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 Post subject: Re: The power of critics
PostPosted: Sun Feb 20, 2005 8:02 am 
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Joined: Wed Nov 15, 2000 12:01 am
Posts: 6
Location: New York, NY
I think that Michael is right about reviews needing at least mild entertainment value. Where you and I might gravitate towards the arts pages of our newspaper, we're in the minority of readers. If more people read arts coverage, however, and feel comfortable in their understanding, the better the chances of their also becoming dance, music, or theater-goers. Also, if people don't read those pages, the pages disappear.

I have twice been in the strange position of being a professional performing musician and also a trained arts journalist writing for the same paper that reviews my music performances. It really gave me a clear picture on how damaging even a casual comment can be, and how the critic must consider how his or her writing impacts the performers -- who are taking artistic chances that may or may not work -- and may be inhibited from doing so in the future (funding can be influenced by bad reviews and their resulting effect on the group's reputation).

It's crucial for the writer to take great care in expressing his views, therefore. For example, it's one thing to say a cellist's tone sounded thin or that he was lacking energy. It's another altogether to write harshly that he isn't worthy of the valuable Italian instrument loaned to him. What does the latter statement achieve? Maybe the guy had a bad night. Maybe he was doing his best, with extensive preparation, but got stuck on the bridge before the concert with two screaming children in the back seat because he doesn't make enough money to pay for car repairs. That kind of reviewing is cruel. (That wasn't me playing the cello, by the way.)

On the other hand, a critic can describe a performance in layman's terms that won't insult an expert, and possibly encourage an audience to attend future performances. However, there's a fine line between representing a performance enthusiastically and serving as a PR mouthpiece for one group and not another.

I'll never forget when I was the dance critic at the Contra Costa Times and received a beautiful note from the dancer Cynthia Pepper, thanking me for describing each dancer and choreographed piece with care, and she mentioned how much that it meant to her and the other performers. As a musician, I knew exactly how she felt, but it really brought the point home to have had her take the time to write.

On the other hand, I attended a couple of sloppily produced, undisciplined performances with thoughtless choreography while at that paper. As much as I felt for the performers, it would have been unfair to the audience, and to possible future funding organizations, not to mention that not nearly enough care was spent on this production in terms of time and money.

I'm going down to South Carolina in the spring to review all of Spoleto of the Charleston newspaper, and I'm going to really give all of these issues a lot of thought. Would love to hear more about what all of your gripes are about critics, and also more about the critic's role. I've mostly been writing about the business of the arts, and must put my critic's hat back on.

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Blair Tindall
--Author, "Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music" (Grove/Atlantic Press, July 2005)
www.mozartinthejungle.com


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 Post subject: Re: The power of critics
PostPosted: Sun Feb 20, 2005 8:44 am 
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Joined: Sun Dec 12, 1999 12:01 am
Posts: 3663
Location: The Bronx is up; the Battery's down
Quote:
Would love to hear more about what all of your gripes are about critics
They rarely mention lighting design.

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Jeffrey E. Salzberg,
Dance Lighting Design
http://www.jeffsalzberg.com


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 Post subject: Re: The power of critics
PostPosted: Sun Feb 20, 2005 10:25 am 
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Joined: Sat May 27, 2000 11:01 pm
Posts: 1863
Location: Stouffville, Ontario, Canada
Quote:
“I think that Michael is right about reviews needing at least mild entertainment value. Where you and I might gravitate towards the arts pages of our newspaper, we’re in the minority of readers. If more people read arts coverage, however, and feel comfortable in their understanding, the better the chances of their also becoming dance, music, or theater-goers. Also, if people don’t read those pages, the pages disappear.”
Blairtin just wrote a mouthful! :D In the case of the National Ballet of Canada as well as the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, part of the reason for dwindling attendance can be linked directly to the critics for each respective newspaper. Below are my rankings on coverage:

The Toronto Star

Quantity of Coverage: 8/10
Quality of Coverage: 7/10
Entertainment Value: 7/10

The Globe & Mail

Quantity of Coverage: 7/10
Quality of Coverage: 7/10
Entertainment Value: 5/10

The National Post

Quantity of Coverage: 4/10
Quality of Coverage: 7/10
Entertainment Value: 6/10

The Toronto Sun

Quantity of Coverage: 5/10
Quality of Coverage: 4/10
Entertainment Value: 4/10

Pretty sad, uh? There is no excuse for not averaging a score of ‘8.’ Toronto averages a score of ‘5.92.’ In some cases, a ballet is not even reviewed! Egad, how bad is that? Some papers did not even bother to review the Nutcracker or Contract. The Sun didn’t even send a writer to the NBoC announcing their 2005/2006 season. It was covered by ‘staff’ – whatever that means!

