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 Post subject: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Wed Jun 19, 2002 2:04 am 
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So. What exactly can we call "dance criticism"?

I know, this must possibly sound like a terribly stupid question, since scholars have drawn distinctions between "reviewers" and "critics". Wesley Monroe Shrum Jr. (1996)describes the reviewer as someone who produces

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... a brief composition, reacting to a specific work... summarises and evaluates to a readership that may not be familiar with or have made judgements about a work... the review that appears in the contemporary mass media must be timely.
I take this to mean that the work of reviewers are published in general magazines, newspapers. As for critics, Shrum says that a critic produces work that

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... tends to be longer and more reflective… even departing from artworks themselves... criticism in specialised monthly or quarterly publications, besides addressing the specialised audience, ranges far into the past for its subject matter, and afield to philosophy, literature, and social thought for its themes.
It's also believed that a reviewer is as good as an ordinary audience member, while a critic possesses special knowledge as an academic or arts practitioner. So these are some of the neat little divisions that separate "reviewers" from "critics".

(These distinctions aren't exhaustive; anyone who has more to add, or find any of these problematic, please feel free to point them out.)

But of course, there is considerable overlap between these distinctions. Some of the best dance critics in the US - e.g. Deborah Jowitt, Marcia B. Siegel, and more - have written and continue to write for newspapers, as well as contribute to specialised journals, and are dance scholars in their own right. Someone once told me that Clive Barnes's interesting pieces for a certain newspaper doesn't exactly qualify as "criticism" - and yet, he was invited to last year's Dance Critics' Association Conference. Utterly confusing, all this.

So I guess my problem is - if it is possible to set nice, neat guidelines at all, what exactly can we call "dance criticism"? Does dance criticism, which usually refers to essays in specialised publications (like Dance Research Journal), also include newspaper reviews? Or do we draw the line at certain publications etc.?

<small>[ 25 April 2004, 04:06 PM: Message edited by: Azlan ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Wed Jun 19, 2002 11:53 am 
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Very interesting topic. As you note, there is a good deal of overlap between the two categories, and "nice, neat guidelines" are hard to come by. A critic for a daily paper, for example, can function in either capacity depending upon deadlines, available space, and so forth. Edwin Denby could be "reviewing" for the Herald Tribune, and writing lengthier analytical pieces for Partisan Review, or other papers or magazines. However, he brought the same capacities for analysis, knowledge, and aesthetic sense to both endeavors. That reviewers don't know any more than their readership does is plainly mistaken, as you observe. Judging from the quotes you've provided from Shrum, he seems to be trying to lock in hard and fast distinctions that don't work, although for purposes of discussion they're a good start. (Also, while he may not mean to imply that the work the daily critics do is inferior to that of critics for more specialized publications, one could easily take away that impression.)<P><BR> Like him or not, Clive Barnes is an important figure with a long and distinguished career in dance criticism. I'm sure his presence would be welcome at any meeting of dance critics regardless of whatever publication he happens to be writing for at the moment. Image<BR>


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Thu Jun 20, 2002 5:29 am 
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For whom one writes certainly can, and probably should, determine content. In writing for a more general audience the writer might include a basic synopsis of the story, which would be unnecessary, even wasteful, in writing for a more knowledgeable audience. In writing for a mixed audience, such as a newspaper, probably an amalgam of the two is optimal.<P>What I find unnecessary is a litany of how many rotations this dancer did as opposed to another dancer. I call it the 'numbers game.' Both as a viewer and as a critic, how many fouettés is much less important to me than how performed, or the relationship to the performance as a whole.<P>Too many times I read reviews/critiques that sound more like a sports report than an thoughtful recounting of an artistic event.<P>I think the writer must be careful when reviewing a given performance to bear in mind that what happened that evening is a one time event. Unless the writer has viewed the performance more than once, both the production and the dancers, are a snapshot in time.<P>Critique, on the the other hand, assumes that the writer has a knowledge base of the form, the performers, the various productions of a particular ballet, and can make comparisons and draw conclusions. Then those conclusions and the arguments for them, can be presented in a lucid manner, bearing in mind it is still only one person's opinion.


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Thu Jun 20, 2002 11:25 am 
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I agree. <P>"Review" always seems to me to be a little more cut and dried, "So-and-so danced the role of Aurora. She wore a pink tutu and tripped in the third act, but turned six times in her solo." <P>I feel like reviews (and critiques) should always attempt to put things into a context of some sort and help the audience understand both what happened at a performance and what was interesting or not interesting about it. <P>I guess in that sense, I would like to see LESS of a distinction between what Shrum defines as reviews and critiques.


