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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Fri Jun 28, 2002 7:09 pm 
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Again, thanks for the wonderful contributions! But now, I'm afraid I have yet another question, this time related to what has been or is being discussed.<P>I think Basheva is correct in saying that writing is rarely divorced from some kind of personal opinion, even in the most bland of news reports. And that applies to dance writing too. <P>"Dance writing", as I've said, sounds general - to me, very basic description without any attempt to impose some kind of opinion counts as dance writing. Even so, how one presents the information, or chooses what to include or leave out, can be an indication of personal judgement. <P>But what I'm a little confused about is the distinctions between dance criticism and dance writing. As Basheva has written here:<P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>"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. Or the writer could analyze different styles of ballet - classical or neo-classical, as an example - again without reviewing a specific performance.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P>From this, I'm getting the impression that dance criticism is mainly concerned with a specific performance, while dance writing could revolve around anything else. (Forgive me, Basheva, if I have misunderstood.) Considering that dance criticism not includes reviews but also longer, thoughtful critiques (as we have discussed earlier in the thread), I find this a little puzzling. <P>If I take what Sally Banes (1994) says about the critic's operations - to describe, interpret, evaluate and contextualise, though not necessarily all at once - to be true, then "dance criticism" can include a lot more. That is, it doesn't have to be centred on a specific performance.<P>For instance, I consider Marcia B. Siegel's essay on Paul Taylor's <I>Speaking in Tongues</I> (published in the "Moving Words" anthology in 1996) to be dance criticism; she was more concerned with the work in question, rather than the performance quality in the film version of this dance. Or, an essay that analyses the plot/history/music of <I>Giselle</I> also counts as dance criticism to me.<P>So does anyone feel the same way about this? Or differently? Image<p>[This message has been edited by Malcolm Tay (edited June 28, 2002).]


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Fri Jun 28, 2002 9:12 pm 
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There are many interesting thoughts in this topic. At heart I am an empiricist, so here is an example:<P>"The London Review of Books", one of the most authoritative journals in its field, describes itself as a 'Literary review publishing essay-length book reviews and topical articles on politics, literature,...'<P>As this indicates, here in the UK the terms "critic" and "reviewer" are synonomous and the pieces that critics write about individual performances, works or artists are called reviews, regardless of length. I have rarely seen the use of the word "critique" in this context over here. Thus I find Shrum's analysis unhelpul, at least in a UK context, and agree with dirac's point that a top critic such as Judith Mackrell will be writing 250 word reviews for The Guardian as well as much longer essays and books and bringing similar critical faculties to bear. <P>Where you do find the word "critique" from time to time is in the context of academic writing, where I have seen it used for example in the context of an analytical examination of a theory. I guess that my opening section to this post could be seen as a brief critique of Shrum's analysis. <P>I also find it useful that dirac has differentiated between journalistic and academic writing. This is a much clearer distinction and brings some pain into my life! My usual style of writing is journalistic, but on the academic course I am taking I have to work to accord with the Anglo-Saxon academic style. In many ways this strikes me as little different to mediaeval argument by authority, where a writer in the field must be quoted whenever an argument is advanced and personal impressions are forbidden. In an essay on "Dance and Politics in Germany in the 1920's and 30's", one of the works I focussed on was 'The Green Table'. It seemed ridiculous that i should wrtite extensively on this theme without giving my own views on this masterwork. But when I submitted a draft that paragraph had to come out. My lecturer, who was from Germany, pointed out that this would have been acceptable at her home university where it was expected that you would express your own opinion in such a context. This is one of the many reasons that I won't be a dance academic. <P>Dance writing covers the whole shebang: interviews, historical pieces, reviews, examinations of themes such as 'Dance and human rights' and posts like this one. The word 'review' tends to be used to cover a performance or a series of performances. The Oxford Shorter Dictionary defines criticism in a variety of ways (as usual), but the most useful here is: "The art of estimating the qualities and character of literary or artistic work". On your specific example Malcolm, Siegel's Taylor piece, in which I imagine she discussed the merits and significance of his output, can be described as a piece of dance criticism. On the other hand Basheva's example of an article laying out factual information about "Giselle" is not criticism although it may well have been written by a critic. <P><BR><p>[This message has been edited by Stuart Sweeney (edited June 29, 2002).]


