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 Post subject: Reviews: How to say what you can't!
PostPosted: Sun Nov 26, 2000 3:20 pm 
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It is a basic premise of published criticism that you CAN'T say some things, no matter how true you might see them to be.<P>The 'bottom-line' reason is the law, which i am not going to try to lay out here, especially as there are slight differences between countries. <P>In Australia, I may express my 'honestly held opinion' about a WORK, but not necessarily about a PERSON. The individual is not up for discussion; the work is. This line is a very fine one, and the law in itself presents difficulties - but please - let's not discuss that! <P>On that legal basis, I know that I have to be able to substntiate anything I write - this is a given - even though we are talking about opinions. I cannot say something just because I feel like it! <P>It is essential that I am able to back up every assertion in a court of law, if it ever came to that. This is a basic premise of such writing, as unlikely as it might be to happen. This understanding becomes an unconscious foundation for professional writing of this type.<P>I want to ask your opinions about more practical matters, but feel the need to share those basic guidelines first.<P>When I am writing, I don't think in terms of the law. I think only in terms of what is accurate, and fair to say. I noticed in another thread that someone brought up the concepts of racism, sexism, etc - I never think of these either, thinking instead on a personal individual basis - which encompasses those prohibitions naturally. (i.e. anything which would be detrimental and unfair to say about an individual's race or gender or nationality, etc, would first of all be offensive to the individual, rather than to that whole 'class' of person, so the 'class' issue doesn't come up for me.)<P>anyway, getting back to practicalities, here is what i want to ask:<P>1. If the lead dancer playing the classical ballet prince looks like a doofus, or the ballerina is hardly visualisable as a love-object to stir great passions; rendering them therefore unbelievable in their archetypal character roles, how do you say that?<P>2. If one element of the production (let's say the lighting, or the costumes) overwhelms all the others in its unsuitablility or tastelessness, how do you separate out this damaging element from all the others? - especially if it's not the first time it's happened, and you know that designer will continue to be employed....<P>i need to add here, since i am a dance writer and many of you know that, that i have of course been answering these questions for myself, for years. in the last 24 hours i have addressed both of these issues in one review, but i am interested in how others think they would deal with the same situations?<P>

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 Post subject: Re: Reviews: How to say what you can't!
PostPosted: Sun Nov 26, 2000 3:32 pm 
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<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><I>If one element of the production (let's say the lighting, or the costumes) overwhelms all the others in its unsuitablility or tastelessness, how do you separate out this damaging element from all the others?</I><HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P>Well, I'm always fond of "The set and costume designs were not up to the standard set by Jeffrey E. Salzberg's lighting. . . .", but somehow I don't think that's what you were after.<BR>

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 Post subject: Re: Reviews: How to say what you can't!
PostPosted: Sun Nov 26, 2000 3:37 pm 
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ah yes! i have in the past gone as far as to say, that the genius level of the OTTHER design collaborator's contributions only serves regrettably to emphasise the amateur status of the work of one of them....<P> Image<P>not kind, but true.<P>you're on the ball this afternoon, jeff!

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 Post subject: Re: Reviews: How to say what you can't!
PostPosted: Sun Nov 26, 2000 3:39 pm 
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jeff, here's another thought - and this one has come up around the globe in recent years - when the lighting is so dim, that you can't readily see what you feel you are meant to see, or what you WANT to see, obviously this will affect your perception of the whole work. likewise when a raucous unsettling volume level makes you physically uncomfortable and anxious about your hearing through the whole performance.....

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 Post subject: Re: Reviews: How to say what you can't!
PostPosted: Sun Nov 26, 2000 5:22 pm 
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Sometimes you want to make your audience physically uncomfortable with loud sound. One way to do that without permanently damaging their hearing is to provide earplugs before the show (such as Japanese company Dumb Type does for OR) and of course you need to post a warning as you would with strobe lights, (I said make them uncomfortable, not kill them, lol).<P>


