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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Wed Dec 20, 2000 11:22 am 
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Joined: Tue Nov 02, 1999 12:01 am
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Location: Seattle, WA USA
cdtooth--thanks so much for your honesty and intellectual insights in terms of dance criticism! Question for you--since it sounds like you're still involved in the field of performance as a partipant...what would you do if you were asked to review a concert of a choreographer you were friends, colleagues, or acquaintances with? This question has come up repeatedly in this thread, as you might have read!


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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Wed Dec 20, 2000 11:32 am 
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Location: neworleans, louisiana
Hi all. I am new to this site and intrigued by this topic as I am a former newspaper journalist and professional dancer/teacher. I had a major in Inter-Arts (music/dance) and a minor in English, and am the daughter of a professional writer, so that's my educational background. Professionally, I performed in college and afterwards for a time, and then shifted, at 24, into a writing career as newspaper reporter and editor, magazine writer, business show writer/interviewer (cable tv), ad writer and producer, and writer for a forensic psychologist (whew). Throughout that time, I took class when good classes were available and as my schedule allowed. Then, at 38, I decided to have a "last hurrah," so I retrained seriously, got into a more flexible day job (paralegal)and joined a multi-faceted ethnic dance company, opting for a somewhat different status from the other dancers who did daytime lecture dems throughout the school system for the better part of the year and numerous local shows. Instead, by mutual agreement,I kept the same rehearsal schedule, but kept my performing to several major shows a year and an annual overseas tour (being single, I needed, at this point in my life, to preserve some financial stability through my 'bread and butter' job -- that's a topic in itself -- what kind of factors dancers take into consideration when deciding how much of a role, realistically, dance can play in their lives). I also taught ballet, did some movie work (my city does lots of films), some theater work. Now that you know a bit of my background, here's some of the inside dope on critics. As a reporter, I moved up, through time, to larger papers. As you do that, you wear fewer hats and become more specialized. As I was getting a toehold as a stringer on a very large Midwestern newspaper, the dance critic's position became available. The position was filled with a general reporter (male) who was already working on the paper. Several reporters told me back then that's how it works -- papers fill in the slots with reporters already on staff. The reviews I read were truly sophmoric; it was clear that this reporter didn't even have a grasp of the requisite nomenclature to handle this position. I would find it hard to believe that this was the only paper where this kind of nonsense occurred. Remember, the powers at the top aren't familiar with dance, and many probably don't think it's even important enough to make a prior familiarity a requirement. On a lighter note, while working as a feature writer on a paper shortly before that, I was assigned to audition as a hoofer for the most prestigious community theater in the state, and write a series about my experiences from the time of audition to opening night. What a delight to combine my two loves for a memorable six weeks. I also thought you all might get a kick out of another dance "link" to journalism. About a dozen years ago, I took a several year odyssey throughout the U.S., to write as I felt, while taking a variety of jobs (and, of course, always taking class -- my "nationality"). While I was taking class at the Ballet Center in D.C., one of the teachers also worked for "America's Most Wanted" (filmed in Chevy Chase, MD) and asked the class if anyone wanted to work as an extra on the show. That's how a number of "hoofers" ended up being the ones you might have seen pass John Walsh a special message or tip on the air. When they say "never mess with a dancer," they aren't kidding. And now, as Paul Harvey would say, you have "the rest of the story." It's a pleasure to join your board, and happy, healthy holidays to all!!!


