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Clive Barnes, A Critic's Critic

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Clive Barnes, A Critic's Critic

Remembrances

Clive Barnes, A Critic's Critic

Clive Barnes, A Critic's Critic

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Arts critic Clive Barnes died Wednesday. During the 1960s and 1970s, the British-born Barnes exercised significant influence over New York theater and dance as a critic for The New York Times. He became a New York Post critic in 1978.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Finally this hour, we remember a man who tried to make dance appeal to the masses. In the 1960s and '70s, Clive Barnes was one of the most respected dance critics in New York City, and by extension the world. Barnes also reviewed theater for The New York Times and The New York Post. He died early this morning from complications associated with cancer. NPR's Neda Ulaby reports.

NEDA ULABY: Clive Barnes was the kind of critic who could make or break a show, a company, or a career. But he told NPR in 1978 he thought that was too much power.

(Soundbite of vintage recording)

Mr. CLIVE BARNES (Critic): In this country, we put far too much weight on criticism. I think we've been taught to by producers who treat critics' names as if they were detergents.

ULABY: If that's true, then the name Clive Barnes was a top-shelf brand, especially in the world of dance.

Ms. KARLA JOHNSON (CEO, Dance Magazine): He is an icon to the dance world, and he'll be terribly missed.

ULABY: Karla Johnson is CEO of Dance Magazine, which has run a weekly column by Barnes for over 15 years. Whether ballet or modern dance, she says, Clive Barnes got it and helped others get it too.

Ms. JOHNSON: He was so knowledgeable, and he lived the history and retained it.

ULABY: Barnes was the son of a London ambulance driver who abandoned the family when he was a child. His mother worked for a theatrical agent and passed free tickets to her son. He grew up watching ballet. By the age of 14, Barnes resolved to be a critic. A scholarship to Oxford sent him on the path. The New York Times hired Barnes to cover dance in 1965, but switched him to drama two years later. Recently on NPR, Carl Reiner recalled Barnes' review of his play "Something Different."

Mr. CARL REINER (Comedian; Actor; Director; Writer): It was the first time he reviewed a play, and so he gave us a non-review. It was a description rather than a review.

ULABY: For his part, Barnes maintained that good word of mouth would always trump bad notices. He saw the role of critic as a catalyst between artist and audience.

Mr. BARNES: Myself, I haven't got a creative bone in my body.

ULABY: Artists, Barnes said, write their lives. He wrote about other people's lives refracted through his own experience.

Mr. BARNES: It's a very curious double image, but for me I find it enormously satisfying.

ULABY: Clive Barnes filed his last review for The New York Post just a few weeks ago. He was 81 years old. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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