The critic Paul Elmer More once described John Dos Passos’s novel Manhattan Transfer as “an explosion in a cesspool.” Much the same thing could be said of “Discussing the Undiscussable,” an essay by the New Yorker’s dance critic Arlene Croce which was published in that magazine’s December 26 issue. Croce’s piece provoked a collective howl of outrage from the Left-liberal cultural establishment comparable to the furor that erupted in 1989 when Washington’s Corcoran Gallery canceled an exhibition of photographs by the late Robert Mapplethorpe.
As it happens, homosexuality and AIDS figure prominently in both controversies. Croce’s essay was occasioned by the New York premiere of Still/Here, a full-evening dance by Bill T. Jones, a choreographer who is black, homosexual, and HIV-positive. Many of Jones’s earlier dances were strongly political in content (his last large-scale work, premiered in 1990, was called Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin/The Promised Land). Still/Here, by contrast, is political only by implication. It is a multimedia spectacle about death and dying, based on videotaped statements by participants in a series of “survival workshops” Jones conducted for people suffering from AIDS, cancer, and other terminal illnesses.
About the Author
Terry Teachout is COMMENTARY’s critic-at-large and the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal. Satchmo at the Waldorf, his first play, runs through November 4 at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.