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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Wed Dec 20, 2000 11:49 am 
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Location: SF Bay Area
Welcome, Christina. One of your comments caught my eye:<P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>Remember, the powers at the top aren't familiar with dance, and many probably don't think it's even important enough to make a prior familiarity a requirement.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P>A dance critic mentioned to me that papers include dance reviews probably more for credibility. She also asked, "Who reads dance reviews?"<P>Hmm, sounds like a topic for a new discussion:<P><A HREF="http://www.criticaldance.com/ubb/Forum3/HTML/000172.html" TARGET=_blank>Who Reads Dance Reviews?</A>


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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Wed Dec 20, 2000 12:29 pm 
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Joined: Fri Dec 15, 2000 12:01 am
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Location: neworleans, louisiana
Your question/new topic "Who Reads Dance Reviews" brought back memories of my very first newspaper job (back when the friendly clickety click of manual typewriters filled the newsroom), and more particularly, of our weekly critique sessions in which I learned SO MUCH from a country editor/publisher. The rule I learned in my infancy was that we did NOT write about performances after the fact. Simply put, that was not considered news. Now, if a performer suffered a heart attack in the middle of a jete and was treated by the local doc in Lake Wobegon, THAT could be written up. I'm speaking, of course, from the aspect of a smaller newspaper, but even papers much larger than that one would not consider printing a review of a performance. Generally, they'll whittle down the standard news release and print the basic info beforehand. They leave those reviews to the much larger dailies. Even then, and I don't think times have changed that much in this regard, most dailies will confine their reviews to how a LOCAL company performed LOCALLY. The Detroit Free Press, for example, is not likely to write up how ABT fared in the Motor City. Again, if Sally So-and-So from Grosse Pointe gets into the national touring company of Phantom, then there will be a feature on girl makes big, etc. So, getting back to who reads the reviews -- mostly the people associated with the performance and their families, as well as students, some balletomanes, etc., and perhaps the corporate sponsors as well.


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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Wed Dec 20, 2000 12:50 pm 
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Joined: Mon Oct 02, 2000 11:01 pm
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Location: San Diego, California, USA
Welcome CDTooth and Christina - good to have your expertise onboard - or on board. <P>Though San Diego is the 6th largest city in the USA, there is very little major dance here, either local or touring. When a major company comes here, what I find lacking in the reviewing is the "eye of comparison". The critic is either overwhelmed by a big name star or company, or is ego tempted to condemn the entity involved. <P>In my opinion, a reviewer needs to either have, at least, a depth of knowledge (years of study) or a width of knowledge (many different companies/dancers which to compare)and, of course, ideally both.<P>


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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Wed Dec 20, 2000 1:11 pm 
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Joined: Fri Dec 15, 2000 12:01 am
Posts: 498
Location: neworleans, louisiana
Thanks for the welcome, Basheva. I feel that I already know you somewhat, as we both began posting around the same time on Rosetta's site. You might know me there by the other hat I wear as "Miss Chrissy." No matter how old my students were, they always preferred to call me by the same name they knew me by when they were wee ones -- hence, the nursery school-like name. However, on this site, I think I'd like to achieve some semblance of sophistication -- ahem ...<BR>I must tell you I thought I was pretty well schooled, but I was very surprised to learn that San Diego is 6th largest city in US -- Let's see, NY, LA, Chi-town, Miami (?), Philly. Have I got it? Anyway,it's a pleasure to become formally acquainted. Back to "who reads" -- the most valuable critiques I've read are the ones published in the "trades" -- e.g., Dancemagazine, Dancer. I'm wondering if any of you are familiar with a jewel of a lady named Ann Barzel, whom I met years ago in Chicago (around the time Danny Duell took over Chicago Ballet from Maria Tallchief), who did review locally but contributed quite often to Dancemagazine, and was considered something of an icon in this regard for decades. I don't know if she has passed, but she seemed very dear -- kind of like that lady from the press who has been covering presidential press conferences since at least the time of JFK. Would that all reviewers be of this incredible caliber.


