Today, a little behind-the-scenes peek into the world of arts journalism. First, critics don’t write their own headlines. Copy editors do. And fortunately for me, at the Chronicle they usually do a pithy and succinct job, far better than I could hope to. But every now and again, the headline doesn’t quite sync with what I meant to communicate in the review, and that was the case today with my review of Company C, which ran with the headline “Company C enters A-list ballet scene.”

Certainly my review was enthusiastic. Here’s the top of it:

“Attention Bay Area ballet fans: There’s a new contender in town. The progress that the East Bay’s Company C Contemporary Ballet has made in the six years since its founding has surely been slow and gradual, but Saturday at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts, the transformation seemed sudden and complete.

Company C’s latest program, which repeats at San Francisco’s Cowell Theater Feb. 9 and 10, puts the chamber troupe in league with such other local favorites as Smuin Ballet and Diablo Ballet, while also carving a distinctive niche. It is a full, lively program, with plenty of lightweight diversions and one heavyweight classic. It is also handsomely danced.

The classic is Antony Tudor’s “Dark Elegies” from 1937, and it illustrates the strategy that has set Company C apart. Founder Charles Anderson, a former dancer with the New York City Ballet, is reportedly an inspiring teacher but frankly an uninspired choreographer. Yet, rather than make Company C his vanity project, he has set to balancing his own works with dances by luminaries. In the past two years, Company C has taken on two dances by Twyla Tharp and one by Paul Taylor – but the performers, though clearly motivated to rise to the level of the works entrusted to them, still looked a little green.

That changed Saturday with a credible and often stirring performance of Tudor’s mournful masterpiece.”

And here’s the link to the full review.

Am I happy for little Company C? Certainly. Would I label them (or Smuin or Diablo) A-list? Hardly, no offense intended. They’re great companies for what they do. So chalk that headline up to a lucky score for Company C’s PR materials.

Behind-the-scenes revelation number two: I don’t always have say over how to cover shows. Though generally the Chronicle changes very little of what I write (and almost always for the better–thank you to every editor who has ever saved my butt from committing an error or just an inanity of phrasing), I am sometimes called to cover shows in ways I wouldn’t myself have chosen. That was the case with my coverage of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company at Stanford over the weekend. My editor asked for a review-feature hybrid with audience quotes, and thus in addition to my opining, you get a little sampler of crowd reactions to using the iPods deployed for “eyeSpace”:

“It could have seemed gimmicky in the hands of almost any other choreographer: a dance set to music played on each audience member’s individual iPod.

But the concept is this: Each viewer presses “shuffle” on a personal iPod simultaneously, randomizing the tracks of composer Mikel Rouse’s music and creating his or her own private experience of the dance unfolding onstage. And the choreographer was Merce Cunningham, the 88-year-old maverick who revolutionized movement’s relationship to music and decor.

So the crowd at Stanford’s Memorial Auditorium on Friday night was game for Cunningham’s 2006 “eye- Space,” happily queuing to use their cell phones or credit cards to borrow an iPod, tickled by what for many was still a newfangled technology. “It looks manageable, and I’m willing,” said 77-year-old Tom Trier of Belmont, who had never used an iPod before.

For the younger generation, the experiment made perfect sense. “I like how I can take it off or put it back on,” said Stanford undergrad Claire Slattery, before her friend Laura McDonald offered, “I like that there’s shared control of the piece.” But then Stanford audiences get Cunningham better than most, their grasp bolstered by 2005’s weekslong, university-wide “Encounter: Merce” project, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s last visit before this latest Stanford Lively Arts presentation. The Stanford crowd knows that for more than half a century, Cunningham has used everything from a roll of the dice to a consultation of the I Ching to juxtapose what music or sets might accompany which dance – and to liberate viewers with the heady responsibility of making from the chance combinations what they will.

And what audiences learned Friday was that an iPod was simply the latest tool to realize an artistic mind-set that never grows dated. For, in truth, the real excitement of this engagement came long before the program-capping “eyeSpace,” in two Cunningham classics that were created three decades apart, but both looked as though they could have been made yesterday.”

here’s the full review.

More than a little ungainly in form, in my estimation, but I hope reasonably informative. As always, reactions welcome.

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