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Thu Jun 20, 2002 7:23 pm 
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Hey, what an interesting topic, especially since I see that the posts have come from those whose performance reviews/critiques have been consistently the clearest, most incisive, and readable on this site.<P>Ok, now that I’m done sucking up to the Moderators Image… o and you, too, dirac …<P>I’m with both of you, Basheva and mehunt. I like what Arlene Croce said about her writings for the New Yorker. Basically, she wrote about performances only when she felt that she had something interesting to say about them (if only that were true more often of the media in general). <P>Malcolm Tay’s opening question, “what exactly constitutes dance criticism” reminds me of those debates about what constitutes literary criticism. Literary criticism doesn’t limit itself to discussions of merit though that is one of its traditional goals. We don’t sit in class and debate whether <I>King Lear</I> is good or bad; or, whether Sydney was a better poet than Spenser; or whether the language is prettier or more elevated in “Ode to Melancholy” than “The Waste Land.”<P>Instead, arguably the greatest energy is spent on teaching interpretation—its probably the major didactic tool of undergraduate literary education. For a paper I should be working on right now, I have 4 books from the library filled with critical essays on Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening”—most of them are various readings of the novella generated by applying various theoretical frameworks. The term I used, “reading,” has become synonymous with “interpretation.” Stated plainly—to read is to interpret. <P>Stated even more strongly as my professor just told us, if you turn in a book review, you’re going to get a bad grade—we should have left plot summary and personal impressions back in high school.<P>Higher up the educational ladder there are other projects besides interpretation and naturally dance is a different art than literature, but what I was getting at is why I find most readable those reviews that tell or speak about something interesting about the choreography or about performance values in addition to a sense of what the performance was like.<BR><p>[This message has been edited by Jeff (edited June 20, 2002).]


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Fri Jun 21, 2002 12:22 pm 
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I agree with you, Jeff, but it's worth bearing in mind that Arlene Croce had a plum position -- being a regular reviewer for The New Yorker back then was about as cushy as it gets. (Today's New Yorker, tailored for shorter attention spans, seems to be more strict.) She could write about what she chose for about as long as she chose. Sometimes I felt she had maybe too much space -- I remember one tangent she went off on concerning ballerinas' names and iambic pentameter that was a little, well, pointless. Image <P><BR>Critics for the dailies, especially the junior critics, often have to write about something whether they think they have something interesting to say, or not. They're doing the best they can with limited space and time.


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Fri Jun 21, 2002 1:09 pm 
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Can we discuss for a moment (or two Image ) some of the exigencies of a critic/reviewer? <P>Time - how quickly the text must be print ready.<P>Space - how many words are allowed.<P>Content - what to write.<P>All three are challenges, and all three can be used as excuses for a less than optimal product. But none of those reasons are excusable. <P>We allow little room for excuse to the artists - the dancer was sick/injured/tired/unhappy - the stage was slippery - the choreographer displeased - the conductor temperamental, etc., etc. The audience is not interested in excuses from the artists. <P>The reading public should be uninterested in excuses from the writer. If one has nothing to say, as Dirac mentioned, then the writer should either get another job and/or don't say anything. <P>Likewise, when I see a review of a performance that spends a good deal of verbage detailing to the reader the story of the ballet, I consider that 'filler.' Unless one is writing a preview (trying to entice a would be audience to attend) or for an audience with little to no knowledge of the ballet, then a tour through the storyline, in my view, is 'filler.' It tells me the writer has little to say.<P>And, if a writer has little to say why should I read it? I have seen such reviews/critiques in quite a number of large city newspapers. <P>A knowledgeable critic will always find something of note to say about a performance. Even if the performance is mediocre - that can be important. And it is the task of the reviewer to state an opinion as to why he/she arrived at the opinion that the performance was mediocre, and of what importance that might be.


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Fri Jun 21, 2002 3:46 pm 
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I've often thought that the requirements of the newspaper reviewer of dance made that situation sort of unenviable for the reasons listed by Basheva--time pressure, an audience of whose sophistication is variable, and worst of all, a limited space to write.<P>I know for myself that the element of time and space can have an unfortunate impact on content -- as anybody who has had to read my in-class writings or listen to me try to earn class points in seminar discussion. Its just plain hard to sparkle and be intelligent under real time conditions!<P>Of course, those very same pressures can sometimes be liberating. Why else are we at a live performance if not to see the dancers come alive under the very conditions that we would use to excuse our lame writing?<P>Actually, Dirac, I'm chuckling thinking about the Croce essay you mention. It was a very short piece, probably "filler."<P>Basically, she was noticing that a lot of that era's Balanchine ballerinas' names were "anapests." An anapest is a term from prosody, which is how literary folks analyze the sound and rhythm of words -- all those stressed and unstressed syllables. An anapest is a 3 syllable metrical unit of unstressed-stressed-unstressed syllables.<P>Jillana and Diana (Adams) were two such names: Ji-llah-na and Di-aa-na. Suzanne (Farrell) seemed to break the pattern because Suzanne is an iamb (unstressed-stressed). But, then Croce remember Suzanne Farrell's real name, Roberta, which is an anapest.<P>Yes, now that I repeat it to somebody else, it does seem to have the quality of vaguely useless cocktail party information.<P>On the other hand, names and stage names are not exactly as innocent as they might appear. Wasn't Marie Rambert a stage name for something rather more prosaic? I wonder if anybody has ever analyzed the relationship of stage names to real names and the ballet?<P>But, this I wander from the subject of this thread.<P>Basheva, I'm with you on the mediocre performance. Sometimes I learn a lot from less than stellar performance. You can see what portion of the effect is due to the caliber of the dancing and what is due to the choreography. Some choreography is robust and others are highly fragile.<p>[This message has been edited by Jeff (edited June 21, 2002).]


