2008_11_clivebarnes.jpgWidely-respected critic Clive Barnes lost his battle with cancer yesterday at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. He was 81.

The British-born, Oxford-educated Barnes began his career assailing what he perceived to be an ignorant provincialism pervading dance criticism post-World War II; while other critics turned up their noses at pioneers like Martha Graham, Barnes was an early champion in England. He began covering dance for the New York Times in '65, then took over the daily theater beat two years later. Reviewing What Did We Do Wrong? in 1967, he memorably wrote, "One sure gauge I have of telling whether a play is boring me is when a telephone rings in the last act and I start in my seat and hope it’s for me."

In '78, when the Times demanded that he choose between theater and dance coverage, Barnes chose the New York Post, where he continued to file reviews until very recently. A tribute in the Post notes: "No doubt, Barnes' withering criticism could rankle his targets - as when producer Joseph Papp threatened him during an obscenity-laced phone call in the middle of the night. At the same time, his positive reviews could be effusive." And Playbill has more on the famous Papp incident, which Barnes handled with his characteristic forthrightness and wit.