To the editors:
After reading Laura Molzahn’s purported review in the April 21 Reader of “The Chicago Project” by Concert Dance, I think that a correction is in order. There is nothing “unsound” about the structure of “The Chicago Project.” It is a strong, original, and beautifully done work of art combining dance, music, and architectural photography by accomplished artists into a very effective piece.
What is unsound is Ms. Molzahn’s amateurish attempt at reviewing a work that is evidently over her head. Hence her “confusion” about the fundamental connection between the dance and the architecture that was clearly recognized by the audience, and her “boredom” with the original music and the work as a whole–even though the “Magic Spaces” part of the project won the Ruth Page Award for Artistic Achievement when it premiered in 1985. Ms. Molzahn herself recognizes that there is something very solid about the work: “Stifler has a certain expertness–this is clearly not the work of an amateur. . . .” Yet Ms. Molzahn seems overwhelmed by the art, as a novice musician might be by the work of Beethoven, Chopin, or Stravinsky. Unfortunately, she does not even seem aware that she might simply not be equipped to handle it.
As a result, Ms. Molzahn misses the point of “The Chicago Project”: the expression of the moods, feelings, and dynamics evoked by different kinds of Chicago architecture. Because she does not seem to understand the essentially spatial nature of either architecture or dance, what she writes is not really a review of the work but a self-contradictory criticism of her own inability to impose on it an artificial structure that just does not–and cannot–fit.
The dance is not about “objectivity” “subjectivity” or “domesticity” but about space as created and defined by architecture and about the reactions of the dancers to that space and their interpretations of it. The structure is provided by the very different qualities of the architecture in each part: heroic and majestic in “Magic Spaces,” human and introspective in “Private Places,” and impersonal power and pomp in “Corporate Cases.”
But all Ms. Molzahn has to say about the architecture is that it is “beautifully photographed by Vodvarka”–which, indeed, it is. Nevertheless, it is there for much more important reasons than to provide “a classy setting for Ms. Stifler’s choreography.” It is what the work is about. Ms. Molzahn seems to realize that she is missing something essential when she adds: “But for her [Stifler] to be so self-centered seems unlikely.” Not just unlikely; simply not so. At last, something Ms. Molzahn does not miss.
She may have missed so much because she seems unable to deal with more than two dancers on stage at any time. The only movements she seems to have been able to appreciate are those in which Kelly Michaels or Lane Alexander did a solo or duet. Perhaps that is also why she treats their opening dances more sympathetically. At least she recognizes their considerable talent.
Yet because she seems not to understand modern dance, in which the dancers interpret a concept in relation to the space around them, she “never got the sense that the dancers were really dancing with each other.” Similarly, the vocabulary seems “familiar” and “repetitive” because she does not grasp the deeper meanings communicated through it. And to describe the beautiful Tari Gallagher as “almost masculine” because she has good modern dance form verges on insult.
As a board member of Concert Dance, I have an obvious interest in the kind of review one of its performances gets. I would not object to a critical review that shows some understanding of what is going on but which finds this or that deficient for good reason. But despite what I will assume to be her good intention, half-baked reviews like this one by Ms. Molzahn do nothing to advance the understanding or appreciation of dance in Chicago. As someone interested in developing the local dance scene, I think that this kind of caricature does a disservice to everyone involved and should not be repeated.
In conclusion, I feel that it is irresponsible of Ms. Molzahn to write so negatively about something she is so ill-prepared to treat properly, and it is similarly irresponsible of the Reader to publish criticisms by such amateurs in a way that may lead readers to form a completely inaccurate impression of some artistic endeavor. When one does not know what one is talking about, it is often advisable to be silent. In this case, Ms. Molzahn should have stuck to editing.
Timothy J. Noworyta