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 Post subject: Re: Reviews: How to say what you can't!
PostPosted: Sun Nov 26, 2000 6:31 pm 
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Well, it seems to me - that if you stick to the rule of criticizing the "object" (like the sets, costumes, etc.) rather than the designer personally then you have not crossed the line. It could be mentioned that the designer was in need of further experience, needed further study, etc.<P>As to the personal attributes of the dancer not being acceptable to portray that particular role - that is much more difficult. Since dancers are pretty uniformly slender - as opposed to an obese opera singer trying to portray Mimi in La Boheme - one could still critique that dancer's portrayal of the role. One could also critique that dancer's view of the role. One could say that the dancer's portrayal of the role was off the mark. In other words I am not sure that the actual physique of the dancer - or even facial looks - would enter into the critique overly much. One could also critique the dancer's need for further study, or lack of adequate technique. <P>As a case in point, I heard that Cynthia Gregory was not given a chance to portray Juliet (at least it was the case at the time I heard that) because it was thought that it was not her type of role. I would have liked to have seen her attempt that role. She made a sweet Aurora. However, if I saw her in the role of Juliet and I was critiquing and felt she had failed - I would critique her portrayal, her lack of concept, in my opinion, not her looks. <P>I think the job of the critic is to criticize those things that are amenable to change. A dancer cannot change her face. As stated above, I don't think actual body weight would come up very much - there are not too many overweight ballet dancers.


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 Post subject: Re: Reviews: How to say what you can't!
PostPosted: Sun Nov 26, 2000 6:39 pm 
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I am purposely making this a separate post. As you probably know, poorly lit ballet is a real "thing" with me. I just get so tired of the men in black costumes/tights - against a dark backdrop - they just disappear.<P> But another thing that I think happens is that if the production is adequately lit for the theater audience - but it is also being televised - well that needs some added thought by the lighting designer. <P>So many (I can't emphasize how MANY) times I have seen live telecasts of major companies - and this happens. I often wonder - don't these people ever look at the tapes? <P>As for over loud volume - I just leave the theater albeit all the money I have spent on tickets and travel/hotel, etc. I once went to a performance where the dancers wore metal and mirrored head gear and bright lights were flashed on them - which reflected back from the mirrored head gear into the eyes of the audience - and half of the audience walked out. It was really impossible. It was a real pity. <P>If I were criticing this - I surely would mention it and criticize the production - but never the designer in a personal way.<P>Jeff- forgive me the rant.........if you were designing it I am SURE it would be better.


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 Post subject: Re: Reviews: How to say what you can't!
PostPosted: Sun Nov 26, 2000 9:44 pm 
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basheva, thank you.<P>but i am going to make it more difficult for you! Image you write:<P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>One could say that the dancer's portrayal of the role was off the mark. In other words I am not sure that the actual physique of the dancer - or even facial looks - would enter into the critique overly much. One could also critique the dancer's need for further study, or lack of adequate technique. <HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P>the situation i am describing is one where none of the above criticisms would be accurate or fair. where the dancer HAS good technique, adequate experience, applies themselves well, is not overweight (but may have a less-than-ideal physique for the prince or the ballerina), BUT is not readily believable in the role, because they are hampered by what nature has given them. <P>this is not their fault. they cannot be criticised for their anatomy. but it is still a true fact about the performance. 'blame' rests probably with the choreographer or the director - whoever made the casting choice -OR with the simple fact that the company may, at that time, not have anyone more suitable...in which case, should they have attempted the ballet?<P>re the loud sound or bad lighting - i take your point, marie - but basheva, if you were reviweing that performance, you couldn't leave. so no doubt you would get more and more uncomfortable, tense and anxious, being obliged to stay in that situation (so would i!). obviously this will affect your perceptions of the choreography, of the costumes, of the dancers.....even though you will try mightily, of course, to be as objective as possible.<P>in the case of the lighting, you need to write about these dancers, their moves and their apparel - but you can't see it adequately to do so - how then will you manage?<P>will the choreographer feel it was fair if your review dismisses her hard work, blaming your non-review of her creativity on the fact that you were hampered by the lighting? it may well be true, but is it fair?<P>see, i told you i would make it harder! that's real life! Image <p>[This message has been edited by grace (edited November 26, 2000).]

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 Post subject: Re: Reviews: How to say what you can't!
PostPosted: Mon Nov 27, 2000 12:55 am 
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Regarding Grace's comment:<P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>the situation i am describing is one where none of the above criticisms would be accurate or fair. where the dancer HAS good technique, adequate experience, applies themselves well, is not overweight (but may have a less-than-ideal physique for the prince or the ballerina), BUT is not readily believable in the role, because they are hampered by what nature has given them.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P>Grace, can you please clarify the "not overweight" but "less-than-deal physique for the prince or the ballerina"?<P>We all try to encourage people of all shapes and sizes and colors and types to dance, but are there only certain roles available to them?


