Joan Acocella

Throughout the semester, my focus and readings have been on writers, past and present, who have made an impact in the dance world, not only with their knowledge of the arts but how they write about them.  Joan Acocella of The New Yorker is no exception.  In fact, she might just be one of the best dance critics of our time (and my personal favorite.)

Joan Acocella

With an impressive background, Acocella graduated from the University of California Berkeley in 1966 with a cum laude-merited BA in English.  After earning her PhD. in comparative lit from Rutgers University in 1984, Acocella’s writing career took off.  She worked as the senior critic and reviewer for Dance Magazine as well as the dance critic for New York’s publication Financial Times before transferring to The New Yorker in 1992.  She became their main dance critic in 1998.

Joan Acocella is the author of a number of dance books and literature such as “Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints”, a collection of essays published in 1997, but she is best known for her eclectic articles found in The New Yorker.  Such articles explore individual dancers, companies, genres, productions and the overall beauty that is dance.  Acocella also wrote articles for other dance publications such as Dance Magazine, the New York Times (theater section) and Dance Ink.

In 1992, Acocella wrote a short, but powerful piece for Dance Ink entitled “What Critics Do.”  She reveals that while every critic has biases and opinions based on life experience, they attempt to keep an open mind and therefore, set up their schedules according to which performances and people they think they will find most interesting.

Really, it’s childish to ask that a critic be without biases. Taste, some sense of judgment about the field, is a large part of what a magazine or newspaper is buying when hiring a critic. All one wants is that those tastes should not be unduly restricting. What people should worry about is not critics who have biases, but critics who have no biases, no fidelity to their own experience, and who therefore are willing to go with what the publicity machine tells them.

– Joan Acocella, “What Critics Do”

The article continues with a discussion of other considerations that critics must take into account while reviewing.  Examples of such considerations include political biases and psychological repercussions.  Psychologically, Acocella describes what she calls her “Rule of One”: “the unspoken rule that when a concert or a series of concerts is really bad through and through, the critic must nevertheless pick out one work to praise.”  By doing so, critics remain judicious and their whole piece, while primarily focus on what was not good about the concert or performance, will not be entirely negative.

The article is ended with a two particularly interesting questions.  First, whether critics are pressured into writing positive reviews and second, if they are harsher than regular members.  I found these two questions very important because as a writer and reviewer for dance and theater performances (especially this semester), I have been concerned with being too harsh or not critical enough.  Acocella answered my questions in this article.  Acocella points out that while the audience “pre-selected” and have paid for their night out, the critics have not.  The critics may not be as familiar with the performance as the audience members are and do not have to pay to see the production.  For this reason, the audience wants to enjoy themselves and get what they paid for.  They are not as focused on the choices of the director, choroegrapher, producers, etc. as the critic must be.  While a typical audience member will be in awe by the seemingly flawless movement of the prima ballerina, the critic may be closely eying her technique, her costume, make-up, maybe even what brand of pointe shoe she was wearing and how it affected her dancing.

“What Critics Do” was one of my favorite pieces written by Acocella, her brilliance does not stop at defending her craft.  Other articles worth mentioning that I found intriguing were “A Hero’s Welcome” (December 2009), “Russian Soul” (June 2009) and her most recent article published in The New Yorker this April, “High Hopes.”

Accredited with numerous book titles, magazine articles and awards such as t Front Page Award from the Newswomen’s Club of New York in 1995, Joan Acocella may just be the most well-known dance critic and writer for her time.

Want to know more about this remarkable woman and read her work?  Visit

Published in: on April 28, 2010 at 8:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Oliver! Review

On Saturday, April 24, 2010, I made my way to the Hanover Theater in Worcester, MA for the matinee showing of Oliver! put on by the Assumption College Theater group.  I knew a few people in the show and was very excited to see it.  From previous musical experience, I know that Oliver! is not much of a dancing musical.  Nonetheless, I very much enjoyed what I saw.

Complete with an elaborate set, time period costuming and a talented cast, Oliver! delivered a delightful showing for the Assumption College and Worcester communities.  Different from past AC shows, the cast of the production included many members from outside theater groups including young children from the area and W.I.S.E., an elderly group associate with the College.

Throughout the show, the children did the majority of the “dancing.”  The whole show was choreographed by none other than Jennifer Agbay, AC’s go-to choreography for theater productions and the current director of Ballet Arts Worcester, a prestigious and traditional dance company in the heart of the city.

