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Dance: Labors for Loves Lost

By Francine L. Trevens
ART TIMES January/ Febuary 2012

Clive Barnes's favorite photo of himself.  Courtesy Clive Barnes Foundation.
Clive Barnes's favorite photo of himself.
Courtesy Clive Barnes Foundation.

When Percy Bysshe Shelley died in 1822 his widow, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (author of Frankenstein and subsequently many other stories and novels), dedicated many years of her life to gathering, fair copying and getting published all his works as a memorial to him. She persisted in this throughout her life, even though her father-in-law refused funds to raise his grandson if she honored the poet’s name.

When Clive Barnes died in 2008, his widow, Valerie Taylor Barnes (former Sadler’s Wells/Royal Ballet Dancer), dedicated the years following to establishing a foundation in his honor. This year, The Clive Barnes Foundation celebrated its second year of awards to outstanding new talents in the fields of drama and dance, both of which Clive covered so assiduously as a theater/dance critic of great dedication, integrity and insight.

This year’s Awards were held in early December. I spoke subsequently with Ms. Taylor-Barnes, a gracious, vivacious and very personable woman with her charming English accent, about how she managed to get this foundation established, able to award $5,000 to two winners each year and $500 to each of the 3 finalists in each of the two artistic disciplines.
I queried how she knew how to go about establishing such a foundation and she admitted, “I didn’t. I had lots of help. First from Gwin Joh Chin and Jennifer Dunning, and later from many others, especially Adrian Bryan Brown.”

The misses Chin and Dunning were co-staffers at the New York Times during Clive’s stint as the critic for theater and dance at that esteemed publication.

A critic has a special task: to define and uphold standards of the art which he assesses. It is not his job to tell the story of the work – it is his job to grade the work against the highest level of such achievements. Only then has he honored the art he loves and the artists who work towards those goals. Clive Barnes was such a critic of dance and theater. He did not reflect the opinion of the audience; he reflected the aims of the theater and dance disciplines. He delighted in finding dedicated and talented new dancers and actors and in bringing them to the attention of his reading public.

On first meeting, Valerie Taylor-Barnes and I chatted, reminiscing about Mr. Barnes. She and the critic had married on July 24, 2004. The year they married, “Clive went through four surgeries, so we had to pick a date when he would not be in hospital.”

He called to tell his first wife of the date (they had wed on the 26th of July many years before, and he, with no memory for dates, had set his second marriage on the 26th of July some years later, which naturally appalled the previous wife.) This time the first wife remarked, “Well, at least it isn’t the 26th!”

Isabella Boynton as soloist in “Bright Stream” photo by Rosalie O'ConnorPratt Free Library, Baltimore
Isabella Boynton as soloist in “Bright Stream”
photo by Rosalie O'ConnorPratt Free Library, Baltimore

We reminisced about 17 year-old Valerie’s first trip to America with Sadler’s Wells as the youngest dancer in the company. “Being the youngest in the company, I was stand-by for everyone.”

They were housed in Boston in a hotel where everything was pink. She wondered about it, as did the other dancers. Turns out, they had been booked rooms in a “brothel!” as she called it, a short rental by the hour hotel.

We talked about Clive’s reputation for sleeping through some performances. I knew he had not slept, because his reviews always indicated he had heard everything. Myself having been a daily dance/theater critic in Springfield, Ma. and then a theatrical press agent in New York, I often closed my eyes after attending plays every night plus Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees! I think she was pleased that I had realized Clive was not asleep.

Ms Taylor-Barnes said during her years married to Clive she went to the theater with him 8 or 9 times a week. His work, therefore, entailed a great deal of sitting. Because he loved food, his weight was erratic, even though he exercised every day. “One month he could be 155 pounds, and several months later, top 200. He had two sets of clothes.” I know many women who also have skinny clothes and heavy weight clothes and was amused by this.

Clive was so dedicated to his work that a mere three weeks before his death he attended an American Ballet Theater performance at City Center. In the last thing he wrote, Clive compared Daniil Simkin, American Ballet soloist, to Baryshnikov.

