Liza Batkin in n+1 (image via Badlands Unlimited):
EARLY IN CLAUDIA LA ROCCO’S NEW COLLECTION, in a poem entitled “Just go for it, go for it,” she writes: “Some things were accurate and some weren’t, he says. Yes, no, maybe, I dunno. You can’t always trust the people you interview. I mean, you never should.” These halting, doubtful lines introduce a voice far from the one most of La Rocco’s readers will be familiar with, the public voice of the New York Times’ longtime daily dance critic. Here instead is a voice that revises itself within a single chain of thought—yes, no, maybe; can’t always, never should—and tosses authority aside with a slangy “I dunno.”
While a dance critic at the Times, from 2005 until 2012, La Rocco reviewed performances at every dance venue in the city, from Lincoln Center, Dance Theater Workshop, the Kitchen, and Danspace, to the literal underground of subway cars. Her reputation among professional dancers and choreographers is made apparent by her involvement in a variety of collaborative performances, including one with Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener that she writes about in the collection. In 2012 she left her regular dance post and has since written primarily for the theater and book review sections of the Times. She has also continued to write about dance for the Brooklyn Rail and Artforum. The Best Most Useless Dress includes dance reviews and essays that previously appeared in all these publications.
Because it arrives two years after La Rocco’s resignation from the Times dance beat, the collection might seem a gesture of summation. But The Best Most Useless Dress is more than a compilation of old dance reviews; La Rocco has surrounded them with poems and punctuated the writings with photographs and scans of handwritten notes. The result is a strange hybrid of voices and media that provides a unique perspective onto a critic’s concerns.