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 Post subject: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Fri Nov 17, 2000 9:41 am 
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Belinda asked this in another thread:<P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>Hi all,<BR>I was particularly interested in Grace's comments on "well informed" critics. Even seeing 3 to 4 performances per year, it would take at least a decade to cover enough bases to really be able to compare and contrast companies, choreographers, and dancers. Should dance critics writing for major publications be at least 30 years of age then? And if so, how are we to nurture a new generation of "well informed" critics? Would it be admirable for them to voluntarily bypass big breaks in order to continue cutting their teeth?<P>A comparison with University professors comes to mind. An English prof, for example, is highly prized for his deep, specialized knowledge--the kind of background that can only be acquired thorugh dedication and years of reading. And so his or her specialized knowledge becomes ever more treasured over time. And yet Universities have to keep hiring young professors. Should young professors then only be hired or accept positions with less prestigious institutions, in order to buy more time to build up their knowledge? Or is there something to be gained by letting young, relatively unknowledgable scholars enter the critical fray with established ones?<P>Perhaps this analogy really isn't helpful.<P>I'm especially interested to hear individual opinions on this.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>


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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Fri Nov 17, 2000 9:43 am 
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And here was my response:<P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>Oy, Belinda, that's a loaded question. I think I'll let the professional dance writers among us respond first before I give it a go.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P>I guess our professional dance writers are too shy to answer this question? I count at least seven among our membership. Well, folks?


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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Fri Nov 17, 2000 10:10 am 
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I'm not terribly impressed by critics of any sort because the process is very subjective. I remember sitting near Octavio Roca of the SF Chronicle and Allan Ullrich of the SF Examiner at an SFB performance of Giselle, and their reactions were so different that one might have thought they were watching two different performances. <P>Differences of opinion aside, I believe that professional critics should have some professional qualifications in a subject if their opinion on that subject is to be credible. An experienced, professional dancer or someone educated in dance and choreography, for example, is qualified (but that's only my opinion). <P>Belinda's comparison with academia raises the question of knowing the background of reviwers. College teachers usually join a faculty, after getting their Ph.D., as Assistant Professors. As they become more experienced and have more published writings they are advanced to Associate Professors. Eventually, as they distinguish themselves academically they may become tenured "full" Professors. Their academic pedigree is known and published in their college catalogue. Review readers seldom know the credentials of critics. <P>Whenever the subject of critics comes up, I'm reminded of a true story I was told by an acquaintance. Friends of his, a married couple, fulfilled their dream of opening a restaurant in Boston, which was soon reviewed by the restaurant critic of the Boston Globe. The review was so terrible that the wife cried. Shortly afterward they noticed that their business had picked up. Curious, they began to ask customers how they'd heard of the restaurant. The answer they often got was that the customers had read the review, but since they always disagreed with that reviewer, they expected the restaurant would be good.<P>Maybe magazines and newspapers should publish the qualifications of their reviewers. I think readers deserve to know.<BR>

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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Fri Nov 17, 2000 11:10 am 
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I think that a critic needs to have a basic knowledge of the subject at hand. I wouldn't want someone who has never seen a ballet or has no knowledge of its canons or history to appear to write authoritatively. Just as I would never presume to write anything on Modern Dance. <P>So, aside from knowledge of the subject at hand - the critic must also have the ability to form ideas and communicate them to others. This would seem, on the face of it. to be rather a "given". But, I have seen many critiques which after I have finished reading them I have no idea what the critic was trying to say.<P>Any critique is afterall only a snapshot in time - of a single performance - and invariably subjective. <P>I do think, however, that a critic who follows the career closely of a dancer or a company can comment with clarity and authority, to a degree, on where that dancer or company seems to be heading. For instance if the critic has observed a particular ballerina dance many Giselles, then that critic can voice an opinion on the depth, growth - or lack thereof - that the artist brings to the role. <BR> <BR>For instance, I saw an ABT production of Romeo and Juliet and the role of Romeo was ably danced - but the characterization was undeveloped. I happened to know, just by chance, that this was the first time this dancer had ever danced this role. So, of course, I would not expect a fully fleshed out characterization. However, if I had not known that fact, and was writing a critique, I might have said "this dancer failed to give life to Romeo". <P>And, I have to say here that I have read of several instances in which the critic (some VERY notable ones, too) wrote a critique when they had not even seen the performance.<P>As a member of the audience, I like to make my own decisions - but a knowledgeable critic can bring certain nuances to my attention, and that is certainly a plus.


