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Ballet Talk for Dancers

THe Critics: Edwin Denby


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Edwin Denby is considered by many America's greatest dance critic; he's certainly the Patron Saint of many. I just found an extensive collection of articles in Jacket (February-March 2003) about him:

 

Edwin Denby

 

Feature: Edwin Denby, 1903–1983

— edited by Karlien van den Beukel

 

Rudy Burckhardt: ‘And then I met Edwin...’: Rudy Burckhardt talks to Simon Pettet

Yvonne Jacquette Burckhardt: Edwin Denby

Jacob Burckhardt: Martens Bar (with photo of Martens Bar and MP3 audio file of Edwin Denby reading ‘Disorder, mental, strikes, me; I’)

‘The Cinema of Looking’: Rudy Burckhardt and Edwin Denby in conversation with Joe Giordano

Lynne Hjelmgaard: Ten poems

Vincent Katz: Poem: Edwin Sitting

Nicole Mauro: Ode: To Edwin Denby

Alice Notley: Intersections with Edwin's Lines

Simon Pettet: poem: ‘Fortunate proximity of lives...’

Noel Sheridan: Remembering Edwin Denby

Simon Smith and Ron Padgett: A conversation about Edwin Denby

Brian Kim Stefans: poem: A california submerged

Anne Waldman interviews Edwin Denby, 1981

Edwin Denby interviews artist Neil Welliver

Audio links: Edwin Denby reads five of his poems

Vincent Katz’s site curated for the New York Studio School on ‘Rudy Burckhardt’s Maine’ contains eight sonnets by Edwin Denby: ‘The sonnets he wrote later in life, in Maine, where he spent summers with Burckhardt’s family, show his characteristic compression and opacity taken to new extremes.’

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Denby was a poet (and gymnast, in his early life) in addition to being a dance critic. Most of the pieces in the post above refer to his poetry, and his role in New York's artistic and intellectual life.

 

But this long interview with Anne Waldman is a lot about dancing, too:

 

Anne Waldman interviews Edwin Denby

 

[Editing to add:]

 

Much of the conversation is about Davidsbundlertanze (and, later, the Tchaikovsky Festival). It's especially valuable because this was after Denby had stopped writing dance criticism.

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Thank you so much for finding and posting this site, Alexanda --t's a WONDERFUL sourceo f information, and of tributes to him and memoirs of him by people who knew him well/

 

But BA readers, if you don't know Denby already, this may not give yu any idea why people like me care so much about him. Read his BOOKS --Dancers Buildings and People in he Street, for one, and then you'll probably understand. He really cared about dancing, and he really looked at ballets and at daners and saw what they were dong.... he is an astringent writer as a poet, but his dance essays are only made clearer by his fidelity to what was really going on on hte stage, in hte ballet.

 

He wrote for hte New Yourk Herald Tribune during WOrld aWar II, and so he had to write in 'ordinary" language -- his poetry, I'll say it again, can be cryptic, but his criticism is really lucid, I read it all hte time, for pleasure. Hope you like him too.

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Good point, Paul -- his essays are exceptionally clear. I think he knew he was a missionary. He loved dancing, but loved Balanchine especially and was the first to really explain Balanchine to us. And he loved DANCING for its own sake, not as a means of expression, but as art for its own sake. "When you watch ballet dancers dancing" one essay begins, and it is, I think, the clearest description of what one might see doing so.

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My favorite essay of Denby's was the one on Balanchine's Nutcracker. He described how a mother at the performance said something like, "oh, look, she's lost her shoe" at the end of Act I, and her daughter replied that Marie lost it when she threw it at the Mouse King to save the Nutcracker. I don't remember Denby's exact comment, but it was something like, "she saw, and she understood." Which always seemed to me to sum up Denby. At my best, I could say, "he wrote, and I finally understood."

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Guest Manhattnik

Denby's description of Ulanova is one of the finest things I've ever read. Well, then there's his description of NYC vistas, that famous description of a lost moment from Barocco "deliberate plunge into an open wound..." or just about anything he ever wrote.

 

I remember rather enjoying Moira Shearer's breezy biography of Balanchine until she decided to use Denby as an example of all that's wrong with dance writing, citing what seemed to me to be a brilliant passage on Apollo as an example of bad writing. Excuse me? Good thing for the people on the sidewalk I wasn't near an open window at the time. Then when Shearer ventured to give her opinion of Balanchine's style, and his strengths and weaknesses, I realized her big problem: she had no idea what she was talking about.

 

Hmm. I wonder what Denby had to say about Shearer?

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As I recall, Denby was less than enthusiastic about Shearer's Cinderella but I doubt her comments were payback, although her book has its problems, to say the least. She's no dummy. But dancers in general don't always use quotes from critics very well in their books even when their view of them is positive, IMO. It's not a question of intelligence or grasp of the subject, however -- I think other factors come into play.

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