DM Contributor Clive Barnes dies at 81

November 18, 2008

Dance Magazine
mourns the passing of our great friend and colleague Clive Barnes. His loss to the field of dance will be deeply felt. He brought his formidable knowledge to every review and essay he wrote and was completely dedicated to the world of dance in all its rich variety. Those of us privileged to work with him at Dance Magazine will miss acutely his wit and insight, and his deep knowledge of the field. He became the magazine’s London correspondent in 1955, and began his signature “Attitudes” column (long the magazine’s back page) in 1989. Last year, he wrote a generous and wise essay in that space celebrating the magazine’s 80th birthday, which happily coincided with his own. It recapped the many decades of dance he had chronicled. He filed his final column on Nov. 7. It can be previewed here, and will be published in the January ’09 issue. With his passing, we have lost a champion of the art of dance, who helped us to realize our mission to the fullest. We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife Valerie Taylor and his entire family.


Have your memories of Clive Barnes posted on our online tribute. Click here or email your thoughts to [email protected].



I’m very very sorry to hear of Clive Barnes’ passing. His pieces have been teaching me the way a reviewer should be for years and years (and a lot about style, and art and culture of dance.). Only yesterday I appreciated so much his piece in DM Global Issue. Another light off in our dancing sky. —Silvia Poletti


What a sad day! (I wrote this tribute to Mr. Barnes whom I got to know a bit during the past few years both in NYC and in Fort Worth.) It is a terrible loss.

With the passing of Clive Barnes the dance world has lost one of its finest critics, connoisseurs, and champions. A man not without his foibles (legend has it he was seen falling asleep or even missing parts of ballets he was purported to have reviewed), he was at the receiving end of critics of his own. Who, in the dance world can forget where he or she was when he learned of Sally Wilson’s green room tantrum or of Barnes’ reaction as he wrote about it in The New York Times that his first thought was, would it hurt and then, would it stain?

No matter that Mr. Barnes kept us all entertained on paper and otherwise, he was first and foremost a great lover of the performing arts. His columns in Dance Magazine, paying tribute to “the simple humanity” Jerome Robbins’ choreography, his embrace of Gerald Arpino’s campy “Drums, Dreams and Banjoes”, his paean to the womanly beauty of Ingrid Fraley in Ashton’s “Monotones”, his astute observations about the young Gelsey Kirkland at the New York City Ballet kept us reading for all these many years.

Clive Barnes life was witness to the rise of dance, particularly in America, its Golden Age, and its adaptations into a 21st century art form. We are all a bit diminished with his passing. —Donna Ross, Director, Donna Ross School of Classical Ballet, Frisco, TX


I am sad to learn about Clive Barnes. I so enjoyed reading his column every month, and have always found him inspiring, wise, and amusing. He will be sorely missed. —Karyn Bauer


In hearing the sad news of Clive Barnes passing, I’m glad I had that conduit, in his last years, to learn from his wisdom in Dance Magazine. Certainly I had opportunities to have words with him. But then suddenly, it’s too late. —Lori Ortiz


I am saddened by the loss of Clive Barnes. I met Mr. Barnes when I was producing a documentary project on the life of Michel Fokine. I had heard the name Clive Barnes throughout my childhood from my father, Harold Haskin, who danced with Ballet Theatre and wanted to interview Clive about Fokine. I was surprised when I called his listed number to reach him at home. His response was warm and generous and he was enthusiastic about talking about Fokine. On meeting him I was struck by his charm, wit and sincerity. He gave a delightful interview and wonderful perspective on Fokine and his place in dance history. Last fall I contacted him again to ask for a comment on my book, “The Dancer’s Book of Ballet Crafts.” Once again he was a true gentleman, delightful and very generous. I was very grateful for the time he took to read the book and thrilled with the lovely comment he gave it. His deep respect for the ballet and his incredible knowledge of ballet history will be sorely missed. His eloquent reviews for Dance Magazine and the New York Post increased readers understanding of ballet and educated us on what makes the dance so special. In my brief encounters with Clive Barnes in person I felt an immediate fondness for him, his casual dignity, intellectual sophistication and earnest search for the truth were an inspiration to the artist in me. His openness and lack of affected sense of importance were terrifically refreshing. I will miss the wonderful and insightful opinions on the arts, his deep resource of ballet history and I hope to continue to be inspired by the legacy he leaves us-to look to the arts to find what is beautiful and meaningful in life. —Christina Haskin


An interview with Clive Barnes by Karen Dacko:

Point Park College, April 23, 1991

Critics – sitting at the aisle, scribbling in the dark and vanishing before the applause has faded – are a part of the audience, yet paradoxically apart from it. Drafted by their editors, recruited from other disciplines or driven by commitment, their missions vary. Despite preferential treatment – offers of free tickets, reception invitations and souvenir programs, critics are dance devotees, who would attend performances without the perks. They are the art’s advocates, audience educators or artistic interpreters. A few see themselves as historical scribes capturing the essence of a moment in a way that no camcorder can.