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Fri Jun 28, 2002 11:21 pm 
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Hi Stuart, love your post! You brought up an interesting point that I forgot to mention - that both critics and reviewers are also known to produce "reviews". "Critique" is a term that I've hardly heard being used over here, though I have heard it being used incorrectly. So far, I haven't heard a critic say "Well, off I go to critique yet another dance! Ta!" or worse, "well, off I go criticising another dance!" Image<P>But there's one thing I need to add:<P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>On the other hand Basheva's example of an article laying out factual information about "Giselle" is not criticism although it may well have been written by a critic.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P>Stuart, I totally agree with you. Laying out factual information - <I>Giselle</I> was first choreographed in this year; the title role was first performed by so-and-so - isn't exactly dance criticism. But the thing is, Basheva's example doesn't just involve listing information - she mentioned "[analysing] the plot, history, music and various productions". That, to me, involves more than just factual information, the keyword being "analyse". But maybe it's just me being overly sensitive to one word Image<P>On another note:<P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>It seemed ridiculous that i should wrtite extensively on this theme without giving my own views on this masterwork. But when I submitted a draft that paragraph had to come out. My lecturer, who was from Germany, pointed out that this would have been acceptable at her home university where it was expected that you would express your own opinion in such a context. This is one of the many reasons that I won't be a dance academic.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P>Hmm, I get what you mean. But would this also have something to do with a preference for writing in third person, rather than in first person? Just a guess Image<BR><p>[This message has been edited by Malcolm Tay (edited June 29, 2002).]


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Sat Jun 29, 2002 2:55 am 
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"The motive of the critic who is really worth reading--the only critic of whom, indeed, it may be said truthfully that it is at all possible to read him, save as an act of mental discipline--is something quite different. That motive is not the motive of the pedagogue, but the motive of the artist. It is no more and no less than the simple desire to function feely and beautifully, to give outward and objective form to ideas that bubble inwardly and have a fascinating lure in them, to get rid of them dramatically and make an articulate noise in the world. It was for this reason that Plato wrote the Republic, and for this reason that Beethoven wrote the Ninth Symphony, and it is for this reason, to drop a million miles, that I am writing the present essay. Everything else is afterthought, false modesty, messianic delusion--in brief, affectation and folly." -- H. L. Mencken, "The Motive of the Critic", The New Republic, 1921

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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Sat Jun 29, 2002 4:07 am 
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I take your point about the "Giselle" article, Malcolm. As with many areas there will be some articles that are clearly not criticism eg my "Forsythe Study Day" in Features and some that different people could interprete either way. I think we use these words to convey a general sense and I would rarely get into a fight with someone over the use of the term. <P>So, I think your question, "What exactly constitutes dance criticism" is not capable of being definitively answered. Always beware of those who believe that there is a box for everything and everything should be in its own box. <P>On "The Green Table" point, it's interesting that another reviewer's comments would have been acceptable, but not my own, even if they were published. Perhaps I'll use a nom-de-plume from now on so that I can use my own quotes. <p>[This message has been edited by Stuart Sweeney (edited June 29, 2002).]


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Sat Jun 29, 2002 5:11 am 
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As for my example of writing about Giselle - and analyzing it - without reviewing it - I think it is possible.<P>Since I don't have Stuart's professor to worry about I will take the liberty of quoting from a review I wrote on ABT's Giselle (from the Reviews section on this board):<P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>Rich with the fabric of tradition, we are given a window on how our dance ancestors moved and thought. What it was that interested and excited them. The ballet leaves us with many questions; will Giselle’s heart turn to ice and will she participate in future dances of death with her sisters in the dark forest night? Will Albrecht in time return to his nobelman's world married to his affianced? Will he be a force for good because of what has happened? Despite all of our vaunted accoutrements of modernity, we also are ensnared and entranced by this old morality play. The story we see danced out before us is merely the opening link in a chain of events and we are left to fill it in as perceived through our own individual prism.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P>or take this paragraph written as an analyses:<P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>It was their last dance for all eternity. The ballerina tells us Giselle is not only a morality tale, but also a story of coming of age. Perhaps that, too, is what fascinates us. We get to relive that rite of passage. Giselle is a girl in the first act and a woman in the second. Albrecht, who probably never considered the consequences of his actions, is suddenly confronted with its reality. And, this reality leaves him sorrowing and changed. His social rank cannot help him.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P>Here is the same paragraph as a review:<P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>. It was their last dance for all eternity. Kent tells us Giselle is not only a morality tale, but also a story of coming of age. Perhaps that, too, is what fascinates us. We get to relive that rite of passage. Giselle is a girl in the first act and a woman in the second. Albrecht, who probably never considered the consequences of his actions, is suddenly confronted with its reality. And, Stiefel tells us, this reality leaves him sorrowing and changed. His social rank cannot help him.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE> <P>What is the difference between the paragraph - written as an analysis and the same paragraph written as a review? The second one mentioned specific names and therefore was a review of a specific dancer/performance.<P>And, I agree very much with Stuart's statement that things don't fit into neat boxes. <BR> <BR> <P><p>[This message has been edited by Basheva (edited June 29, 2002).]


