Thursday, May 28, 2009


John's show, "August, Osage County." has been revving up for a new opening night. The critics are coming. They're replacing the star with Phylicia Rashad (Bill Cosby's wife in his wonderful TV show), taking new photos, planning the party.

It won't affect JC. He'll just do his work, won't stay up till 1.A.M. and huddle with everyone to read what the critics said, even though it will affect the life and death of the show, and possibly affect JC's reputation. It's a family tradition.

Similarly, when I was on tour, I didn't read what the local critics said, and when I performed in New York, I didn't read what the critics said till months later.

JD, our son, read reviews at first, but gradually realized our tradition was practical, artistically sensible. What's been said about you, bad or good, stays with you for the next performance, and the next. It will very likely stay with you for the run of the show.

This started with "Shenandoah" in Boston, when the Herald's famous critic praised JC, and mentioned his "stride." Did the critic say "cowboy?" I don't remember actually, but it stayed with JC, has never left him, made him aware of NOT using that stride, unless he's playing a farmer, or wants to exaggerate his toughness.

More than compliments, negative remarks can haunt you. When JC and I did "Kings" on Broadway; we closed the show with a touching duet based on Mary Renault's story about Theseus and Hippolita, an Amazon Queen. The Times dance critic, praising us, mentioned Frankel's "trembling" extension -- referring briefly to me recovering from an accident, suggested I wasn't yet in "shape."

Oh my God! My goodness! Good Lord! The trembling extension was a penché arabesque (back leg extended, torso arched, dipped toward the ground so that the arabesque is a split.) Oh, yes indeed -- I was back in shape, stretching, making certain that I could do a split arabesque as well as one of the acrobatically endowed Balanchine Ballerinas! (Dumb me, competitive me -- straining myself, recovering from a broken back that had been fused at the waist, making that arabesque particularly difficult.) I'd made it a shivering "trembling" arabesque for a dramatic reason.

I didn't read that review till almost a year after we'd done the show. Even now, it rings in my mind.

All this week I've been aware of "stats" on TheReadery, measuring how many people are looking at my website, and the "stats" that count how many are reading my blog. All week I've been commanding myself, in our family tradition, not to count, not to base my enthusiasms, joy, or despair on critics, or statistics that measure my success.

You'd have to be me, or someone who's in the public eye, publishing a book that could be a bestseller but isn't, or be an ex dancer who's revered by people who know the art, but doesn't have the clout, the glamor, the aura of ________ you fill in the name.

I'm saying it loud and clear: Counting the number of your fans is as sinful, defeating of one's art, one's work, as throwing out, drowning out, dismissing your own voice that keeps you creating, and tells you who and what you are.

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