CriticalDance Forum

You too can write a review
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Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Fri Jun 30, 2000 3:44 pm ]
Post subject:  You too can write a review

<B>GRACE adds: <u>Please</u> scroll right down for a quick summary! </B> Image <P><BR>The criticaldance team is keen to encourage more homegrown reviews on the bulletin board. A lot of you, our readers, go to see many performances and we'd love to hear your views. However, if you haven't done this before, it may seem a bit daunting. Here are a few thoughts about how to start writing reviews. I hope that some of the others who post here will add their comments.<P><u><B>You too can write a review</u></B><P>Much has been written about the Internet, but for me, bulletin boards and sites like criticaldance represent one of the most significant benefits. However, there is one opportunity that surprisingly few people take up - the chance to write reviews, traditionally an impossibility for all but a select few. <P>Why should you want to? If you enjoy talking about dance, then it represents another way of sharing your views and initiating a discussion. It can also be an advantage to other readers. For instance, through sites like criticaldance, many have the benefit of views about new works or productions. In addition, rather than having the view of a single critic from your newspaper, on criticaldance and similar sites you have the possibility of getting the benefit of several views. Another advantage is the opportunity for breadth of coverage in reviewing smaller scale work or 2nd or 3rd casts of the major companies. <P>Since I started writing reviews for websites, I find that I have a greater focus when I go to see ballet and dance and I certainly enjoy playing a small part in promoting an art form that I love. Further, it's rewarding when people are complimentary about a review or, even better, that they have enjoyed seeing a work that you have recommended. <P>But, I hear you say, "I'm not a specialist and I don't have the detailed knowledge to inflict my thoughts on an unsuspecting public. In short, I'm not a critic." Well, if you've ever written a memo or letter and had a 5-minute conversation about a dance work, then you too can write a review! Remember, dance is one of the most subjective Art forms with opinions from newspaper critics about a particular work sometimes varying from, ".. I wished it had gone on all night…" to, "…I left at the interval." This diversity is a great benefit to a new reviewer, as it underlines the universal truth that all views are valid. The key point is a love and interest in the genre and your reactions to a work, rather than a detailed technical knowledge. <P>So, how to get started? Clearly the comments below are just my own thoughts and hopefully others will add theirs. Let's assume that you have been to a performance that you have really enjoyed and has left your mind full of fresh images of exciting dance. <P>- Imagine that you are writing an email to a friend about the experience. This is actually how I started It can be useful to jot down some key thoughts and then form them into an outline structure, before you write the piece in full.<P>- The key point is to describe what you saw and to give your reactions to the piece. This will usually involve talking about the style of the piece, your thoughts about the choreography, what the key performers bring to the work and the quality of the ensemble sections. Most important is to convey why you enjoyed various aspects of the piece or visa-versa. Where appropriate, a discussion of the sets, lighting and costumes can help to give an impression of the look of the work. It can be useful to put the performance in context by writing about recent work by the choreographer or the company (the programme notes can be very useful for this sort of information) or why you decided that you would go to see the work.<BR> <BR>- You might want to finish with some more general comments - your overall impressions, whether people should consider seeing the work. <P>A few points to remember: <P>- Don't make your review too long, unless you want it to double as a cure for insomnia. I suspect that most reviews of single performances will be between 300 and 800 words. Reviews of multiple performances may be longer, but are likely to be in a more abbreviated form if you want the reader to make it to the last sentence. When time is pressing a few quick paragraphs can still be enjoyable and useful for readers.<BR> <BR>- Just as humour is invaluable in a lecture or presentation, it's often useful in a review, but don't let it take control. Avoid the Sewell Syndrome (fine art critic of London's Evening Standard), where you emphasise the things you don't like. You can be critical and even harsh when it is merited, but bear in mind it may be that you have simply missed the point through insufficient knowledge. Professional reviewers as well as amateur ones can damage their credibility in this way. It's worth bearing in mind that the person you are writing about may well be going to read your review. A further test is to imagine that you are in a lift with the individual explaining your views.<P>- If something has gone wrong in the performance, don't do what I did on one occasion and get the names of the dancers wrong! The message is to check the cast list carefully. You can mention a piece of noteworthy dance even if you have not been able to identify the dancer - it may be that another reader will be able to provide the name. <P>- Try to avoid repetition of words or expressions; not always easy in dance reviews, when you've already used 'work' and 'piece' 6 times each. <P>- Be your own sub-editor. Remember that, unless you arrange it, you won't have the benefit of another pair of eyes looking over your work. If time permits, put the piece to one side and reread it after a break. If you get the bug and want to do more reviews, it can be helpful to take some paper to a performance to scribble some notes, as even a few words may be useful in triggering memories of a work. Also, I find a reference work, such as 'The Dance Handbook' (pub. Longman) by Robertson and Hutera, handy for spellings and general information. <P>How does your review tie in with criticaldance? <P>- Most website page widths, including those on criticaldance, are narrower than those for a paper presentation. This can make text look indigestible, so more frequent paragraphing than usual is advisable with a line space after each paragraph. <P>- The Postings page input box is fine for brief comments, but is not helpful for 500+ word articles. Best to write your piece in Word or something similar, so that you can spell-check etc. then Copy and Paste into the Postings input form. Of course, this way all the writing is done off-line, as well.<P> <BR>We are planning to have a new Reviews section to keep some of our homegrown reviews for posterity in a similar format to our Interviews page. If it's a help, please feel free to contact grace, Azlan or me for further advice either before a performance or email a draft afterwards for comment and perhaps some reassurance. <P>The Internet is a great enabler and and more recently criticaldance and Dance Europe magazine have helped me get even more out of dance and part of that has been through writing reviews. If you haven't tried your hand yet, why not give it a go for your own and our enjoyment. <P><BR><big><big><u><B> *********SUMMARY ********* </B></u></big></big>(by Grace)<P><BR><B><u> Stuart Sweeney's 10 point Guide to CD Review Writing </u><P>All views are valid. Include overall impressions.<P>Put the performance in context.<P>Describe what you saw, including context (sets, lighting, costumes).<P>Include your own responses, and reasons for those responses.<P>Appropriate length; very frequent paragraphing for the screen.<P>Avoid repetition of words or phrases (& check spellings!).<P>Keep a good reference book handy.<P>Bear in mind that your subject/s may read your review.<P>Put aside and re-read after a break.<P>Feedback available if desired before posting, by emailing to any CD Administrator.</B><P><p>[This message has been edited by grace (edited July 10, 2000).]