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Sat Jun 29, 2002 5:41 am 
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Further thoughts.....<P>In my post above are examples or a review of Giselle and a analysis of Giselle. Here is an example of a critique of Giselle:<P>Is it worth one's while to go to the trouble of attending a performance of Giselle? This is a ballet based upon on old morality play and because of its reliance upon old norms of society, is best forgotten. We don't have a need for wilis in forests and their concept of punishing all itinerant males is passé. Women are well capable of defining themselves in our society, we don't need this nether world. This ballet is not simply old - it is archaic. It's artistic value no longer has a message for us.<P>In the above paragraph I have 'critiqued' the artistic value of the ballet - I didn't analyze the plot, and I didn't review it. <P>(by the way, I don't believe what I wrote - I just made it up as an example) Image


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Sat Jun 29, 2002 9:47 am 
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OK, now that I’m quote—<I>over</I>—close quote the prosody mistake – back to the subject of this thread at its most recent rephrasing. By which I mean that I’m afraid Basheva’s last post is sending me on a tangent, which means that I will be quoting literary theorist, Terry Eagleton. (However, I promise to make it short!) He’s talking about literary criticism but I believe it to be relevant to criticism in general.<P>“Indeed literary theory is less an object of intellectual enquiry in its own right than a particular perspective in which to view the history of our times. Nor should this be in the least cause for surprise. For any body of theory concerned with human meaning, value, language, feeling and experience will inevitably engage with broader, deeper beliefs about the nature of human individuals and societies, versions of the present and hopes for the future. It is not a matter of <I>regretting</I> that this is so – of <I>blaming</I> literary theory for being caught up with such questions, as opposed to some ‘pure’ literary theory which might be absolved from them. Such ‘pure’ literary theory is an academic myth: some of the theories we have examined in this book are nowhere more clearly ideological than in their attempts to ignore history and politics altogether.” (1983)<P>Eagleton is of course talking about literary theory, but I think his message speaks about artistic criticism in general—any artistic product that concerns itself with “human meaning, value, language, feeling and experience.” The excerpt is from a chapter called, “Political Criticism,” and has to do with an awareness that all artistic theory is engaged with social, political, and historical circumstance.<P>Earlier in the thread, I suggested that the nominal business of literary criticism is interpretation. Some theories suggest that criticism does more than that. Rather than merely being engaged with purely aesthetic matters, criticism has social and political consequences whether explicitly stated or not.<P>In essence, there is no criticism that is entirely ever innocent.<P>Naturally, I’m not suggesting that every or even one performance review should end with a call to political action – sit ins, picketing, or letter writing/e-mail campaigns, etc. I’m not interested in Basheva’s example of what might be called 3rd generation feminist criticism of “Giselle”—one that rejects the overtones of victimist mentality prevalent in 2nd generation feminist criticism. (Basheva—very convincingly counterfeited Image )<P>What I am suggesting that we be aware of all aspects of the way we discuss dance. Basheva’s earlier experiment of showing how subtle changes in the vocabulary of a discussion changes its meaning points to what literature has always known—that form and content are inextricable. [In media theory, I think its called a “commutation test.”]<P>It means one thing when a ballet—choreographed by men meant for an audience whose interests are vested with a dominant patriarchal ideology—tells us whatever we believe its messages are. Its another thing if the ballerina’s performance tells us—or perhaps doesn’t tell us something. If she can choose an anti-fem message, that means she can choose a pro-fem message. To borrow a phrase from feminist literary theory, it might the difference between dancing <I>as a ballerina</I> or dancing as a <I>woman</I>.<P>O okay, you know I can’t resist just a little more Eagleton ... then my Marxist moment is over:<P>“….Literature, we are told, is vitally engaged with the living situations of men and women: it is concrete rather than abstract, displays life in all its rich variousness, and rejects barren conceptual enquiry for the feel and taste of what it is to be alive. The story of modern literary theory, paradoxically, is the narrative of a flight from such realities into a seemingly endless range of alternatives: the poem itself, the organic society, eternal verities, the imagination, the structure of the human mind, myth, language and so on….Even in the act of fleeing modern ideologies, however, literary theory reveals its often unconscious complicity with them, betraying its elitism, sexism or individualism in the very ‘aesthetic’ or ‘unpolitical’ language it finds natural to use of the literary text.” (1983)<P>Stuart, you responded to the restrictions placed on your writings: “This is one of the many reasons that I won't be a dance academic.” I’m sorry to differ, but I think that is <I>exactly</I> one of the reasons you should become a dance academic .. to work towards change from within. I can’t believe that is the intellectual culture at your university—a sort of encouragement of what is in reality just graduate level plagiarism. Hmmmmph!<BR><p>[This message has been edited by Jeff (edited June 29, 2002).]