“Generally speaking,” said Clive Barnes, New York Post dance and drama critic, “a critic is representative of the audience,” providing “a bridge between the artist and the audience.”

Leading a roundtable discussion at Pittsburgh’s Point Park College, Barnes explained, “A creator takes life experiences, transmutes, molds and develops them into art. A critic does the reverse—looks at what is offered and takes it apart,” he said. “There are no rights or wrongs in works of art. Only God could judge in an abstract, objective way.”

Barnes, a Dance Magazine senior editor and editor/publisher of the British-based Dance and Dancers, believes “critics are taken far too seriously. Dancers and artists should pay little attention to critics,” he said. “We’re not writing for the artist. It’s not a question of those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. And, those who can’t teach criticize.”

According to Barnes, professional performing arts training may be a “hindrance” to a critic. “Dancers and actors are bad judges of their peers.” For some “failed actors or dancers, bitterness enters their souls.” But Barnes, who chose a career in criticism, is an exception to his axiom. “I felt it (criticism) was something I could do to be part of the theatre,” he said, admitting that he initially wanted to become an actor. “I was stage-struck, but I had a stutter.” As a writer, he “drifted” into dance criticism and “seriously” studied ballet technique in England.

Forced to overcome his speech impediment and to adjust to cameras and microphones, Barnes said, “In America, a critic is a public animal.” His byline, prominent on this side of the Atlantic for over twenty-five years, indeed qualifies him as a celebrity, a status he grudgingly accepts. “One didn’t have the perception of it in England,” he said. “I don’t think critics want to be important.” But he admitted that among his colleagues are those for whom “the subject becomes less important than their own writing. They jump into the sky and do their own entrechats.”

For critics, “it’s important to be accurate and to get an idea of the work you’re writing about,” he said. A reviewer should “write in a different style for Concerto Barocco than for Appalachian Spring.”

As a critic, Barnes approaches performance art “gingerly.” He remarked, “It started with people who decided that their egos were of sufficient interest. I’m an old fuddy-duddy. I believe in dancing to go with music, rhythm, with human expression – and yes – with technique. ‘Post-modern’ – for the life of me – I don’t know what that means. Pieces with limited appeal are not art, subsequently what is truly avant-garde is accepted by the general public,” he said.

Noting that choreographers have a limited creative life span, lasting “only twenty years,” Barnes said, “Most choreographers are good dancers. They have strong techniques. Intellectually, they are ahead of anyone.”

Commenting on the distinction between American and European choreographic preferences, Barnes noted that popular choreographers abroad – Maurice Béjart, John Neumeier, William Forsythe and Glen Tetley “are minor figures here.” Our standard has “been influenced by Balanchine’s disciples. Balanchine was a cool customer – a cold, unlikable person, which does reflect in the coldness of his choreography. But it has become the norm in what is acceptable.” Conversely, he explained that the expatriates and Europeans—Béjart in particular — exhibit overt sensuality. “We as a nation are very afraid of sex. Sexuality is the most important aspect of dance to Béjart, who employs classical technique as a blunt instrument.”

Although Barnes admitted that classical ballet has learned from modern dance and suggested the merger between the two forms may continue, he was reluctant to predict the future. “I don’t know where dance is going at the moment. Critics are good on the past, OK with the present, but useless on the future. We’re backseat drivers, sitting the wrong way, but still trying to direct the car.”


Among those of numerous talented and knowledgeable dance critics, Clive Barnes’s reviews were always the most interesting to read. His deep understanding of art of dance, his perfect instinct of everything talented and his infallible taste made him one of the brightest stars of the dance- criticism universe. With his British sense of humor and brilliant British writing style he had become not only a strong critic but a fervid lover of American Dance. With his disappearance the dance world lost his most fine and profound connoisseur. —Nina Kudriavtseva-Loory, Artistic Director, International ballet prize Benois de la Danse