Author:  Azlan [ Sat Jul 01, 2000 8:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: You too can write a review

Thanks for this, Stuart. Great job.

Author:  angelica [ Mon Jul 03, 2000 5:26 am ]
Post subject:  Re: You too can write a review

I have never tried to write a dance review. Maybe I could, now. Thank You for these instructions. It still sounds hard, though. And people get so upset if you say the wrong thing!

Author:  grace [ Mon Jul 10, 2000 4:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: You too can write a review

might i suggest that people start off their reviews with a list, like so, to make the necessary context immediately plain to readers :-<P>Performance Title<BR> Name of Company<BR> Name of Venue (incl. city/country)<BR> Date of the performance being reviewed<p>[This message has been edited by grace (edited July 10, 2000).]

Author:  grace [ Mon Jul 10, 2000 4:56 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: You too can write a review

having been spurred into action by stuart here, i had a go at composing my own 10-point plan!<P>here it is (this was written with reviewing -in general- in mind, not necessarily for CD or the small screen):<P><B><u> Grace's Review Guide: 10 point Plan!</u><P>1- Buy a programme, read it and check all facts.<P>2- Answer the questions WHAT, WHO, WHEN, WHERE, HOW.<P>3- Describe what you saw, so that the reader may visualise it.<P>4- Remember to notice and describe music, lighting, sets, costumes.<P>5- Be painstaking about correct attribution, spelling, titles, dates and all other facts.<P>6- Make notes at the performance or immediately after - otherwise you forget!<P>7- If appropriate, describe what you felt and why.<P>8- You MUST be able to substantiate EVERYTHING you write. You won't have space to DO it in your review, but you must BE ABLE to.<P>9- Expect the subject/s to hear about, or to read your review.<BR>Consider how you will feel, when you inevitably see them soon afterwards!<P>10- Keep sentences short & descriptive; paragraphs brief and on the same subject. <P>For the screen:-<P>11- The shorter the better!<P>12- Expect disagreement (see point 8 above).</B> Image<P> <p>[This message has been edited by grace (edited July 10, 2000).]

Author:  Maggie [ Mon Jul 10, 2000 5:09 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: You too can write a review

I,for one, am looking forward to reading some of the reviews that I hope people will post. I would like to add something to my esteemed administrators suggestions above from a non-writer. Write your review as if you were describing the performance to someone who may not ever see it to give them as clear as possible your experience, both visual and internal. This, of course, in addition to being as objective as possible. (insert small laugh.)Sometimes (not always) it seems as if reviews are written to help people decide whether they want to see a performance or not. Some of us may never see it, and would enjoy a somewhat vicarious experience, enjoyable or not.