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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Wed Dec 20, 2000 8:21 pm 
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Location: Australia
interesting new input! Image i like basheva's post. and i like this (never heard it before):<P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>"Dotcom criticism"<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P> Image<P>

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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Thu Dec 21, 2000 8:55 am 
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Posts: 26
Location: New York, NY USA
Trina: <P>An old chorus gypsy once told me, "There are only 100 people in the world, kid. And 95 of them are in show business." So it seems harder and harder to review a concert in which I don’t know someone to some small extent … NYC becomes a village when looking at the incestuous downtown dance scene … even if it’s just that I met them at a party or stood next to them in class or went to the same school. And as I said in my post, now with the Internet, choreographers and I begin to develop email relationships that complicate things … do these count as "friendships"?<P>The furthest example of this is that I once "reviewed" a concert by two of my best friends, for which I ran the lights. But outed myself in the first paragraph, explaining the situation. Also, it was a homegrown sort of periodical. I’m sure that would never work at the New York Times.<P>Last weekend, I danced in a concert that was reviewed by Jack Anderson in the Times. Deborah Jowitt was there also and hopefully her review will appear in next week’s Voice … I’ve met both of them and belong to the same professional associations … I don’t think that disqualifies them from evaluating my performance, but I wonder if I’d feel they should disqualify themselves from reviewing my own choreography? I think not. Certainly a friendship should disqualify someone from sitting on a curatorial committee awarding money or performance opportunities, but at what point does a professional acquaintanceship become friendship?<BR>


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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Thu Dec 21, 2000 9:16 am 
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Joined: Tue Nov 02, 1999 12:01 am
Posts: 2708
Location: Seattle, WA USA
cdtooth and cristina, thanks for all your personal histories and insights. You bring up many cogent points and points of view. I need time to mull over them all!! Thanks again!


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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Thu Dec 21, 2000 1:17 pm 
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Joined: Fri Dec 15, 2000 12:01 am
Posts: 498
Location: neworleans, louisiana
Hope you don't mind a little more to "mull over" but I've had some recollections along this line in the last day which I'd like to share before I forever hold my peace (for the holidays). <P>1. Those of you who did university dance majors may relate to the fact that my first introduction to criticism was in critiquing each other's work in comp class. In one particular class, we had to write down our impressions and then each of us received an envelope of "strips" of paper containing each class member's thoughts. I remember the best and the worst, but nothing in between. One classmate wrote, "I never got the impression you cared about the rest of us." THUD! I later learned she was angry because I was dating her best friend's former boyfriend, but this is sort of a precursor to the way a performer may, in a much larger venue, have incited ill will having nothing to do with her performance, and never be the wiser. The positive comment I received was "You've got so many great ideas -- only, don't try to include them all in one piece." I realized that this classmate was absolutely correct and appreciated the CONSTRUCTIVENESS of this. Wouldn't it be great if all professional reviewers could actually provide such insight?<P>2. Flash ahead a few years. I'm a mezzo soprano with a comic opera company which does a lot of Gilbert & Sullivan. So, I'm also dancing and choreographing. City is big enough to have a.m. and p.m. papers. A.M. paper says "Christina has done a good job with the second act ballet." P.M. paper says "some very out of place charleston steps." Only thing is, I never remember choreographing anything resembling a charleston. One dancer, with a background as an "eyes and teeth" entertainer, however, had adapted the choreography to his comfort. Lesson No. 2: Choreographers can't always control how their work is performed. Recently heard another take on this point: dancer recently told choreographer in recent performance, "I really put myself into your piece," to which choreographer responded, "I wish you had put more of ME into it." Hmmmmmmmmm.<P>3. Several years ago, shoe was on other foot. I was new to the city and dance community and was asked to review a university program for the local dance council newsletter. Attended the entire concert, which featured one particular piece choreographed by a teacher with plenty of tenure, entitled "Women With Balls." Turned out to be a silly, trite piece with girls smiling until their faces cracked, doing nothing but hopping arabesques while tossing oversized rubber balls to each other. What this teacher apparently tried to pull off as a clever play on words was a poor excuse for a dance program in a university with one of the highest tuitions in the nation. Recalling how much my classmates (not just the teachers) really tried to push the creative envelope with intelligence and technique at Wisconsin, I was insulted by this performance. I termed it "the unbearable lightness of bouncing." BOY OH BOY. I didn't know the politics of the dance community here, or that, apparently some people (this woman was blueblood and had attended nothing but the best that money could buy) were considered immune from any criticism, no matter what anyone really thought of their work. I said, "forget it" after that episode. It's not worth it. Now, when anyone asks me what I think about something I really don't think much of, I'll say something vague like "she's always so beautifully groomed on stage."<P>4. One of my oldest dance friends showed me some film of choreography she had recently done for annual student performance at School of Milwaukee Ballet. She was venturing into modern and really wanted to know what I thought. There was one particular piece where the corps was dancing behind the male/female couple, and I said, "Oh Mary, this is really quite good -- could you rewind a bit -- yes, right there, wouldn't it be interesting if when you stage this again to try it with the couple doing everything half time to what the rest of the dancers are doing." She was SO pleased and interested in this comment, which brings me full circle back to the college incident: criticism is best given when it's constructive and, perhaps, when the recipient is genuinely interested in what impressions you have to offer.