Thanks to critics writing super technical reviews for themselves, a lot of people in Toronto are intimidated to see the ballet or listen to music! Guess what? You shouldn’t be. Anybody can enjoy ballet or music. Ditto for opera! Click on the below link:

COC

The newspaper media have scared off readers so much; Richard Bradshaw of the Canadian Opera Company has done everything he can to get the word out that anyone can enjoy opera!

Quote:
“It’s not just about the fat lady singing. Read this guide for opera beginners and get rid of your preconceptions for good.”
Richard Bradshaw

Quote:
All you need to be a ballet fan is an appreciation for beauty, music and motion. And, you don’t need a degree in music to enjoy the TSO.
Michael Goldbarth

The number one problem with coverage in Toronto is that its critics have been around since the beginning of time! Do us a favor and retire or freshen up your copy! It’s blatantly obvious they have seen too much ballet, heard too much music and thus make their review read like they’ve seen the same ballet, same symphony a hundred times! Toronto critics are like weathermen/women, they never die and they’re wrong half the time and nobody holds them accountable.

The National Ballet of Canada doesn’t help by often being BORING or pretending everything choreographed by James Kudelka is a masterpiece! Try getting any information out of them when they have a sticky issue like the Glasco firing years ago. They immediately turn into an ostrich! Keep your head in the ground and you’ll completely lose your audience. ;)

When will the National owe up to performing a stinker of a ballet? I recall decades ago a new game show hosted by Jackie Gleason called, ‘You’re in the Picture.’ To say it made a skunk smell good was kind. To quote Jackie Gleason apologizing to his audience:
Quote:
“That laid! Without a doubt, The Biggest Bomb!”
I guess that’s why they called Jackie Gleason: ‘The Great One.’ His honesty and humour was very refreshing. Where has all the honesty gone in the world? :confused:

Yes, I am still waiting for a response from a Prima Ballerina to my ‘The Prima Ballerina’ posting! If you’re going to be a ‘Prima Ballerina’ at least defend yourself! We need some dancers with a little ego and personality!! I’m too upset to write anymore!

<small>[ 20 February 2005, 12:40 PM: Message edited by: Michael Goldbarth ]</small>

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The world revolves around the beauty of the ballerina.


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 Post subject: Re: The power of critics
PostPosted: Sat Feb 26, 2005 11:10 am 
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Joined: Sun Oct 24, 1999 11:01 pm
Posts: 19975
Location: London, England; Tallinn, Estonia
Critical masters
By Anthony Field for The Stage

Theatre critics have long had the power to savage a performance or play at will but Anthony Field asks whether newspaper proprietors and editors are now pressuring their reviewers to conduct hidden agendas to fit their social and political opinions

As long as one can remember, the best advice to anyone in showbusiness is not to attempt to answer back. In the fifties and sixties, artists had to contend with gallery first-nighters, of which I was one.

click for more


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PostPosted: Sun May 22, 2005 12:31 am 
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Joined: Wed Jan 30, 2002 12:01 am
Posts: 943
Location: Santa Barbara, CA USA
This essay in the LA Times ponders the decreasing influence of critics on the arts (summary below for non-subscribers):

Quote:
Critical condition
Scott Timberg, LA Times

Once almighty arbiters of American taste, critics find their power at ebb tide. Is it a dark time for the arts, or the dawn of a new age?

In the 1950 movie "All About Eve," the theater critic is a dapper, cynical charmer with the Old World moniker Addison DeWitt. He's no hero, but his wry assessments can make or break a production. Characters repeat his phrases throughout the film, in both scornful and reverent tones.