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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Fri Nov 17, 2000 6:33 pm 
I think that generally a potential critic needs to have at least 5 years of thorough dance-going experience before writing any criticism. Probably I should qualify this statement with regard to the geographical location. 5 years would apply to someone living in the important ballet capitals like New York, London, Paris etc. In Hong Kong for instance, due to the lack of variety in the dance performances on offer, one would probably still see less in 5 years than what a dance-goer would see in London in 2 years! So it would take longer to assimilate the styles and characteristics of the various schools.<P>I don't think it is crucial that a critic needs to have had some dancing experience, though it of course helps. On some occasions I find that dancers concentrate too much on the technique of individual performers when they see a performance, and hence miss out on the overall picture on stage.<P>Far more important is a knowledge in dance history, which can be gained simply by reading.<P><p>[This message has been edited by Kevin Ng (edited November 18, 2000).]


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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Fri Nov 17, 2000 9:42 pm 
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Well, here is my two cents' worth, whether you're ready or not...<P>Firstly, I think dance criticism falls generally into three categories, each one aimed at a different audience and requiring different qualifications.<P><BR><B>Category 1 -- The Critique</B><P>A full blown technical criticism by a writer well-schooled technically and academically/historically in the subject matter, where every technical nuance is dissected and analyzed. This type of criticism works only for readers who understand or even care about such detailed aspects of dance.<P><BR><B>Category 2 -- The Impression</B><P>A subjective expression that articulates one's feelings and interpretation of a performance by a writer who understands enough of what he sees to convey his impression of the work. In my opinion, this is a legitimate form of criticism as it is usually much closer to the pulse of the dance-going audience. My analogy would be that of a travel essay: would you prefer an essay of an exotic faraway place by a good writer or one by your geography professor?<P><BR><B>Category 3 -- The Review</B><P>The middle ground between a critique and an impression: an articulate and engaging description of the performance in context of other performances by a writer who can relate to readers the relative merit of the various aspects of the work, including choreography, dance ability, design, etc. This requires a writer who has seen and understands enough about dance to make informed judgements about a work.<P><BR>I believe the bulk of newspaper reviews fall in between Categories 2 and 3. I think most start at 2 and then over time get closer to 3. Heaven forbid if they eventually become so knowledgeable that they start doing technical critiques (Category 1); that would certainly turn off the general dance-going public. However, I also think that technical critiques still have a place in specific circles, including journals targeted at the academia or the dance community.<P>So, to make a long story short, I'll answer Belinda's question now by saying that I don't think a newspaper dance critic (have to qualify that) needs to have a whole lot of experience to convey the essence of the work. Frankly, sometimes, that experience can work against the review.<p>[This message has been edited by Azlan (edited November 18, 2000).]


