Alan M. Kriegsman, a critic for The Washington Post whose fervid prose style earned the first Pulitzer Prize for dance coverage and who chronicled an era of surging popular enthusiasm for dance in forms ranging from classical ballet to break dancing, died Aug. 31 of heart ailments at his home in Chevy Chase. He was 84.
The death was confirmed by Suzanne Carbonneau, a dance critic and historian. In 1976, Alan M. Kriegsman became the first Washington-based critic and the first in The Post’s Style section to win a Pulitzer Prize.
Soft-spoken and erudite, Mr. Kriegsman could become animated by detailed conversations about the use of the music of Bach and other composers in a dance performance. “Mike was very much a propagandist of art, and he was passionate about art education,” Baryshnikov said. “He was a classy bohemian.”
Arts criticism became a Pulitzer category in 1970, and journalists had won for music, architecture, television and film before Mr. Kriegsman was recognized in 1976. He was the first Washington-based critic and the first in The Post’s Style section to earn the highest honor in journalism. In 2010, Sarah Kaufman, The Post’s present dance reviewer, became only the second recipient of a Pulitzer for dance criticism.
Mr. Kriegsman’s career at The Post, from 1966 to 1996, coincided with an unprecedented cultural flowering spurred by federal arts funding and magnetic Soviet defectors such as Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev who excited audiences, Carbonneau said.
On the dance beat, Mr. Kriegsman attended major performances in New York and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, but he also was egalitarian in his tastes. He covered Indian and Spanish folk dances and attended community performances by African drummers to give readers a broader sense of a vibrant dance culture.
A strong admirer of Russian companies such as the Bolshoi Ballet, Mr. Kriegsman wrote with wry delight of the cultural implications of the Soviet Union crumbling in the early 1990s.
“In the dance world, the Soviet Union rode high and mighty over cultural competitors until the very hour of its collapse,” he wrote. “Now the main quest of the major Russian and former Soviet troupes is who can most quickly acquire the works of formerly despised Western masters such as Balanchine, Robbins and Tudor.”
Mr. Kriegsman was not so naive to think that dance would ever trump movies or television in terms of mass consumption. But he became almost giddy when a major broadcasting network, CBS, devoted two hours of prime-time coverage — “bucking action and private eye serials, a mystery movie and Olympic sports on competing network channels” — to air a Bolshoi Opera production of “Romeo and Juliet” in 1976. And it was with barely disguised enthusiasm that he reported in 1975 on the 35th anniversary gala of the American Ballet Theatre in New York — an event that he described as a near-apocalyptic scene of ticket scalping, celebrity gawking and flashbulb popping.
By ADAM BERNSTEIN / WP