A brief word about her. As dance lovers already know, she was fired from her staff position as senior dance critic of the Village Voice, which seems to take a special glee in leading the feral pack of magazines and newspapers trying to save a pittance by decimating their arts staffs. Bob Christgau was the first big name critic to go (he may now see himself as having been liberated), and now Jowitt. Both were the leaders of their particular packs, Bob of rock criticism, Deborah of dance criticism.
But dance criticism of a certain type, and here's where it gets more fraught. We live in a time in which the century-long tension between ballet and modern dance is being redefined in terms of ballet, with modern dance ("contemporary dance") relegated to ignored irrelevance or to a source for ballet choreography, usually dismissed when it happens. Jowitt knows ballet; she knows all of dance. But partly perhaps because that was her mandate at the Voice, she was the champion of the downtown New York modern-dance world, its spokesman and its conscience. Some people complained that she was too kind, falling back on description when she feared her judgments might seem too harsh. Yet her descriptions were so tactile, so apt, that they constituted a form of judgment all by themselves.
Apparently the Voice has offered her her old spot, but on a freelance basis. I haven't talked with her, but it will be interesting to see what she does. Will she turn elsewhere, her pride preventing her from doing the same job for less, and thus maybe shift her attention a little more uptown? Or will she feel an obligation to the community she has served so long and so well? There is no "right" choice here, and her voice will be heard wherever she writes, in print or on line. The pity is that the Voice put her -- and dance itself -- in this position in the first place.
For an ongoing conversation and news reports about arts journalism, go to the blog of the National Arts Journalism Program, here.