To the Editor:
With the donation of $20 million to construct a new performing arts center, an increasing interest in arts on campus, Spencer Art Studio in its second spring and the publication of Culture Counter, one would expect more respect and understanding for the arts. In an article entitled “A Voyeur’s Venture into the Williams College Dance Company,” however, Elissa Shevinsky gives an overall sense of condescension towards the subject in an example of irresponsible journalism. The article portrays the Williams College Dance Company alternatively as little children both craving and fearing attention (“Once they noticed me, they attended to me with childlike curiosity for a new toy, . . . until a glittering question . . . arose, at which point I was immediately put back on the shelf.”) or junior high school girls (“Am I back in a junior high school locker room. . .? A feeling of self-superiority washes over me.”). More concerned with constructing her own narrative and the superficial, the author fails to focus on the serious work of the company and is disillusioned with the community the dance program is part of. Constructive criticisms and insights are lost in an over-symbolic reading and ultimately faulty portrayal. Yes, it is a “voyeur’s venture” into dance and artistic license can be taken, but if the article and the magazine purport to make the campus aware of dance and to strengthen arts awareness and understanding on campus, then they have had the opposite effect. Opponents of the new performing arts center who believe there is no need for it have only been given more fuel. I would like to take this space to clear up any misunderstandings the article may have sponsored.
Many argue that the program does not draw a wide audience and that its audience is in fact limited to the “small crowd of close friends of the Company” that Shevinsky describes. But as anyone who attended our last concert saw, the large turnout overflowed the bleachers and we had to resort to folding chairs. And the audience did not only consist of the college community. The $20 million performing arts center comes at a time when the program can no longer be contained within its current home in Lasell Dance Studio.
For such a small program, we have done an incredible amount of community building between the college and the larger community. Ask the owner of Mezze, for whom the company puts on free theme performances; the county dance community that shares in our open master workshops with such artists as NYC Ballet and Hope Clark of the Streb/Ringside Company; the young men at Berkshire Farm for Boys who take workshops and perform with Kusika and the Company; the senior citizens who have worked with the dance program; and then answer to what extent the dance program reaches out to the community at large. With the limited faculty of two, the program continues to offer technique classes to the college in modern, ballet, and African dance at different levels. In past years and during the summers, we have also taught dance and movement classes at local elementary and middle schools and shared performances with Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts at North Adams. All this and we still take our dance and choreography seriously enough to put on at least three concerts a year. And perhaps exactly because of our efforts, our audience has grown to include not only family and personal friends, but also professors, other artists and culturally inclined members of the college, and local Williamstown residents. The history and hard work behind the Williams dance program should all speak to how deserving it is of new facilities and resources. (Could it be that a performing arts department will soon exist at Williams?)
Although there are many who worry about the impact of a new performing arts center on the community, I believe that it will eventually benefit both the college and the town at large. Any community must constantly undergo change and development and our “Village Beautiful” is not an exception. I have faith that the faculty and administrators involved in this project are working with the community in channeling this exciting opportunity in the right direction. If dance has not been highly visible on campus, it’s also because we haven’t had the facilities and resources available to do so. Not that I expect everyone to be interested in dance and the performing arts, after all everyone is entitled to their own interests, but respect for everyone’s endeavors is what the community is built on. Irresponsible journalism comes from a lack of respect for the subject it is reporting on. While I am happy about the increasing interest in reporting on dance, I only hope that in the future the editors and authors on cultural events on campus will be more open to the subjects they are reporting on.
So the next time you see a poster advertising a performance, or even just to be experimental, drop by the dance studio in Lasell and sign up for a class or any up-coming workshops and judge for yourself. Heck, we’ll even give the door handle a few squirts of oil to allay any sense of alienation they may bring about.