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Sat Jun 29, 2002 4:54 pm 
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Sorry to interrupt the flow of thought, but I just realized that I did faux pas of sorts.<P>When I said I was uninterested in Basheva’s example of 3rd wave feminist rejection of “victimist mentality,” that might be read by those sympathetic to feminist activism as a hostile comment -- just more male chauvinism.<P>Nothing could be further from my intent. Open mouth – insert foot.<P>Having just spent the afternoon reading for the Women’s Study class that just began this week two chapters from “Surviving Sexual Violence” by Liz Kelly (1988), “The Wages of the Backlash: Toll on Working Women” excerpt by Susan Faludi (1992), and parts of Naomi Wolf’s “Fire with Fire” (1993) for another, I am very aware of the sensitivity of these issues.<BR>


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Mon Jul 01, 2002 8:29 pm 
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Just in case we haven’t gotten tired of this thread yet, I take note of Sally Banes who has already quoted by Malcolm Tay. In her introduction to <I>Dancing Women: Female Bodies on Stage</I> (1998), she discusses why she focuses on ballet performance rather than story:<P>“The reason for my insistence on analyzing performances, both live and recorded, rather than libretti, raises an important metacritical issue. Too much is lost in the gap between performance and plot descriptions. There is an important distinction between critical interpretation of plots and analyses of performances…. Privileging plot descriptions over performance descriptions, however, overlooks the most crucial aspect of dance. It is, after all, a live, interpretive art.”<P>“The issue of looking at plot in relation to performance has enormous consequences for interpreting representations of women in choreography. The plot may verbally describe a female character as weak or passive, while the physical prowess of the dancer performing the role may saturate it with agency. Thus, even dances with misogynist narratives or patriarchal themes tend to depict women as active and vital. The Sugarplum Fairy is the benign but extremely powerful supreme ruler of the Land of the Sweets in The <I>Nutcracker</I> (1892). And one can’t help but admire the potency of the Amazons who destroy their male sexual partners in Jerome Robbins’ <I>The Cage</I> (1951), no matter how disgusting the choreographer clearly finds them.”<P>Of course, you might be thinking … big deal, we always knew that the ballet was much more than the what’s on the program notes (and it’s a good thing, too, judging by some program notes we’ve heard about lately)… it’s the old problem about how does a critic analyze choreography for which an adequate analytical language doesn’t yet exist (that I know of anyway).<P>—in other words, does Banes really means being able to analyze <I>performance</I> or just <I>choreography</I>, she goes on:<P>“In dance, as in music and drama, a score or text provides the skeleton on which the musculature of the individual performer’s interpretation is built. The performance aspect is as important a consideration as (if not a more important consideration than) the plot to the interpretation of the dance. Indeed, the plot and the performance can come into direct conflict, as when dancers stress nuances of gesture or posture that seem to undermine or render ironic the narrative flow.”<P>Banes then provides an example of a Royal Ballet “Firebird” where Margot Fonteyn as the Firebird appears to be manipulating Prince Ivan rather than being in any subject to his control.<P>Yes, though Banes might be referring to ways in which the choreography which resists reduction into narrative, she is also even primarily talking about ways in which individual performance can also resist or subvert narrative intentions.<P>BTW, speaking of applications of modern feminist theory and the nth wave criticism. From skimming through this book, I get a sense that it is an example of 3rd wave. Here’s from the manufacturer’s blurb:<P>“…Banes uses an interpretive strategy different from that of other feminine dance historians, finding a much more complex range of cultural representations of gender identities. Investigating women’s images ranging from seductive sylphs to reluctant bridges to tyrannical mothers, Banes suggests how “female microcosms” – girlhood friends, fairy godmothers, or avenging unclean spirits – create both positive and negative pictures of women’s communities and how women dancing solo challenge social norms.”<BR>