The dancing throughout the musical consisted mostly of basic step-ball-changes, some partner work and lots of skipping (mostly done by the children.)  It was, for the majority of the show, clean and precise movement that looked both impressive and much more difficult on stage.  With a large cast, even simple dance steps can look a little more advanced and provides the audience with an eye-catching delight.

Aside from the dancing, my favorite part of the show was the girl who played Nancy – the female lead. Jill Martucci, an AC  junior and old friend of mine, has been in two other Assumption musicals and always has a main role. Listening to her sing, it is not surprise why. I got goosebumps listening to her solo, “As Long As He Needs Me” and tears welled in my eyes as her character was killed at the end of the show.  (Her minimal dancing throughout the show was comical as well; she is not exactly a dancer, but will be the first to admit that she works hard to pick it up as best she can.)

Overall, I really enjoyed Oliver! and am very much looking forward to going back to the Hanover this upcoming Sunday to see the professional production of Beauty & the Beast.  I also just found out that one of my best friends from high school landed the lead role in UMass Lowell’s theater company’s production of Footloose.  I will be venturing to Lowell on Thursday, May 6, for opening night of that production as well.  And since that is definitely a dance-based musical, one of my last blogs of the semester will be about that performance as well.

As the semester winds down, I am happy to report that the next few blogs will be dedicated to the upcoming shows I get to see how my overall opinion of the semester.

Published in: on April 26, 2010 at 8:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

$60 can go a long way…

Well, I am excited to say that I have successfully spent the $60 that the English Department was nice enough to give me as part of my Independent Study.  Being a senior in college, I am a stereotypically poor 21-year-old and was initially worried about how I would see performances this semester.

Now that the semester is wrapping up soon, I have made a few decisions about which live performances to write about.  I planned on seeing Assumption College’s rendition of Oliver! and while it might not be dedicated to dance alone, I know from friend cast members that there will indeed be dancing.  Can’t hurt to review it!

But my main performance is one my mom found on the Hanover Theater’s website.  She called me the instant it popped up in her Google search: “Marie, I just found the perfect performance for you — Beauty and the Beast is coming to the Hanover!  Can you believe it?”

But in all honesty – it could not be more perfect.  Broadway musicals are known not only for their professional vocals but the dancing as well.  It has been a longtime dream of mine to perform in a Broadway show, but I suppose seeing one is always the next best thing!

I will be attending Beauty & the Beast on Sunday, May 2nd and 6:30 p.m.  I plan on taking detailed notes of all aspects of the show paying special attention to the dancing (of course!)  I am very excited to see this musical; the costumes and storyline alone make me anxious for the beginning of May!  I have chosen balcony seats in order to see absolutely everything.  I will be reviewing it in a special blog post after seeing it.  Hopefully, I can keep my excitement in check until then!

Published in: on April 20, 2010 at 7:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Nationals re-cap and looking forward…

Nationals are over and my year as Assumption College Dance Team captain is rapidly coming to an end.

We arrived to a sunny day in Florida on Wednesday, April 7th and were greeted by the Hilton Hotel, the grandest of all the hotels on the Daytona strip.  (And our reward for winning a partially paid bid to the Championships.)  We settled into our rooms and relaxed for about a minute before changing into our practice clothes and heading to a room we rented to practice in.  Two hours later we emerged sweaty, but happy.  This might be the year we make it to finals.

It was a disappointing blow, at least to me.  Being super competitive, I was trained to be the best and I pride myself on my advanced dance abilities (slight pat on the back, yes…)  Nonetheless, we performed in Prelims better than we ever had before; we even made our coach cry (which was a slight victory in itself overall.)  But I suppose I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

The way the National Dance Alliance (NDA) Nationals Championships work is simple but complicated at the same time.  Your division placement is based upon your school, in our case, because AC is Division II, we compete against other Division II schools.  This year, our division consisted of 15 different schools from around the country and Japan.  The fifteen teams competed in Prelims and the seven teams with the highest scores automatically advance to Finals which are held the next day.  The rest of the teams are entered into the “Challenge Cup” and dance again that same afternoon.

With a score of 8.1 after Prelims, my team realized that we were in second place going into the Challenge Cup right behind the University of Minnesota Mankato.  Slightly disheartened but still eager to push towards finals, we viewed the tape of our Prelims performance, tweaked a few key points in the routine and returned to the auditorium at 3:30 p.m. later that day.  Because we were second in the division at this point, we danced second to last, right before Mankato.