In early winter the year following Clive’s death, his widow held a celebration of Clive’s life. From the many remarkable people who attended and spoke to her about the critic and his good works, was born the idea of the foundation. So many people at this celebration of life urged, “Go on, do not stop,” that a foundation appeared to her the most logical way to do so. “It took a year to get it going and acquire the 501C3,” Valerie Taylor-Barnes said. Once it was made an official charity, it could accept tax-deductible contributions. To make it easier, they set it up so anyone can make a donation via pay pal at the official site:

Valerie Taylor-Barnes, soloist,  dancing in  “Sleeping Beauty"  photo by Houston Rogers
Valerie Taylor-Barnes, soloist,  dancing in
“Sleeping Beauty"  photo by Houston Rogers

That accomplished, Valerie began concentrating on getting grants for the foundation. That’s not an easy feat in these recession days. Grant givers generally favor very high profile companies, which can add to the grant giver’s public profile! Finding the right grant writer is a job in itself.

The awards given by the Clive Barnes Foundation are designed to celebrate the work of young actors and dancers, a goal Clive himself favored. Since the idea for the foundation did not occur to the widow until after Clive’s demise, she never discussed it with him. I asked if she thought he would be pleased or would he have demurred.

“I think he’d have fancied it – he had an incredible life,” she responded.

Nina Arianda, winner of last year’s theater award, presented this year’s award to MJ Rodriguez in the off Broadway production of “Rent.” (The finalists were Annaleigh Ashford, Jennifer Damiano, and Josh Grisetti.)

Winner of the dance award this year, Isabella Boylston, soloist with American Ballet Theatre, had the added distinction of being presented the award by Frederic Franklin, a much honored and outstanding dance luminary. Finalists here were Michael Novak for the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Barrington Hinds and Natalie Mackessy, both of the Stephen Petronio Company.

This year’s distinguished selection committee consisted, in addition to Ms. Taylor-Barnes, of Edward Albee, Alexandra Ansanelli, Gwin Job Chin, George Dorris, Barbara Hoffman, Howard Kissel, Jacques Le Sourd, Patrick Pacheco, Damian Woetzel and Craig Wright.

The awards last year were also held at the Walter Reade Theatre at Lincoln Center. At that time, each of the finalists went on stage and was asked to say something to the audience. The actors had no problem with that, but several of the dancers shyly abstained.

This year, Michael Riedel was MC. After the winner was announced, awarded flowers and winner’s envelope, finalists, having been pre-advised that they were to speak, each said a few words when they were called.

“I originally wanted the winning money to be earmarked for further training in their art,” Ms Taylor-Barnes admitted, “I was voted down by the committee who said most young artists need money for their rent more than anything else, so the money is awarded with no strings.”

Valerie is also dedicated to young people. She has taught dance at Martin Luther King High School and La Guardia High. One of her favorite projects was getting these 14 and 15 year-olds, to go on stage to enjoy dancing in public. She is proud that the winners of the Clive Barnes Foundation awards went on to greater successes in the year after they won. “I think winning helped their careers.”

Last year’s dance winner was Chase Finley, who was subsequently promoted to soloist with NYCB during the year after winning the award. Ms Arianda, the theater awardee last year, is now being praised for her work in “Venus in Fur.”

If their future successes were based in part on their having been recognized for this award, she has achieved her aim, “The idea for The Clive Barnes Foundation arose out of my strong desire that my husband, Clive will not be forgotten and that his wish to encourage and promote talented, young artists should continue. We offer them recognition, encouragement and financial assistance and I know that this is something that Clive would applaud and love.”

It’s something the rest of us can applaud and support as well.  I appreciated Ms Taylor-Barnes frankness and glimpses into little known facts about Clive Barnes. Too often people in the arts mock or demonize critics, forgetting they serve as a guide for the average viewer and a standard for the creative people involved in the arts.

As a fan of Mr. Barnes myself, I applaud and laud this foundation and admire the love and dedication of the woman who started it all. We should all have such devoted other halves.