The Five Points Star
My name is Kate Dobbs Ariail, and I live at Five Points, the radiant center of the boisterous, big-hearted, post-tobacco city of Durham, North Carolina. I’ve been writing about the arts for nearly 25 years, and my reviews, criticism, commentary and reported stories have appeared in many print and on-line publications. Experiencing art and reading books (with breaks for cooking and gardening) is a great way to live a life; writing on what I’ve seen and heard and thought about those pages and pictures and performances has doubled my fun. Sadly, opportunities for arts writers in edited publications become fewer and shorter nearly every day—and thus, The Five Points Star is born. It’s a little unnerving. I’ve always loved working with editors, and along the way I’ve learned from several fine ones. I’ll be keeping their lessons in mind as I explore the current DIY journalism in this blog. One big difference, though, between The Five Points Star and a newspaper, for instance, is that here there is no claim to balanced coverage, and, equally, no (unspoken) necessity to let the needs of advertising nudge the wishes of editorial. I’m writing about what interests me, what I feel is important. Period.
My degrees are in the visual arts (BFA, design with a concentration in textiles, UNCG; MFA, studio art with concentrations in textiles and sculpture, and additional studies in museology, Syracuse University). Having been diverted into writing, I haven’t made much stuff in a long time—there’s a funny story about that. At my master’s degree defense, sitting in a gallery full of my artwork, one of the professors on my committee looked up from my paper, and said: “Are you sure you are not a writer?” At the time it hurt my feelings. Maybe she had second sight, because about two months later, I was working on an ambitious, short-lived journal, ArtVu. In 2009, I was a Fellow in the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Arts Journalism Program, in dance.
I’ve written a lot of words about visual art and artists, but the first art I fell for hard was ballet. The neighbors took me to their daughter’s recital, in a dusty auditorium in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. I was five, and was lit forever with the magic of it. I immediately demanded ballet everything, particularly lessons, which I took for years, until even I had to admit that I was too big to be a successful ballerina. At the same time I saw my first ballet (as halting and mediocre as it undoubtedly was under its pink satin glamour), I conceived a longing to see the Bolshoi Ballet, in the news at the time because they were making a rare Cold War tour of the U.S. It was 50 years but the time that girlish desire was realized (it was worth the wait)…but many other companies filled my greedy eyes before that, and more have since.
As soon as I knew what a play was, I loved those, too. I toyed with acting, but realized early on that I belong on the other side of the lights. The first really powerful play I ever saw was Antigone, during the bad days of the Vietnam War. It rocked me back, and totally engaged my mind. If I’m a demanding viewer and tough critic today, it is because that experience led me to expect so much in the way of clarity and passionate honesty onstage.
I didn’t see my first modern dance until I was twelve, but since I started with Martha Graham, being a late starter doesn’t seem to have stunted my growth. I’m one of those lucky people who can love ballet and modern and contemporary dance, and I’m one of the really lucky people who has been able to attend the American Dance Festival in Durham, NC, for the last two, no, make that three, decades. Writing about ballet is challenging, but writing about modern dance is the hardest and most thrilling work I do.