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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Thu Dec 21, 2000 1:46 pm 
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Location: San Diego, California, USA
Christina - your comment "criticism is always best when it is constructive" is true of just about everything we do - especially as teachers........<P>When a dance teacher says (or even worse shouts) "that's wrong" - what does the student do with that? Where is does that take the student? <P>But to say .."try it this way".. is a pointer down the road to improvement. <P>There is a great temptation as a critic - or in many other paths of life - to merely shout "that's wrong" because, let's face it - it's a power trip. But in the end a trip that goes nowhere.<P>So we might ask, should the critic upon condemning a certain dance or production then be required not only to say why - but to point to how it might be improved?


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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Thu Dec 21, 2000 5:29 pm 
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Location: Australia
cdtooth and christina - i LOVE your posts! Image<P>especially:<P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>"I really put myself into your piece," to which choreographer responded, "I wish you had put more of ME into it." <HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P>basheva, where i work, one simply cannot say anything is 'wrong'. one has to explain all negatives, much more so than the positives.<P>however, you really can't win. the last time i had to say negative things, a few months back, i knew it was a serious matter, so i devoted a lot of space to explanations (which i also knew the editor would regard as absolutely necessary). the artistic director (who also apparently asked for me to be removed from my position!) wrote back in a 'letter to the editor' a comment to the effect that it was innappropriate to have devoted so much space to the one matter....imagine what he would have thought if i had written negatively of this aspect, WITHOUT the explanation! then i imagine i would have been much more of a target. <P>so - you can't win....and as someone above says, it really ISN'T worth it (doing 'criticism', that is). it's not something i would ever have chosen to do (and, actually, i do find i feel rather suspicious of anyone who WANTS to do it - asking myself 'why would anyone WANT to sit in judgement on another?' - as it can be perceived, and as it can be)....<P>btw, the good news out of that story, was that my editor stood up for me, and in doing so, offered an extremely nice compliment (that i will not repeat here for fear of seeming to 'brag'), but which reassured me of her confidence in my professional judgement, and added to our trusting work relationship. <P>

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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Thu Dec 21, 2000 7:34 pm 
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Location: San Diego, California, USA
I am sure, Grace, that her confidence in you and your professional judgement was well deserved.


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 Post subject: Re: What does it take to be a "well-informed"critic?
PostPosted: Sat Apr 07, 2001 4:07 pm 
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Posts: 17498
Location: SF Bay Area
I hope I'm not starting another round of intense debate (or maybe I am...) but in recent weeks I came across a number of reviews that really make my point about writing style being more effective than experience when it comes to projecting the atmosphere of dance performances. Writing about dance afterall is about not only conveying the physical truths and the intents of a work but also capturing its emotional impact, especially on the audience, without which there would be no performance.<P>Here are two reviews, of the same performance, that illustrate my point:<P>- <A HREF="http://63.78.169.150/style/default.jsp?story=X0222NEDER" TARGET=_blank><B>Nederlands Dans Theater stunning in rare Bay Area show</B></A>;<P>- <A HREF="http://www.eastbayexpress.com/archive/022301/performrevc_022301.html" TARGET=_blank><B>NEDERLANDS DANS THEATER I</B></A>.<P>Thoughts?


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