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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Sat Nov 18, 2000 1:27 am 
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A number of fascinating points have been raised. Regarding the qualifications a critic should have - a critic on a newspaper or magazine is likely to be the only writer, or perhaps one of two, and thus they will be the main source of information and comment on dance in an important publication. <P>To take such a role I believe that the key factors are a love of dance, extensive experience of dance (Kevin's 5 years sounds about right), some experience of other art forms and the ability to write in an interesting style. There are a variety of ways to come to this stage which may be as a dancer, a choreographer or academic study, but could also come from informed informal experience as a dance-goer. <P>While I am delighted to have articles from Azlan's category 2 on websites like this one, I do not think they are appropriate for a newspaper or magazine. I want a published reviewer of 'Apollo' to know about Balanchine, NYCB and Les Ballets Russes and to have seen other performances of key works to be able to make comparisons. I would not expect a theatre critic to be seeing 'Hamlet' for the first time. I also expect a newspaper dance reviewer to be able to go to a wide range of dance events where he will not be an expert, but where he can bring his dance experience to bear on a form he may not have seen before. If we didn't have this, then we wouldn't have reviews of African dance etc. when they come to town. <P>An interesting feature today is that websites now provide dance fans with the opportunity to practise the craft of review writing, while extending their knowledge base. There are already a couple of instances that I know of where dance writers have started on the Internet and have moved on to the traditional published media. Here at criticaldance we are bouncing around a few ideas to encourage new writers using the site as a base. <P>To quote an actual example from journalism, I heard a talk from Anne Sacks, the Evening Standard dance critic, about how she got into the business. She was a dance fan, working as a political correspondent for a newspaper when the dance critic was taken ill and she got the job as she was the only one around who had any interest in the art form. She admits that it was much too soon and that she should have had more experience, but to her credit she then used her position as a platform to build her knowledge and has now completed an MA in Dance Studies to give her understanding greater depth. she also pointed out that in the arts criticism dance hierarchy, danc eis at the bottom with Jazz.<P><BR><p>[This message has been edited by Stuart Sweeney (edited November 18, 2000).]


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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Sat Nov 18, 2000 6:42 am 
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Well, now I am feeling intimidated. I have no degree in dance studies. I do not live in a major dance center. <P>As for critiquing another genre of dance - other than ballet - I don't think that my knowledge of the ballet could be brought to bear. I could judge staging - and the level of ability of the dancers. But for me to try to ctique modern dance would be presumptuous.<P>And after all is said and done the writer needs good communication skills. All the knowledge is of no use if the writer cannot take the reader along for the trip.


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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Sat Nov 18, 2000 7:37 am 
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Basheva, after some thought, I've taken out the 'major dance centre' from my post, as with video and visits to see dance elsewhere there are now more opportunities to acquire an exposure to dance.<P>As I said in my post there are a variety of routes to being a dance critic/writer and the experience of being a dancer is certainly one, perhaps the best one. Your technical knowledge of ballet, your experience of doing it and seeing others do it are an advantage that non-dancers like me will never have. <P>Regarding the possibility of you reviewing modern and other dance styles, I would be perfectly happy to read what you had to say about these. For styles other than ballet, you may not be able to give a technical analysis, as described in Azlan's category 1, but category 3 is perfectly accceptable. For example, as far as I know, none of the London dance critics have your detailed knowledge of ballet technique, but I am happy to read what most of them have to say about the art form.<P>For more specialised forms of dance like Flamenco, if general dance critics didn't write about them, then no one else will. Few papers will be interested in keeping a specialist on the books for each style. When Donald Hutera reviews Flamenco I know that he has seen 20 or so shows and probably has little more technical knowledge than I do, but that's OK for me as I trust his dance nose. <P>When he sees dance from, say, Senegal he may never have seen the style before and only has the knowledge that the press pack gives, but I am interested in his reaction to the dance, the quality and variety of the movement.<P>In some ways, non-dancer writers like me have an advantage over you in that we do not realise how ignorant we are about the styles we review. If anything it's we who should feel intimidated, as even when you are watching a style other than ballet I bet your memory of the movement is much sharper than mine.<P>I agree entirely with your comment about the need for good communication skills and that's something you have in spades.<p>[This message has been edited by Stuart Sweeney (edited November 18, 2000).]


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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Sat Nov 18, 2000 8:03 am 
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My personal opinion is that (for dance critics), age is not all that important. <BR>A single individual can attain volumes of knowledge and information by the age of 30 if they were brought up in the dance world. Especially if they are from major cultural centers and are exposed to a variety of dance companies and styles from around the world. The right person will have a well-rounded background in music, technique, stage production, costume design, choreography, direction and politics. But just like wine, critics only get better with age ...


