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Ballet Talk for Dancers

The Critics: firing Tobi Tobias


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This is a response to one of the form responses, posted with permission of the writer:

 

Dear Ms. Miller,

 

I can't help but feel that if you truly realized just how "painful" this choice is, you wouldn't be making it. Which readers are you hoping to serve by removing one of the great and moral voices in the arts?

 

To pretend that previews (those little boxes?) and listings (come on!) constitute dance coverage seems disingenuous. I love that you're doing a feature on Mark Morris, but how often are those going to come along? And without the context provided by regular, thoughtful reviews of his work, what will such a staff-written feature contribute? Tobi Tobias is the reason I

read your dance coverage: every review is an epiphany. She's entertaining, too, in the satisfying way that only a brilliant writer can be. How can you bear to lose her?

 

Artists need to have their work written about intelligently, and readers need a guide they can trust. For the twenty years I've been reading it, New York Magazine has fostered this artistic dialogue. I'm sorry to think that you haven't realized or appreciated the pearls on your own pages, but maybe it's not too late. Don't cancel this rreplaceable column--it's a giant step in the wrong direction.

 

Sincerely,

June Omura

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Robert Gottlieb has written about the New York Magazine situation in the Observer. Someone sent me this link I haven't been able to access the site -- I get a connection refused message (5, 5:30 p.m. EST) but we may have better luck later.

 

For then:

 

Robert Gottlieb in the current NY Observer on the dismissal of Tobi Tobias

et al.

 

http://www.observer.com/pages/dance.asp

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Thanks for that, Rachel -- I still got a "connection refused" message. We can only hope that it's because thousands of angry dance fans are trying to click on Gottlieb's article! :)

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Have others -- besides Ari and Rachel, obviously -- been able to access this link? I have been steadfastly unable to using Netscape, but did get through using Internet Explorer.

 

I thought Gottlieb's piece was rather brave (and, of course, I agree with him). I think truth and justice do matter, and I'm glad Miller has been called, publicly, on the shifting sands of her response and explanation for this.

 

I'm very glad that Elizabeth Zimmer at the Voice has offered Tobias space, but it's not the same thing. It will be shared space, and her pieces will be not quite as visible and, more important, there will be no dance criticism in one of the major magazines which purports to cover the New York "scene." So from this week, any Big Apple Newcomer, or teen coming of age on the magazine stand, will not even have a glimmer that dance might interest him, or might be important.

 

I thought Gottlieb's take on this quite fine, especially this quote:

 

As for Ms. Tobias, she will undoubtedly find other places to write about dance. But the issue isn’t personal. Every art form needs educated and uncompromising criticism to keep itself honest. Eliminating a major voice from an important venue—either for budgetary reasons or to bring in someone trendier—is not merely a dance-world scandal, it’s a dark comment on the priorities of today’s journalism.
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Guest Leigh Witchel

It took two tries, but I got it (using AOL's browser). The article is interesting for both the Tobias comments and his take on both the Trocks and Cunningham.

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Guest piccolo

I can't find the thread where we were talking about this but look what I just saw at www.artsjournal.com:

 

BAD MOVES: New York Magazine

miscalculated when it fired dance critic Tobi

Tobias. But the magazine has been cutting

back on space for its other critics, and some

might worry other cutbacks are in the works.

"Eliminating a major voice from an important

venue—either for budgetary reasons or to

bring in someone trendier—is not merely a

dance-world scandal, it’s a dark comment on

the priorities of today’s journalism." New York

Observer [low down in the column] 08/21/02

 

(If you go to the above website, there is a link to the full article.)

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With all the woodging on Ms. Miller's part, I wonder what the REAL story is. I have always found that if a person changes their explanation nemerous times, the first explanation probably wasn't the whole truth or even part of the truth.

 

If ms. Miller didn't like the job Ms. Tobias was doing, she should have said that, and I would have still been disappointed in her decision, but would have at least respected her honesty. Now I can't respect her for anything, especially the handling of this entire debacle.

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Another email to NYMag, posted by permission of the writer:

 

Dear Ms Miller:

 

To be blunt: How can you possibly sack Tobi Tobias? She is a writer of uncomprimising integrity, acute judgement, wit, intelligence. Her all-too-infrequent columns have been my main reason for reading New York Magazine for years. She is a damn fine writer, a class act. For shame!

 

And moreover, how can a magazine called "New York" possilbly consider having no in-house dance critic? This city is where modern dance was largely invented, and where it is continuously reinvented. This is the city that is home to ABT, and Balanchine. So what if times are bad? Dancing still matters, and writing about dancing matters as part of the civilized cultural discourse of this town. Tobi Tobias's dance writing in your magazine has been one of the most consistently provocative voices in that discourse. Tobi Tobias, with no place to write? This is impossible; this cannot be.

 

I urge you to reconsider your decision. Something made wrong can still be made right.

 

Christopher Caines

Artistic Director

Christopher Caines Dance Company

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A letter, jointly signed by dance critic Minday Aloff and ballerina Allegra Kent, posted with permission of the senders:

 

2 August 2002

 

Ms. Caroline Miller

Editor, New York Magazine

444 Madison Avenue

New York, NY 10022

 

Dear Ms. Miller:

 

The news that New York has dismissed its dance critic, Tobi Tobias, and dropped the dance column altogether for budgetary reasons is an alarming surprise. It is difficult to believe that a magazine devoted to the city of New York, which both produces and hosts more dance--and a wider variety of dance styles and traditions--than any other metropolis in the world, will no longer have a dance critic. Many magazines are suffering in today's economic climate and finding that they must reduce space for arts coverage. However, New York is a special type of magazine. It purports to key in its readers on how to survive, and sometimes how to thrive, in the city. Dance is, as you know, one of the strongest cultural offerings here. Admittedly, dance companies are not in a position to take out a lot of advertising. However, the practice, now common, for magazines and newspapers to use ads as an index to how much editorial space should be accorded a given subject is one of the reasons that readers have come to distrust the cultural coverage of the media in general. In pleading economic woes as a reason for canceling the dance column, New York exemplifies this short-sighted and questionable approach.

 

Furthermore, its dance columnist is one of the most well-respected dance critics in the country. Although Ms.Tobias's views can be tough and sometimes controversial--like those of the well-respected dance critic Marcia B. Siegel, who preceded her in her post at New York--she has covered her beat with honor, demonstrating a concern for high standards, passion for both the art of dancing and for the people who practice it, and consistent honesty. Readers know that what she publishes directly reflects what she thinks; and her colleagues can attest to the fact that what she writes is congruent with what she says in conversation. This kind of integrity is rare in criticism overall today, and it would seem from New York's move to dismiss her that she is being punished for practicing, as an adult of considerable learning and experience in her field, exactly those values one tries to instill in one's children.

 

It is our hope that New York will reconsider its decision and return its dance column and its dance critic to its pages.

 

Sincerely,

 

Mindy Aloff

Barnard College

 

Allegra Kent

Former Principal Dancer, NYCB

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An email to NY Magazine sent to me for posting:

 

 

As Tobi Tobias's onetime editor at New York Magazine, I mourn the absence of

her voice in dance criticism and devoutly hope it will soon be heard, in another venue if not at New York. "Editing" Tobi was a delightful if unchallenging task. Aside from her meeting every deadline with a full, trenchant, witty, and gracefully written column, she was and continues to be a particularly gracious writer to work with. New York's "culture" section is sadly diminished by the loss of a dance column in general, and by Tobi Tobias's truthful, insightful criticism in particular.

One can only hope NY has the vision to reinstate her column--or that the magazine's loss will promptly become another's gain. Claire Perrault

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