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 Post subject: Should newspapers have a "Dance" critic?
PostPosted: Tue Jun 25, 2002 1:47 am 
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Location: London, UK
Before there is a rain of thunder down upon my head, let me elucidate the question above. I am not querying whether dance should be reviewed in newspapers. I am wondering whether the catch-all "dance" critic is a little like a music critic sent to watch Mahler one night, Radiohead the next, and then Gershwin. Surely dance comes in too many forms for one person to be able to review it all?<P>The question stems partly from the poor critical reception received by NDT. I can not help but wonder if this in part is because the critics sent to review, whilst undoubtedly knowledgeable about many forms of dance, are not lovers of contemporary forms. Now, I am not suggesting that the newspapers send out sycophants to give everything favourable reviews, but if a critic is ill-disposed to an artform before he attends a performance, how can he truly tell the audience whether it was a good performance or not?<P>In particular, Clement Crisp is brought to my mind. Now, I adore Clement's reviews; they are a mixture of clear aesthetic view, urbane wit, and humour. But cher Clement is not exactly contemporary dance's biggest fan. Clement hated NDT, he hated Pina Bausch etc etc. And one can not help but wonder whether he hated them before he ever saw them?<P>Would it not be better for the FT, and newspapers in general, to send out critics who are least disposed to be openminded about the performance? Reviewers are often well versed in certain forms (e.g ballet), but would it not be better to have a team of many specialists? Can one critic really know the finer points of Graham technique, and know a good fouette from a bad fouette, and know the principles of tai chi? (Some of the knowledge one would have needed to review dance in the last few months in London). <P>Critics in newspapers wield considerable influence over audience numbers and ticket sales. Would it not be best for dance companies, and newspaper readers alike to hear multiple voices on the dance world. Just as they do for music and theatre.<P> <P>[This message has been edited by MariaR (edited June 25, 2002).]<p>[This message has been edited by MariaR (edited June 25, 2002).]


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 Post subject: Re: Should newspapers have a "Dance" critic?
PostPosted: Tue Jun 25, 2002 3:52 am 
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You make a very good point Maria and it has certainly been a question on my lips over the last weeks. The way the Royal Ballet's Forsythe and Duato ballets were criticised and the way NDT was slammed, suggests that a particular area of dance is suffering unjustly. I enjoy the writing of mostly all the critics. I agree that Clement Crisp makes me smile and I almost enjoy the ranting from the armchair. But, when intelligent people in the City who would love to move into seeing dance (maybe having spent all their time on concerts and opera) approach me about what they have read in the newspapers, I have to tell them to enjoy Crisp for what he writes but not to be put off because "he doesn't like that kind of dance." The question then is, does the critic have responsiblities or duties of care? I mean, should the critic be sublimating personal preference and appreciate the merits of a work regardless? How would he/she do that? By the up-front disclaimer that he doesn't know much about tango but....or doesn't really enjoy contemporary but.... It's a diificult one, but as you say, Maria, it could be cured by having a team of dance critics? It just cannot be right, that the auditorium was generally jumping for joy during NDT's performances yet other people were considering not going to a performance because of the very poor reviews. Being realistic, people only have so much leisure time in their lives and so do not necessarily want to experiment with disappointment. Nor do I want the public at large to dismiss the critics' views. How often have you heard people say - oh, if a critic says it's bad, it's bound to be good...? <P>This is one of those topics crying out to be subjective and it would be good to gauge more views please. <p>[This message has been edited by Emma Pegler (edited June 25, 2002).]


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 Post subject: Re: Should newspapers have a "Dance" critic?
PostPosted: Tue Jun 25, 2002 4:24 am 
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Location: San Diego, California, USA
Recently I reviewed a company that I have spent a number of years avoiding because I know some of the people behind the company, and I don't agree with their views of dance at all. But I decided to go because of other factors.<P>I confronted my preconceived feelings about this company, and told myself that if I couldn't overcome these negative feelings, then I had best not write a review. That brought me to a point of honestly looking at my preconceived notions and I decided that if I want to see myself as an honest broker, I have to be able to put aside my own problems.<P>While watching the performance I put on my 'clean hat' and found myself able to objectively view and evaluate the performance and found myself writing a favorable review. Do I still feel negatively about the people behind the company? Yes, I do. But that didn't negatively impact what I wrote.<P>Frankly, I don't care what the personal preconceived likes and dislikes of a critic are, the performance must be reviewed with a 'clean hat.' That's the reviewer's job and I am not interested hearing about his/her personal biases. The same is true in any task. A teacher might not like a particular student, but that is no excuse for the teacher not giving of her best to that student. To do less is dishonest. And being clever and witty doesn't make up for that.<P>Now, as to whether a reviewer needs a knowledge of the form in order to write of it, I think the answer is yes, to a certain extent. Depth of knowledge can surely lend interest and expertise to what is written. But, then again, sometimes a fresh eye is even more interesting. It may help to know the mechanics of a well turned fouetté, or to know that 32 are expected in Swan Lake, but what if only 28 are executed, but were a delight to watch? Perhaps a fresh eye will not count fouettés and only see the beauty.<P>As a practical matter, I don't think a newspaper can afford to have on staff a full roster of dance critics for all the forms of dance. One could make the same argument for a music critic; there are specialists in Mozart, Bach and Mahler, to say nothing of the new forms. <P>I think the dance critic should have a basic background of both love of dance and knowledge of production and performance values. And, be willing to evaluate each performance with a 'clean hat.'<BR>


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 Post subject: Re: Should newspapers have a "Dance" critic?
PostPosted: Wed Jun 26, 2002 3:29 am 
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I guess the critics would argue that they DO have a love of dance which is why they should slam NDT?