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Wed Jun 26, 2002 7:37 pm 
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dirac, Jeff, mehunt and Basheva - thank you all for this great discussion! Now, if you may allow me to post another stupid question that just came to mind, I would like to ask: is the line that separates "dance criticism" from "dance writing" clear as well? <P>I get this weird impression that "dance writing" is another phrase that is used interchangably with "dance criticism", though I could be oh-so-wrong.<P>Off-hand, I am tempted to say that "dance writing" sounds very, er, general - as if the phrase could refer to <I>any</I> kind of writing that concerns dance. And yet, I can't help but feel that even the most superficial dance writing has <I>some</I> critical features as well. <P>Any comments? Image<BR>


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Thu Jun 27, 2002 4:56 am 
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"Dance writing," to me too, sounds more general. If one was to write an essay on 'Giselle,' for instance, that would be general. The writer could analyze the plot, history, music and various productions of the ballet, without actually reviewing or critiquing a specific performance.<P>Or the writer could analyze different styles of ballet - classical or neo-classical, as an example - again without reviewing a specific performance.<P>Whereas 'reviewing,' to me, means writing about a specific performance and/or a specific company or dancer. A review tries to tell someone else (the reader) what happened during a specific performance. <P>All writing, unless just a bare statement of facts (and even that's problematical), involves opinion in one way or another. Just the choice of words and punctuation gives clues to opinion.<P>If you read in a newspaper the bare statement of facts about a particular news event seemingly without any emotional/political overtones - just the order in which the event is related, indicates what the writer considered of first importance and what the writer considered of secondary importance. <P> So, I don't think it is ever quite possible to be completely divorced from opinion and therefore 'critical features.'<P><BR><p>[This message has been edited by Basheva (edited June 27, 2002).]


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Thu Jun 27, 2002 8:14 am 
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I am having to write about dance at college it is alot harder than i thought at first your site is really helpful.


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Thu Jun 27, 2002 9:38 pm 
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Pink, take it from one who is there … writing about anything in college is always harder than you think its going to be at first. Especially dance.<P>Though I'm pleased to think we may have been helpful, I’m naturally disturbed to see that I’m spreading disinformation as usual – I notice that I mixed up “anapest” with “amphibrach.”<P>Fellow lit students out there, for SHAME for not saying anything to correct me!<P>I got the 3 syllable metrical foot (unit) right, but anapest is in reality, unstressed-unstressed-stressed, like (to take another NYCB example) [Lindy] Mandradjieff. Mand-rah-<I>DJIEFF</I>.<P>Amphibrach is the unstressed-stressed-unstressed. The company BTW still has quite a few amphibrach names like Spring Season Brochure cover girl, Rebecca (Krohn), principal, Maria (Kowroski), etc. Re-<I>BEC</I>-ah and Ma-<I>REE</I>-ahh.<P>I prepared more to post in this thread, but I first need to edit out the stuff that would bore everybody to tears. Image<P>But, Pink, if you need some help with brainstorming essay ideas, etc, I am sure that given the supportive social culture of this forum, you will be welcome to ask for some suggestions and leads on ideas to develop.<BR><p>[This message has been edited by Jeff (edited June 27, 2002).]


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Thu Jun 27, 2002 10:03 pm 
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<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>I notice that I mixed up “anapest” with “amphibrach.”<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P>Please note that your place in Heaven is immediately and irrevocably forfeit.<BR>


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Fri Jun 28, 2002 4:41 am 
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Not so fast, Stuart, I in my guise as the Lilac Fairy, give Jeff a reprieve. As long as he keeps posting on the Criticaldance forum he is assured his place in heaven.<P>Pink....I agree with Jeff - share with us your ideas.


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Fri Jun 28, 2002 9:00 am 
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You're not boring me, Jeff. (I was wondering about the amphibrach/anapest issue, and was going to rustle up a copy of my prosody manual when you spared me the trouble.) <P><BR> I think Basheva is spot on in her distinction between dance writing and criticism, and also in saying that one's critical opinions will show themselves one way or another. This is from memory and may not be quite accurate, but I remember the late composer Paul Bowles once saying that when he first began reviewing, he solicited pointers from Virgil Thomson, and Thomson told him just to describe the performance -- the words he used and the manner of his description would be the criticism. <P> <BR> Pink, when I was in college and was feeling blocked, I would go to the library and look up some critical essays -- not to use the ideas of others, but as a way of jumping my batteries, so to speak. Collections of dance criticism used to be few and far between, but there are quite a few now. As an example, "What is Dance," edited by Roger Cohen and Marshall Copeland, is a useful book, containing examples of both journalistic and academic dance criticism.<BR>


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