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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Sat Nov 18, 2000 9:11 am 
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cygnet,<P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>But just like wine, critics only get better with age<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P>ideally, a city should have two papers. an established paper with an experienced critic. and a second paper with a young critic for young fans. a young audience requires a young writer that shares their passion. as the writer grows in experience, the young fans grow along<BR>


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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Sat Nov 18, 2000 12:16 pm 
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Cronos, I think you're on to something here. Maybe what you're referring to is passion and excitement. These are things that appeal to a younger audience.<P>I have seen some of the best reviews written by young, passionate writers. Through watching, interviewing and writing about dance, these passionate writers can become more knowledgeable about the generalities of dance than the dancers themselves.


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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Sat Nov 18, 2000 1:00 pm 
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I’ve just joined this thread and I find it immensely interesting. It poses questions that I have been asking myself for years. When I was dancing I found it amazing how critics’ opinions could differ, while I was choreographing I wondered with what criteria critics judge the work of fledgling choreographers and now that I’m writing I must ask myself: “Am I qualified to pass judgment here?” <P>One well-established New York critic told me recently (while I was her intern) that artists aren’t qualified to write; rather, critics should be qualified journalists. Consequently, I write about dance, a lot in fact, but I write very few critiques. (Yes, I let her discourage me.) I’ve lived in Sydney, Germany (near Frankfurt), and New York and have seen at least 5 years worth of dance, but like some of you, I still ask the questions: “What is expected from a critique and can I be one?”<P>My real opinion, all insecurities aside, is that a critic should be someone who knows about the history of dance or at least be conscious of landmarks in time and know something about important initiators. He or she should understand enough about the art form and the lifestyle of the artists to be able to place a performance in to context, i.e.: what stage of development is the choreographer/artist in and what mark does he/she hope to leave on audiences? And the critic should, of course, be able to write an interesting piece of text. The critic should know who his/her readers are and be able to write for them. For instance: are they members of the dance community to a large degree (i.e. for dance periodicals)? Or are they “the general public”. Also, which age groups do the majority of readers fall in to?<P>When I read the critiques in the New York Times of say, New York City Ballet, I was frustrated by the fact that the writer new so much more than I did about the dancers and the company’s past, that I couldn’t relate to what he/she was saying. Telling me how a specific dancer has progressed over the last five years and how the latest rendition of a Balanchine piece compared to past showings, only made me feel like an outsider. I belonged to the “dance community” who saw as many shows per week as possible, sometimes 5, to learn more about international dance and even I couldn’t pick up the newspaper and relate to what was said about a recent production. So what would the average reader, who goes to the ballet once a month or less feel like when reading such a critique? A dense buffoon!<P>So, I guess a good critic should be able to write for everyone, yet have enough knowledge that readers can respect his or her opinion. <BR><P>------------------<BR>[This message has been edited by Jennifer]<BR>

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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Sat Nov 18, 2000 3:53 pm 
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And there was this post by Babs in the White Oak Thread:<P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>In Pittsburgh, you couldn't throw a stick without hitting someone from the press. Someone asked me if I was afraid of a bad review, to which my response was, "What review?! Everyone is onstage!"<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P><BR> Image


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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Sat Nov 18, 2000 4:50 pm 
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Hi Jen!<BR>I'm with you, this is a very interesting topic.<BR>Having just attended a forum at the Sydney Opera House, "The Critic as Advocate", hosted by Ausdance, my mind is working overtime on this subject. Apart from many excellent points raised by the distinguished panel and participants - one thing strikes me as being of great importance.<BR>For the first time in the history of dance criticism a great number of former dancers and choreographers - people who have come through the performance and production side of the art form, are taking up the pen.<BR>I believe this will and is causing a fundamental shift in the nature of dance criticism. With the advent of publications such as Dance Europe, where it is compulsory for the writers to have had first hand experience in the art (with rare exceptions - S.S.!) And is a very healthy development. I disagree with Stuart's remark that a non-dancer can possess an advantage. This was brought home to me during the forum when one non-dancer critic made an idealistic comment on the day to day situation of life in a dance company, it brought guffaws from all people hwo had actually experienced it! I believe there still exists a huge divide between the general dance public's perception and the real situation on the ground; albeit one we have encouraged in the past.


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