Review the Review : -Roger Catlin’s WP review of Tia Nina at Cap Fringe

It’s no understatement to say dance garners few reviews in DC. It’s pleasing to see initiatives appearing to help rectify this, but what’s even more unseen is reviews themselves being, well, reviewed! -and before we even get started, let us remember this great quote from Eleanor Roosevelt;

Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.

We’re looking at the words, and not the person, or character of Roger Catlin. This is strictly a response to a review. Sometimes, this needs to be spelled out. The day and the age unfortunately calls for it. Today we’ll be looking at “Capital Fringe latest: Manic musicals and mixed histories” by Roger Catlin. All quotes are sourced from the aforementioned article. Now it’s time for dinner.
Instead of braking down every sentence or nitpicking obligatory modern dance lexicon, such as “visceral”, let’s look at where the review went astray.

Leah Curran Moon, Ilana Silverstein and Lisi Stossel play the roles of Tia Nina members J Van Stone, Sammy Rain and Sticks, who’d be in a feminist punk band if they played any instruments at all.

Let’s think of what defines a band. A group which unites and together accomplishes something of merit, is my favorite definition. If you asked around you might hear people reference the likes of The Beatles, Spice Girls, Fleetwood Mac, or you might just hear of the 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. Also known simply as “E Company”. But to many more they are known as the Band of Brothers and subjects of the hit HBO series of the same name. Yes, a Band. So for one to write off Tia Nina as a non-band simply because there are no instruments on stage, is not only a fallacy in itself, but to go and preface it withfeminist punk band” is downright incorrect. This isn’t a direction we’re headed in now. We’re not going there. This isn’t a case of “you have to know X to get X” there is a clear message in “Juiced”. There’s a whole arc here and in particular, a segment dedicated to the objectification and ridicule of what it is like to be a woman in a role. It’s one of the few times in all of these modern dance shows with a message that you can enjoy a dose of reality without feeling like the finger is pointing at you. (It could be argued he was merely regurgitating the tagline “Tia Nina : a feminist punk rock dance band”, but if that’s the case, the calculation involved in omitting “rock” and “dance” suggests this wasn’t merely a practice of Control-C to Control-V, but the work of someone who didn’t read the program, or doesn’t realize that Tia Nina clearly states “dance” prior to “band”.)  So Tia Nina, a united group of women who are performing the stage and theatrics found in punk and rock are clearly, without question, a Band. A Band of Women. -and if instruments be your folly, consider this. The Monkees played not one single instrument on their debut album. Despite this, it spawned hits such as Last Train to Clarksville. In other genres, to call acts like Arrested Development, NWA and Wu-Tang Clan non-bands simply because they don’t play instruments is a wrong on levels beyond comprehension. If you see immortality as the fate of us all, you should be just as inclined to accept Tia Nina as a Band, because it is inevitable they should be classified as such. Perhaps Mr. Catlin still opines on what constitutes a “Band” or maybe he wasn’t a fan of the Monkees! As Bono once said; U2 was “A band before we could play“.


Another peculiar line from Mr. Catlin is as follows;

They don’t even sing as much as they occasionally chant to electro rock along the lines of M.I.A. (from whom they borrow one whole song).

Mr. Catlin also seems to think anything without vibrato or elongated notes is unworthy of being called “singing”. While suggesting Tia Nina is also a non-band due to their lack of singing we can only assume he must not listen to rap music, or the Allman brothers. You see, a band doesn’t have to sing. They certainly can chant, they can rap, or they can simply play music as an instrumental. In an attempt to add bite to this statement he includes a remark on the use of M.I.A.’s music. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure every evening length modern dance show you’ve ever seen has had performers using at least one “whole song” from an established artist. -and if you’d like to go back to the idea that we’re in band country, guess what, bands cover the music of other bands on a regular basis. Mr. Catlin fails to make this connection, that a modern dance group AND band could cover a song by rocking out to it. After all, a cover is but a new take on an old piece. We wonder why a Washington Post critic would be unwilling to make that connection. It seems pretty cut and dry. And speaking of dry…

Though Tia Nina is credited with one song, the tunes are otherwise written by guys: Michael Moon, Eric Shimelonis, Jerry Becker, Jeremy Durkin and John Lee, played from a half-dozen laptops at the back of the Gallaudet space.

..let’s get something straight. This is a jab at the feminist angle of the show. There’s no sugar coating it or trying to say otherwise. This statement made by Mr. Catlin is not but an attempt at a “where’s the feminism, you feminists?!” barb. It’s hidden to the point it might be missed, but it’s there. To address this, we have to ask what Feminism means. At its core, it’s empowerment. It’s “we are equal and deserved to be treats as such” not “no boys allowed.” There is absolutely nothing shaming or hypocritical about men writing some of the songs, as, for example, M.I.A. is not a man. The male writers are in actuality close friends and spouses of Tia Nina. It’s called collaboration. Many bands have outside writers and studio musicians who come in to play for them. This isn’t new, this isn’t controversial. There was absolutely no reason to point out the genders of the artists behind the scenes, and had this been a show which did not include the feminist angle, Mr. Catlin would not have brought it up.

The remainder of the review covers the movement and other things, but at this point, you have to wonder what the Washington Post rep has to offer when he himself has offered so little in terms of observation. When you can’t note things like the foreshadowing via projections, (for example, the  Zebras which appear as projections earlier in the show and again later as masks on the performers… as in, it “pays off”) when the reviewer has stuck law and unwavering certainty upon labels such as Band and Singing, you wonder what satisfaction they would find in trying to tie down the rest. It’s hard to define Art and it’s hard to always “get” modern dance. Sometimes you go along for the ride, other times you make up your own rules and force the Artist to abide by them. Perhaps, to Mr. Catlin, life is a game, ..Life is a game that one plays according to the rules.


-David of IIM?