8, and 33 Fainting Spells, say nothing of the Seattle dancers who have helped define her acutely 21st-century work—Maureen Whiting, Rob Kitsos, Vanessa DeWolf, and Kris Wheeler. I want dance reviewers who care enough to learn more about the rich history of the art form.
My show (Glimmer)—a year in the making with 23 Seattle artists sweating to bring their best selves to the table—was summarized as "some drunkenness, some nudity, and some moody rock 'n' roll." That is reductive almost beyond belief. Seven of my 12 artists and their costumes (created by Joanne Witzkowski, an award-winning Chicago-based designer) were dismissed as "gutter-glam costumes and frilly blue extras"? [Ed. note: A small correction—the actual quote is "writhing, sexual duets from principals wearing white gutter-glam costumes while a dozen extras in frilly blue watch, wander, and preen."] These extras put in 100+ hours of absolutely nailing the synchronized intricacy of the physical vocabulary and that's all you came up with?
The level of professional expertise in Glimmer is reverently off the charts. These artists are deeply thinking, awesomely talented, obsessively hardworking individuals living risky, engaged lives. And they risked going deep into their own psyches so you could have the luxury of examining yours. Your sarcasm is just a cop-out.
Stranger critics, help us to go deeper as a society. Help us to think more about our actions, ask more from our relationships, and get more from our interactions. Learn more about the art form of contemporary dance, which has the unique ability to free our minds to think nonlinearly and push into raw emotion, involuntary kinetic kickback and dream states. They "teach" this natural way of thinking out of us in school so completely we are actually afraid of it ("I don't know anything about dance"—i.e.—"I am scared if there isn't an actual plotline I could get it 'wrong' and look like an asshole").
There are incredible artists in this city. They are grappling, practicing, risking, asking, and hoping they can tap into our capacity to reveal the better (or worse) parts of ourselves to each other. And in that revealing, hook into what I believe most of us want from life and each other—more. They deserve smart, tough, critical dialogue. They deserve your respect.
I don't want you to automatically like my work. I don't want to call you out on what rotten, ignorant critiquing your paper is giving to dance. I want you be better critics.
I want so much more from the writing in your paper than I ever get. It makes me sad.