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 Post subject: Re: Reviews: How to say what you can't!
PostPosted: Mon Nov 27, 2000 1:44 am 
I can't answer for Grace. In my opinion, I don't think an overweight danseur can dance the princely roles, his line would be all wrong and hence he would lack any credibility on stage. And similarly I would expect a classical ballerina to be fine-boned.


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 Post subject: Re: Reviews: How to say what you can't!
PostPosted: Mon Nov 27, 2000 2:18 am 
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<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><I>I am purposely making this a separate post. As you probably know, poorly lit ballet is a real "thing" with me. I just get so tired of the men in black costumes/tights - against a dark backdrop - they just disappear.</I><HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P>While there are certainly things a lighting designer can do to alleviate this (given that s/he has enough equipment and time), this is primarily a set design/costume design problem; the easiest way to solve it is never to create the problem in the first place. . .which, I guess, makes it a problem of artistic direction.<P>

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 Post subject: Re: Reviews: How to say what you can't!
PostPosted: Mon Nov 27, 2000 2:26 am 
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At this point, everyone who is seriously interested in the ethics of criticism should run out to the nearest good used book store and buy a copy of William Goldman's <I>The Season</I> and read the chapter called "The Approvers".<P>Actually, you should read read the entire book, in which Goldman took the 1967 Broadway season and used it as metaphor for the American (but people from other lands will find it interesting, too, I think) commercial theatre. It's brilliant, as are most things Mr. Goldman writes.<P>His comments about our Mr. Barnes might not meet Grace's criteria, though.<BR>

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 Post subject: Re: Reviews: How to say what you can't!
PostPosted: Mon Nov 27, 2000 2:49 am 
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your book sounds very interesting, jeff. i'll keep an eye out for it. (& i'm not a big fan of mr. barnes!)<P>priscilla, i believe basheva introduced the concept of the obese opera singer, so i responded: lets imagine our hypothetical dancer is NOT 'overweight'. whether or not there is such a thing as 'an overweight dancer' might be a subject for another thread, but for my purposes here, having specified that we are talking about the archetypal prince or ballerina role in a classical ballet, the answer is yes, bodily aesthetics DO matter. ballet is an aesthetic visual art form.<P>let's imagine george from seinfeld, as prince seigfried, or as prince florimund/desiré...... ('florimund' meaning 'flower of the world', 'desiré' meaning 'desired one', as an apt aside...). OK, in his case, his age would be agin him too, so lets try ...hmm...this is hard, i can't think of a YOUNG man, in any very very popular internationally known sitcom, who is NOT conceivably a hero type figure....one way or another....<P>how about? that...paleontologist character in 'Friends' - i can't think of his name, but try to imagine him, as, say, Romeo.....his body language would not suit the ardent stereotype (now i have veered onto body language, rather than body size or shape.)<P>another interpretation of your question might be: if the dancer is NOT overweight, in what way are they 'less-than-ideal' in physique? i don't think this is your meaning, but if it is, i meant that there are ways other than weight, that might make bodily attributes unsuited to a particular character's role.<P>let's say we are doing 'cyrano de bergerac', and the lead character has hardly a visible nose at all, and refuses to wear a fake one....(a silly example, but intended to illustrate that characters in a well-known story DO have physical attributes which are essential to the traditional telling of the story).<P>but as i said, the dancer cannot be critiqued for being as god made them. but others might be critiqued for miscasting them....

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 Post subject: Re: Reviews: How to say what you can't!
PostPosted: Mon Nov 27, 2000 4:13 am 
Jeff, do you mean the US critic Clive Barnes?


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 Post subject: Re: Reviews: How to say what you can't!
PostPosted: Mon Nov 27, 2000 4:23 am 
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<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><I>your book sounds very interesting, jeff. i'll keep an eye out for it. (& i'm not a big fan of mr. barnes!)</I><HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P>Remember that Goldman's talking about Barnes as the then-theatre critic of the NY Times. Here's the last paragraph of his section on Barnes:<P>"And what is wrong is that the New York <I>Times</I> has somehow summoned a chauvinistic British ballet lover and given him the right to influence the future of Broadway drama according to his whims. Barnes is forty. Drama critics live a long time."<P>Don't take this out of context; Goldman is being contemptuous of neither ballet nor the British. His point is that American theatre should not be ruled by the ballet aesthetic or by British cultural morés, and he points out that this works both ways.<P>(Azlan, it's not in this message.)

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