I can’t give Roslyn Sulcas the full douchey for her harsh review of Alexandre Roccoli’s Unbecoming Solo that ran last weekend at Chez Bushwick as part of fi:af’s “Crossing The Line” series. Why? Because she isn’t altogether wrong in her descriptions. The performance was inchoate, and for all its use of pre-recorded interviews there was nothing literally conclusive about the piece–not that these are necessarily bad things. But she gets the semi-douche for sounding as if she had no intention of taking this evening seriously, and for letting her judgments spin off into blasé nitpicking.
My feeling is that when you approach the avant-garde, you should give the benefit of the doubt that the artist does not mean to waste your time. If they eventually prove to be doing this, by all means, pan away. But Sulcas’ tone suggests that she’d rather not have even had to go to Chez Bushwick at all (it sounds as if she had never been there, referring to the Chez Bushwick studio merely as “a large room”), and her review is so dismissive that it’s obvious she was not about to expend any energy in trying to engage in a relationship with the work, or open herself to possibilities of new experience.
Tellingly, she took the title at its most narrow–and shallow–meaning, that is, she called Roccoli’s costume “unbecoming,” rather than try to imagine how unbecoming might have to do with, say, how he dances in front of a white projection screen and the absence of a video projection could be considered something that “un-became,” or how Roccoli’s subject develops through the words of other artists, and in that way, you could say Roccoli himself un-becomes, or never arrives. I get particularly frustrated when critics fail to rise to the responsibility of consideration. Even Julia Roberts in Mona Lisa Smile remands a complainy Wellesley art student who asks if she has to like a Jackson Pollock painting: “No, you don’t have to like it. But you do have to consider it.”
Furthermore, Sulcas’ claim that Roccoli did not provide “even thoughts on the subject” of why European artists might not be interested in making work in New York is totally unfounded, particularly since every interview was tuned in some way to the nature of making work both in New York and in Europe. This seemed rather obvious to me. Perhaps Sulcas was reacting to Roccoli’s disinterest in shaping these casually offered ideas into an over-edited, manipulative sequence of sound bites.
I went to the Roccoli performance, and nothing about it struck me as “annoying” or lazy, as suggested by Sulcas. On the other hand, the work seemed satisfyingly open-ended. And the use of casual interviews–interviews that go their own way and are not manipulatively steered by an Oprah or a Charlie Rose–as a backdrop through which the dance moved (sometimes syncing up, sometimes not) was rich and, at times, riveting. The interviews themselves tell you a lot about what concerns New York dance aritsts: mainly the work, but at an uncomfortably close second, money.
And Chez Bushwick’s “Force Majeur” program (of which Roccoli is the first artist in residence) and the “Crossing the Line” series are explicit in their will to facilitate cultural exchange between New York artists and artists internationally. This is exactly what Roccoli was doing. It’s hard to understand how Sulcas missed this or didn’t think it was material in the work, since the materials used in the work were so explicit.
And maybe our ideas just differ. What she found “unfocused,” I found candid and liberating. She cited a lack of technical rigor in the work, but I found it to be rigorously articulated in its movements.
In the end, Sulcas’ eager dismissivity and passivity in seriously considering the work may have given us an answer to what she even knew to be Roccoli’s idee fixe: “Why most of the European choreographers of my generation are not inclined nowadays to come to New York City.” I hope, for New York’s sake, that Roccoli and company won’t hold Sulcas’ butt-headedness against us. I hope he comes back.