The awards ceremony came with swift wing and before we knew it, we were on stage once more, only this time, we sat in a circle holding hands.  When it came down to our team and Mankato, only .008 separated the second place team from the team who would advance to finals.  From the disappointed statement I made earlier, I thin you can determine who came in second.

So I did my crying … to my boyfriend, my mom, my sister (who’s team, Stonehill College, did make it to finals in our division), and my co-captain/best friend.  I sulked longer than my other teammates before reluctantly coming around.

Though frustration and heartache determined my attitude for the following few hours, the hot sun and beach sand called my name until coming home on Sunday night.  By then, the underclassmen on the team, along with my coach, were already talking about and planning next year.  I was slightly hurt by these sentiments; was I not a good captain?  Did I fail my team by not making it to finals?  Is there something else I could have done?

But at this point, it doesn’t matter.  My team worked hard and I believe that overall, it paid off.  At the same time, I think it’s a testament to the fact that I am graduating, moving on and :gulp: have to let go.  Dance will still be part of me; I go to Oklahoma in a mere 5 weeks for NDA summer staff training, but as far as dance team goes, the younger girls are ready to take it on and make it what they want for next year.  I relinquish it to them… and can only wish them the best of luck.

I think it’s safe to say – I’m ready to pass this torch.

(Want to know more about how nationals went?  Visit to see results and videos and keep an eye out for my end-of-the-semester project – a research paper dedicated to the nationals process and how this year stacks up!)

Published in: on April 18, 2010 at 8:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Is it ever enough?

“I’m so excited… I don’t even know what to do with myself.”

The words of a dance team member 2 days before departing for Florida to compete at NDA (National Dance Alliance) Collegiate Nationals.   To be honest, this dance team member was me, about 5 hours ago at practice, bouncing around at my coach’s cheer and dance gym in Shrewsbury with the rest of my team.  I can’t help it.  It’s the best time of year and I don’t just say it because I get to spend five days in sunny Daytona Beach.

My team and I have been preparing for nationals all year and now that it’s a mere 2 days away, I’m excited, anxious and will probably fall victim to a serious panic attack any moment.  Sure, I’ve competed at nationals in the past (the prior 2 years I’ve been on the team) and I even work for the company who is holding the nationals, but this year something is different.  Maybe it’s the added stress of being captain, but there is definite something inside me that wants this more than ever — and for once, I have a (fingers-crossed) great feeling about it.

Please don’t get me wrong.  I am Captain and a third-year member of the Assumption College Dance Team and I could not be prouder to say it.  I have seen my team improve and grow in the past three years and as I said in a previous post, my team is another family.  Still, that doesn’t mask the fact that we have never made it out of Prelims, never made it to Day 2 of the competition.  I want this to change; we all do, but only we can make it happen.  It’s out of my coach’s hands  at this point.  We have to work together as a team to get to where we want to be — dancing during Day 2 on the band shell, outside of the Hilton Hotel (.. practically on the beach!)  We’ve trained hard, practiced long hours.  I have a new knee brace and deep purple bruises to prove it.  We’ve laughed together, cried together, stretched, sweat and hurt together.  But one question always lingers — is it ever enough?

We hope it is, but this lesson isn’t just about dance – it’s about dance, writing, living in general.  Is anything we ever do enough?  We strive to be the best in whatever we fall in love with (sometimes multiple things), whether it be dancing and writing (my chosen paths), singing, playing a sport or just being a good person.  It’s hard to be judged in front of others, especially those who could be better than you.

I know one thing for sure – the judges only see the final product, not the work that goes into it.  At nationals, you get one chance, one performance of 2 minutes and 11 seconds to give it your all with hope that they see past a few mistakes to the heart of your team. Once it’s over, we wait for our scores, praying it was enough (and knowing in our minds if it really was.)  It’s probably the worst part of the whole experience…. and now my nerves have doubled.

Okay, enough stressing.  For now, I’ll sit here with the other dance captain (and the newest of my best friends), do some homework, goof around and talk about how fun our trip will be.  It’s better than succumbing to that panic attack any day.

Assumption College Dance Team 2009-2010


Published in: on April 6, 2010 at 4:35 am  Leave a Comment