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Tue Jul 02, 2002 4:10 am 
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Jeff, thanks for the quote - I have enjoyed reading that book by Banes, one that I find very insightful. Sometimes it's too easy to forget that performance has a significant impact on plot. By the way, just call me Malcolm - only my high-school math teacher referred to me (and everyone else) by my full name Image


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Tue Jul 02, 2002 8:31 am 
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Hmm. Applying the Banes style of analysis to mid- twentieth century history, I come up with the following sample:<P><BR>"Even historical narratives with anti-Fascist themes tend to depict Nazis as active and vital....One can't help but admire the potency of the Luftwaffe who invaded Poland, no matter how disgusting the historian clearly finds them...."<P>Just kidding, obviously. Couldn't help myself. Image<BR>


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Tue Jul 02, 2002 8:46 pm 
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Malcolm, I never know what to call somebody sometimes. I'm always afraid that I'll neglect some important aspect of their internet name.<P>We were meditating on the ways that writing about performance and writing about dance differ. At first I thought Banes was making the fairly obvious point that it isn’t just the story but the choreography. And, she is making that point. But, she’s saying that the performer’s interpretation also matters.<P>When we read that on the notes that Prince Ivan “captures” the Firebird, he could be seen as oppressing her. What I saw in Winter 2002 season was that Charles Askegard’s Prince Ivan didn’t so much capture Ashley Bouder’s Firebird as catch her interest. Askegard plays Ivan as the kind of sweet guy that women like to be around. Its that sort of “second son” personality (at least it is in Asian culture) … you know, the first son has all the public responsibilities (inheriting the fortune, fulfilling the blood vendetta, etc) while the second son has all the fun.<P>But, I wander again…<P>Having just come back all sensitized from my Women’s Study class tonite, Dirac, (we discussed violence against women) I’d be kind of careful what I say about Banes’ feminist recuperation of Sugar Plum and the Amazons. If somebody had said that in class, they’d’ve been totally on their case.<P>But, you are right that there is a pitfall in the use of interpretive strategies or algorithms, which is that argument you make for one issue could be used in ways completely alien to your original intent.<P>However, consider this contemporary reformulation:<P>"Even rap video style movies with anti-violence themes tend to depict urban gangsters as active and vital....One can't help but admire the potency of the successful gang leader who like Hitler ruthlessly destroys his drug selling competitors, no matter how disgusting the movie overtly finds them...."<P>Is this seem plausible or non-plausible?<BR>


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Wed Jul 03, 2002 4:32 am 
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I think that is dependent upon what one considers potent. Potentcy is not automatically equated with violence, power, or even effectiveness of outcome. Especially if that outcome is transitory, as is the case with the blitzkrieg or a gang territorial fight. <P>Ghandi was much more effective than Rambo, and therefore potent....but oh so non-violent. He gets my admiration. Rambo doesn't, not even a little eensy bit, not even in for a moment. What a vast expenditure of energy for so little gain. Rambo is often a fool - Ghandi never is.<P>So, to bring the above two paragraphs into conformity with the theme of this thread, were I the writer of a negative potentcy event (Hitler's blitzkrieg, or gangsters), my writing would reflect my negative view and it wouldn't be written of as potentcy, but as in the end not attaining the goal sought. Ghandi accomplished a permanent goal.<P>The Prince never really captured the Firebird. He only captured her essence, he made a 'deal.' He knew this and that's why he made a deal. My critique would reflect that - not a 'capturing.'


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 Post subject: Re: What exactly constitutes "dance criticism"? (W
PostPosted: Wed Jul 03, 2002 5:25 am 
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I guess what I was trying to say above, and didn't quite manage to is....<P>I believe the critic needs to try to see the forest, not just the trees.


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