“Dear Dawn Downey. I am writing a book on the Grand Union … dance… group that performed at UC Santa Barbara in 1976. I read an astute review you wrote …. I wonder if you could tell me more …. Best, Wendy Perron.”
1976? I was only three years out of college. Lots of opinions. No wisdom. No tact.
Astute? I had taken dance classes—modern, ballet, African, but I knew nothing about dance.
Review? Our daily newspaper had let me see performances for free; I wasn’t really a writer.
Back in the '70s I’d written dance reviews for the Santa Barbara News-Press. I’d scribbled notes in darkened theaters during performances. Remembered the deserted newsroom afterward, where the smell of ink kept me company. I stuck a sheet of paper into a typewriter, scared I didn't have anything to say. I remembered the tap-tap-tap of the keys, remembered the wall clock ticking away the minutes until deadline. A deadline the News-Press paid me to meet.
I did not remember the Grand Union dance group.
Google explained. In the history of dance, Grand Union was a big deal. Groundbreaking. Improvisational. Postmodern. Audiences were lucky to have witnessed them, because they lasted only six years. I’d reviewed them in their final year.
This was bad news. I doubted my immature eyes had recognized groundbreaking. I’d probably called Grand Union weird.
Very bad news. How embarrassing to have a god-awful piece of writing surface on the eve of my third book, like being confronted by an old photo of myself with a pimple on my nose.
And who was Wendy Perron?
Her website explained. A dance historian. Dance critic. Author of two scholarly books. She’d spent ten years as editor-in-chief of Dance Magazine—the New York Times of the dance world. In the universe of dance, Wendy Perron was a big deal.
This big deal had complimented my writing. This professional user of words would not use any of them lightly. If she said astute, astute is what she meant.
I had to get my hands on the review.
“Dear Ms. Perron, Thank you for contacting me. I’m afraid I don’t remember the company or the performance. I’ve searched YouTube and Google, and still nothing jogs my memory. The review might help. Where did you find it? Cordially, Dawn Downey.”
She responded. “In the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.”
(Oh my God. I’m in the New York Public Library.)
“Here’s a photocopy of your review.”
I clicked on the attachment, a nicely yellowed newspaper clipping. I could smell the ink. I glanced at the opening paragraph. “The strains of a mellow piano solo waft over a stage that is bare except for ….”
Wow. Good start. Not embarrassing.
I skimmed the article. The sentences made sense. The performance came alive.
I was shocked. Relieved. I couldn't find a single pimple.
But where was the astute?
Feeling more courageous, I re-read the article, examining every line.
“ … dance as a theater art, removing the emphasis from the body and placing it on movement as a part of the total theater production.”
Oooh, I wrote that? Nice.
My apologies to Wendy Perron. I was unable to help her. But she sure helped me.