Author:  Azlan [ Mon Jul 10, 2000 6:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: You too can write a review

Not to confuse things too much, I tend to write from the heart. I write about what moves me and inspires me. It's almost like writing a love letter...<P>Not to be too cheeky but here are some examples:<P>Miami City Ballet's "Jewels"<BR> <A HREF="" TARGET=_blank></A> <P>SF Ballet's Mixed Rep, including David Bintley's "The Dance House"<BR> <A HREF="" TARGET=_blank></A>

Author:  Azlan [ Mon Jul 10, 2000 7:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: You too can write a review

And, oh, reviewers can have fun too. This one is a "trick" review that plays on the theme of the work. See if you can spot the inconsistency:<P>Margaret Jenkins Dance Company’s "Breathe Normally" <A HREF="" TARGET=_blank></A>

Author:  Kevin Ng [ Mon Jul 10, 2000 11:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: You too can write a review

Grace and Stuart, your guides on review writing are certainly very useful. But I'd like to add one more important criterion from the point of view of the readers - the reviewer's experience in the subject matter of the review. Knowledge and experience are as important as a fine writing style. Drawing from my own experience, I've been going to ballet seriously for nearly 19 years. But when I reviewed the Royal Danish Ballet's Bournonville Week, e.g., I knew that I am still a beginner, since I haven't been attending enough performances in Copenhagen consistently to be able to form an expertly opinion.<P>I think it's valuable for the readers if I mention in the review what my previous experiences on Bournonville choreography are, so that they are aware of my perspective and the basis of my conclusion. I might have been very impressed by what I saw, but it's simply because I hadn't seen greater performances from the past.<P>When I am reviewing the Kirov, NYCB, Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Ballet etc., I obviously feel more comfortable since I've seen those companies since the early 1980s.<P><p>[This message has been edited by Kevin Ng (edited July 13, 2000).]

Author:  Maggie [ Tue Jul 11, 2000 4:30 am ]
Post subject:  Re: You too can write a review

Kevin, I can tell you about Bournonville combinations done in center work in class. They go on and on and on and on....

Author:  Azlan [ Tue Jul 11, 2000 8:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: You too can write a review

LOL, Maggie!

Author:  grace [ Wed Jul 12, 2000 4:50 am ]
Post subject:  Re: You too can write a review

you raise a good point, kevin. <P>i guess i didn't think about THAT as it's not something one has any choice about. we are what we are, at any moment in time, so can only write from that perspective. <P>and the rank amateur's view is just as valid as mine, although they may be less able to articulately back it up. <P>i am put in the rank amateur's position when i have to review something i have little or no experience of - it makes me a little uncomfortable/insecure, but i have to do it anyway. <P>this occurs, for example, if i have to review classical indian dance, or flamenco (tho' i have had extremely basic lessons in both many years ago). <P>there are also very modern dance styles which i have no sympathy for, so if i review those, i come to that performance, just like someone 'off the street' - although frankly, i exhibit far more patience than 'the average joe' - just because i HAVE to!<P>in case anyone wonders how i make that assessment, i choose my companions carefully. usually when i find something tiresome and feel somewhat embarrassed trying to justify what we're seeing to my companion, i find that they are finding it at least equally tiresome and would be 'outta there' (before the end) if they didn't HAVE to stay - because i do! <P>that's when i'm reminded that it's a good thing to see dance thru the ordinary person's eyes: you shouldn't HAVE to take a university course, before you can appreciate a piece or art - or even an entertainment.<P>sorry to go off on a ranting tangent here, kevin and others....i agree with kevin that your biases need to be evident to the reader, and usually, they ARE..... Image

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Wed Jul 12, 2000 8:48 am ]
Post subject:  Re: You too can write a review

Many thanks for all the comments and suggestions. Keep 'em comin'.

Author:  grace [ Sat Jul 15, 2000 5:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: You too can write a review

just one other little thing...though of course this list could go on and on....<P>i am thinking about my review of saint petersburg ballet's swan lake, which i saw this week, and must write for the magazine....<P>i will mention their 'funny'looking' little pas de chats, with both retirés devant, in my dance australia review, because i know i am writing for dancers....but i would never mention such a thing, if i were writing for a newspaper - that would just look pretentious and off-putting to a general public readership...<P>so in other words (is there an IOW acronym?), write for YOUR audience, whatever THAT may be...

Author:  Kevin Ng [ Sat Jul 15, 2000 5:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: You too can write a review

Grace, I hope you enjoyed the St. Petersburg Ballet. Did you see Yuri Glukikh in the end, whom I admired when he danced in UK in Jan.?<P>I agree with you that a critic should write an appropriate review to suit the particular audience, i.e. newspaper or dance magazine readers. And I think a critic should have biases. One cannot like all the performances one attends.

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