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 Post subject: Re: Should newspapers have a "Dance" critic?
PostPosted: Wed Jun 26, 2002 4:12 am 
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"Slamming" is not illegitimate if it is done on a case by case basis - then it is the critics (hopefully) honest appraisal. But that's quite different from a blanket slam.<P>I think that if a critic knows that he/she cannot abide a certain artist or company no matter what that artist/company does, then the critic has an obligation to recuse him/herself from reviewing that entity.<P>Why bother going to the performance and taking the time to write a review if you already know you are going to hate it?<P>I think in that case the critic should tell the world, "I really dislike ABC Company and therefore there's no sense pretending I can review it without bias." <P>Now, the odds of a critic doing that are probably nil, but that would be a lot more honest wouldn't it? As a reader I would appreciate that honesty, afterall we are all entitled to dislike certain things.


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 Post subject: Re: Should newspapers have a "Dance" critic?
PostPosted: Sun Jul 21, 2002 11:07 am 
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Location: London, England; Tallinn, Estonia
I'm late on this, but it is a an important issue. I always remember the story about the early days of the Martha Graham Company touring the US in the 1930s. They always tried to persuade local Editors to allow the sports journalists to do the reviews. They might appreciate the movement quality, whereas if it was the music critic, for starters they would hate the modern music that she used in her work and then they would wonder why there weren't any arabesques.<P>In general I think it is a "horses for courses" situation. Some critics can straddle the various dance forms and some papers already have more than one critic to cover the field. I too have chortled at Mr Crisp's barbed wit, but it can go too far. I admire his reviews of companies such as the Kirov and POB and the depth of his knowledge of classical ballet generally. Nevertheless, I think it would be a blessing for him and for the FT readers if they appointed someone to look after the styles that Mr Crisp is never going to enjoy or even go to see.


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 Post subject: Re: Should newspapers have a "Dance" critic?
PostPosted: Fri Aug 16, 2002 3:46 am 
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Some may speculate about personal relationships between artistic directors and dancers but what about critics and dancers? How well should a newspaper critic know the artists she or he is writing about? Do any have a close relationship with a dancer?


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 Post subject: Re: Should newspapers have a "Dance" critic?
PostPosted: Fri Aug 16, 2002 4:46 am 
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Location: San Diego, California, USA
Earlier this year a very fine Bolshoi Ballet dancer, who was living in San Diego, put on a couple of evenings of ballet, with dancers of the same caliber. I critiqued a performance (see "Reviews" under "Evening of Russian Ballet") for this board.

A short time later I met with this dancer to discuss his plans as he was trying to set up a company in this city - which was an exciting idea to me. He asked for my help on many levels. I quickly had to lay out the areas in which I thought I could help without compromising my independence as a critic.

The "ok's":

I could give him ideas for contacts, presenters and venues to approach. He asked for my help, because of his limited knowledge of written English (spelling and grammar), in actually writing up his programs, bios of the dancers, and business prospectus. I would not compose these items, but I could check for grammar and general language usage. I could check on how his program was spelled (he had written "Grand Pas Classic" instead of "Grand Pas Classique," for instance), but I would not help with the order of the program. Because, that is something open to critique.

I could tell him that he needed business cards, some written material outlining his plans to present to potential financial backers, presenters, etc. He had limited knowledge of business practice in the USA.

The 'no's':

I would not contribute financially.
I would not help with advertising.
I would not help with programming.
I would not help with transporting the dancers, though I could give him ideas for approaching cultural groups that might help with setting up others to transport the dancers. I would not house the dancers, though again I may help with giving him ideas of other groups that might house the dancers.

That would keep me away from knowing the dancers personnally. I think the critic needs to keep a space between her/himself and the object of the critique. I explained this to him, he was surprised, but I could see this is something that he had not considered.


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 Post subject: Re: Should newspapers have a "Dance" critic?
PostPosted: Fri Aug 16, 2002 5:15 am 
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Location: London UK
To reply to pointies question, I can think of two leading UK ballet critics who were at one time actually married to ballerinas. In addition there have also been cases of close friendships between certain dancers and critics.

On the other hand I can think of dancers that despise critics to such an extent that they wouldn't want to be in the same room with one!


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 Post subject: Re: Should newspapers have a "Dance" critic?
PostPosted: Fri Aug 16, 2002 9:30 pm 
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Thanks,for your replies.I thought critics should be independent but if they are married to or a special friend of a dancer I don't see how they can be but then again it may give them a insight others don't have so it probably doesn't matter. :cool:

<small>[ 08-16-2002, 23:31: Message edited by: pointie ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Should newspapers have a "Dance" critic?
PostPosted: Sat Aug 17, 2002 4:45 am 
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Location: San Diego, California, USA
There was a situation here in which the newspaper critic was married to the choreographer of a local group.....

Do you think that such relationships described above...marriage, friends with, or any other special relationship, should be disclosed to the public?


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 Post subject: Re: Should newspapers have a "Dance" critic?
PostPosted: Thu Aug 22, 2002 11:38 am 
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I don't think it would happen in the real world plus you are likely to be friends with someone in the same small close world as yours that admires your work, don't you think?


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 Post subject: Re: Should newspapers have a "Dance" critic?
PostPosted: Thu Aug 22, 2002 1:55 pm 
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Location: London, UK
Cassandra, if one of the critics you refer to was James Monaghan who was married to Merle Park, then it's only fair to point out that he never reviewed her performances, but always arranged for them to be covered by someone else. I think this is probably the only honest way to deal with that situation.


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