Almost a half-century later, the television show "The Critic" presented an animated schlemiel, paunchy and balding, voiced by the nerdy comic endomorph Jon Lovitz. This character's influence on the world in which he lives is nonexistent: His impact comes down to serving as the butt of jokes.

more (requires paid subscription)


The article describes how critics at one point had the power to make or break a show, as well as guiding public taste and shaping the progression of the artform being examined. Today, due to many factors, among which information accessibility and dissemination made possible by the Internet figures very prominently, critics are diminishing in their influence. Timberg lists wine criticism, citing Robert Parker of Wine Spectator, as one of the few areas in which criticism still enjoys its old power.

There's lots of speculation and observation why this is the case today. One is that almost half (45 percent) the people surveyed by a study say they believe little or nothing of what is printed --- the printed media itself is losing credibility and authority. Another is that today's critics, perhaps cowed by popular accusations of bias in the press, write in a bland, anonymous, non-offensive style. Yet another speculation is that art is now governed by the marketplace instead of a few individuals' tastes, so there is no longer a place for the taste-making role of a critic.

While some are wondering who moved their cheese, other critics are out there finding new ways of reaching their information-seeking audience, including blogs and personal websites. Many people still see criticism and the discussions that it provokes as necessary. According to classical music critic Joseph Horowitz: "We need it. We're a very confused culture right now, as far as the arts. There are conflicting signs of where we are and where we're going. A critic can provide a necessary service in helping us figure out what we're doing and what we should be doing. I don't think we can figure it out by ourselves."

--Andre


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed May 25, 2005 7:32 pm 
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Joined: Wed Jun 30, 2004 11:01 pm
Posts: 342
Location: New Jersey
I just noticed this topic. Seems like the energizer topic -- it keeps going, and going....Years without recharging.

While critics do, or did, wield a lot of power (that I agree is diminishing now, either because the quality of criticism has gone down, the impact of negative criticism can be more easily circumvented, or balletgoeers overall are more capable of arriving at their own opinions), one aspect of critical writing is the capacity of a good critic to not just give his/her opinion, but to make the experience sound exciting, interesting, and worth looking at.

Perhaps my experience is unique, but I owe my interest in dance to a critic. When I was in college and post-grad I was an avid newspaper reader, and was particularly interested in the arts (so maybe I already had a leg up, so to speak). Although my only experience looking at dance was watching the Ed Sullivan show (which did absolutely nothing to get me interested), I recall that the reviews by the oft maligned Clive Barnes in the New York Times made dance (particularly ballet) performances sound so interesting and accessible that I eventually decided to check it out. I'll try anything once. [The availability of Student Rush tickets didn't hurt either.] By Mr. Barnes's reviews and dumb luck the first performance I saw was ABT at City Center in NY. Saw an incredible program, including The Moor's Pavane, a pas de deux with Makarova, who had only recently defected, and Rodeo. I was overwhelmed. The excitement and intellectual content and kinetic electricity in the house was just what I had expected after reading Mr. Barnes's reviews, only more so. [The fact that I was infatuated with many of the women I saw on stage had absolutely nothing to do with it.] After that, I started soaking up dance like a sponge, and I can safely say it has changed my life.

So this is an overly long way of saying that a critic not only has the power to evaluate dancers and choreographers (and, Salzberg, lighting and set designers), but also to build an audience by the sheer power of his/her ability to make the artistry come alive in print.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed May 25, 2005 7:48 pm 
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Joined: Fri Oct 22, 1999 11:01 pm
Posts: 17498
Location: SF Bay Area
balletomaniac wrote:
So this is an overly long way of saying that a critic not only has the power to evaluate dancers and choreographers (and, Salzberg, lighting and set designers), but also to build an audience by the sheer power of his/her ability to make the artistry come alive in print.


You may have a point there. Paraphrasing myself from a post above, compare the different ways a point can be made:

Azlan wrote:
Travel reviews for example are usually honest without being bitter. You don't see a travel writer write, "The place is a dark, dingy dump!" Instead you see something like, "Once you get past its dark grittiness, you'll find Gotham City offers many unique adventures into its multiple characters. Most eventually come to respect its strong gothic architecture even if they at first find it unappealing."


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