The role of the critic #whattosay

Several of my colleagues, dancer friends, and I found this article a bit disheartening.  The New York Times indulges its critics in a pre-review play-by-play of who’s who among dancers, choreographers, and companies.  To quote one friend, “it sounds like they’ve decided what they don’t like in advance, which would defeat the purpose of attending performances to critique them.”

Critics are hugely influential, necessary to the field of dance.  What they write encourages/discourages audiences to attend/not attend performances, and, depending on the viewer can heavily sway a work’s reception.  Additionally, their words contribute to the legacy and historical record of the choreographer, company, dancers, and the field at large.  Documentation in dance is primarily driven by individual notation, therefore it begs that those in a place of influence and authority respect the impact their words bear.  That is the concern with the above article — thought and consideration of how their commentary remains with the dance.

I often read reviews before viewing a work.  I try to glean as much context about a piece as possible to be able to have as full a picture of it as I can.  I try to consider a review’s points of contention (critique) to question (not control) my experience interpreting the work.  However, the latest string of reviews have not been useful to me because they seem to lean more towards dismembering (unless, of course, a dance legend such as Makarova is involved) a work than describing it.  I always find Deborah Jowitt’s writing incredibly helpful, because (regardless of whether she commends a work or choreographer) she takes deliberate care to describe the work.  Also, it is hard to take one regular NYT reviewer’s work seriously when she regularly writes glowing, overly generous reviews for her personal dancer friends.

This season of dance criticism doesn’t contribute as fully as I think it could to documenting the actual dancing.  That is the core issue for me, not that every choreographer should receive a pat on the back for their work.  A negative critical review can be:

  • constructive and help a choreographer grow
  • help viewers understand critical aspects of dance-making
  • stimulate dialogue (as opposed to diatribes)

At the end of the day, it easy to think that a dance lives or dies by the critics.  I don’t believe that to be totally true, but I do believe that a work’s “quality of life” is directly connected to its critics; which, is why I find the pre-reviewing of the NYT a bit careless.

P.S. 12/13/12-see Miguel Gutierrez’ thoughts.

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