Five Major Dance Critics Stepped Down Last Season. What Does That Mean for the Future of the Field?

When I started writing about dance professionally a decade ago, the experience was akin to taking baby steps among giants. There was something profoundly humbling—not to mention terrifying—about reviewing a new Odette/Odile in the same pages as Clement Crisp, who saw his first performance in 1942 and famously quipped: "I want to hear from someone who has been to 500 Swan Lakes before they lift the pen."

In early 2018, however, Crisp filed his last article for the Financial Times, and many of dance criticism's most respected voices have since followed him. Last May, The Guardian reported that Judith Mackrell would step down from her post after a 23-year run, and Alastair Macaulay announced he was giving up his position as The New York Times' chief dance critic, effective this past January. Luke Jennings left The Observer in the UK in December, and this winter, the New Yorker quietly replaced Joan Acocella with the historian Jennifer Homans.

It's by no means the last we'll hear from many of them. Jennings is the author of Codename Villanelle, the thriller on which the hit TV series "Killing Eve" is based, and its sequel, Killing Eve: No Tomorrow. Mackrell is working on a group biography of female war correspondents, and Macaulay is finishing a book about Merce Cunningham while continuing to contribute to the Times, albeit far less frequently.

The dance world shouldn't underestimate the impact of this sea change, however. In one fell swoop, criticism has lost decades of experience and memories, and these writers won't be easily replaced. All of them honed their craft before changing habits and diminishing budgets led publications to drastically cut down on arts coverage. (Even Dance Magazine no longer runs reviews.) Together they made up a rich fabric of perspectives: There was always something to learn from Mackrell's clear-eyed elegance, Jennings' tough-love straightforwardness or Macaulay's unraveling of historical and choreographic structures.

Some newspapers have been in no hurry to announce successors. Mackrell's position was immediately taken over by Lyndsey Winship, but The New York Times waited seven months after Macaulay officially stepped down to appoint its new dance critic, Gia Kourlas. The Observer, meanwhile, has yet to determine who, if anyone, will follow Jennings. The balance is shifting further towards freelancers who juggle writing with other occupations—what the emerging dance writers taking part in this year's Springback Academy, a European mentorship program, called their "adult jobs."

While the era of full-time critics might be over, we have yet to understand how this will affect dance's ecosystem. As the material conditions of the job become tougher, individual knowledge and independence will be harder to build up and retain. Increased diversity is hardly a guarantee either: It's easier than ever to share a review online but much harder to get paid for it. Few young writers have the means to see hundreds of performances, much less hundreds of Swan Lakes.

Some are already making plans. The newly created International Dance Writing Foundation plans to provide scholarships, to be funded by the proceeds from a forthcoming anthology of Crisp's reviews. It's a start, but where support will come from for the next generation remains a pressing question.

Latest Posts

Getty Images

How Can We Confront Implicit Bias? The Director of Jacob's Pillow Shares Her Ideas

At Jacob's Pillow's June gala, something happened that outraged me: A patron who identifies as black/biracial felt a white man seated behind her touch her tightly coiled hair. When she ignored him, he audibly complained that her hair would block his view of the stage. At dinner, the patron was further subjected to a series of objectifying questions. "What are you?" asked the white woman sitting next to her. Not "who are you," but a dehumanizing "what." "Who was black? Was it your mother or your father? What do your children look like?"

Jodi Melnick and Marc Happel presenting to Sara Mearns. Photo by Christopher Duggan

The Dance Magazine Awards Celebrate Everything We Love About Dance

What a night. The Dance Magazine Awards yesterday at the Ailey Citigroup Theater was jam-packed with love for dance.

From legendary icons to early-career choreographers we can't stop obsessing over, the Dance Magazine Awards, presented by the Dance Media Foundation, recognized a wide spectrum of our field.

And with more performances than ever before, the night was an incredible celebration of the dance community. As host Wendy Perron pointed out, in many ways, we doubled the usual fun this year: Some honorees had two performances, some had two presenters, and David Gordon and Valda Setterfield were themselves, well, two awardees.

Clockwise from top left: Courtesy FX; TAS Rights Management, Courtesy Premium PR; Erin Baiano, Courtesy New York City Ballet; Larry Horrocks, Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics; Angela Sterling, Courtesy Boston Ballet; Courtesy Spotlight Cinema Networks

These Are the Dance Moments Our Readers Loved the Most This Year

We asked for your nominations, compiled your suggestions and let you vote on your favorite dance moments of 2019. Here's what you chose:

Enter Our Video Contest