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Critics and Comp Tickets #2


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 10 April 1999 - 05:29 PM

I'm just posting this to start a new thread. I'll have more to say later.

Anyone/everyone else, please feel free to jump in.

Alexandra

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 11 April 1999 - 07:36 PM

I wanted to comment on a couple of points Isemene made.

First, I agree wholeheartedly with your point that critics can't be impartial -- and I think a critic's value is often his/her very impartiality, especially if it is openly expressed and based on something substantial. As Leigh says (BAD paraphrase to come), it's our knowledge and opportunity to see a lot of different types of dance that gives us what value we have. But I do think we can be objective, in that our view is an outside one, a view from in front of the footlights. This is the old "Do I tell them that the ballerina sprained her ankle two minutes before the performance?" problem. (Most say no, unless the company has announced it. We want to know such information, though, so we don't make a mean comment about the ballerina's fat left ankle, and we might let the audience know that Miss Hoppledy Hop was not at her best last night.)

I do differ on the freebies/socializing aspect, though. I think we think we can be objective, but the whole point of socializing (from Their point of view) is that we get to know each other as people and, once you've looked someone in the eye, it's darned hard to say that his ballets, his choice of dancers, his very view of art, is a carbunkle on the soul of humanity. Worse, when we hear a rumor that so-and-so is quitting because the director slugged her in class, we don't investigate. Instead, we think, "Not Sir Tim. Why he's invited me into his home and his wife makes such great hamburgers. He could never do something so mean." It's not that we want that next free lunch that shuts us up. It's that we have "bought" their public image so thoroughly that we've been corrupted. We are no longer objective. We match what we hear/read against our image of the person, and are quite certain that someone who sends out such lovely Christmas cards must have a good reason to mount a full season of Gerald Arpino revivals.

Yes, we do go to a party, write a thank you note, and come home and laugh at the hostess behind her back, but we don't usually write it up in the local newspaper. (Unless you're Sally Quinn in the Washington Post, who has made quite a career of doing just that.)

The junkets problem also includes the fact that often the mere coverage of some far away event is already disturbing the balance of nature. "Who would have thought that the desolate Appalachina Ozarks would shelter a first-rate international classical company?" screams a headline in a glossy dance magazine. Who indeed. Reading that, one might think that Critic actually stumbled on this wonderful little jewel box of a company while on his summer Hike the Trail holiday, never dreaming that the company had been pestering him for months with press releases and invitations for an all-expense paid Week in the Ozarks for a festival of Ozarkian dance. (With apologies to any Ozarkian classicists who may read this.)

I think that "did I have a good time?" is a fair test, realizing, of course, that a critic's idea of a good time is often different from that of a normal person. I have great sympathy for the person who staggers starry-eyed out of a ballet, having genuinely experienced something wondrous, only to read in the paper the next day that so-and-so was No Nijinsky, that the decor was tacky, that the production was not "authentic," that there was not enough mime, or too much mime. That has nothing to do with most people's experience.

And yet, and yet....

Sometimes people may be having a wonderful time at a show, and Critic is dusting off the old tranquilizer dart gun. We are both right. It is wonderful, and it is a Crime against Art.

That is far from the "are free tickets unethical" question that started this thread. Sorry.

Alexandra

#3 salzberg

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Posted 11 April 1999 - 08:21 PM

The Houston Chronicle once started letting one of their Assistant Editors review small modern concerts. She was knowledgeable about dance, but not always. . .er. . .charitable.

I started introducing her to dancers we'd run into in the lobby during intermission, and she started to view them as real, live, humans; the personal comments vanished from her reviews.

#4 samba38

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Posted 11 April 1999 - 11:48 PM

Last month I went to a joyful birthday party for one of my dearest friends who happens to be the Miami dance critic who introduced me and my entire family to Ballet. Edward Villella -- who was once so peeved at this gal he refused to speak to her for two years -- made a wonderful toast at the party. He reminded us all that there would never have been a Miami City Ballet if this critic had not sternly, lovingly, comprehensively covered dance in Miami. "I'm too arogant to try to start a company in a place where there was no one intelligent to notice," he said. (And no one argued with him on that!) A great critic is essential to building great audiences. She/he teaches readers how to recognize the good, the bad and the ugly and -- best of all -- how to form their own opinion so they could freely disagree. And yes, I sat in many free seats beside this critic. Integrity can be compromised by palsy-walsy relationships but if that critic had no integrity, the employer and the readers would soon learn that anyway.

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 12 April 1999 - 12:40 AM

Wow, I can agree with everybody tonight!

Salzberg, I didn't mean that a critic shouldn't realize that the people she writes about are people, but that there should be a balance. I think your lobby introductions were probably a good thing. Too many critics (encouraged by their editors) like to write something witty. A man who was writing for the old Washington Star when I first got into ballet wrote something that taught me not to be clever. He wrote, of a man dancing in Spectre de la Rose: "he looked like a rose and dansed like a pansy." I decided it would be just fine if I didn't show how "clever" I was at someone's expense. (That said, no matter what you write, the dancer will think it's a bad review. Except for Olivier, of course, who's much too intelligent for that! Posted Image Olivier)

My own personal rule is never write anything that would make it impossible for you to ride up in an elevator with the person the next day; in essence, don't write what you couldn't say to someone's face.

Samba, I agree that critics have a role in educating an audience; I know that sounds preachy, but I mean it in a good way. It means respecting the intelligence of the audience and not telling them that their brand new company is the equal of POB, or the Kirov, etc. And I think dancers know (and artistic directors should know) when they have not given the performance they wanted to give and have no respect for a critic who writes that they do.

I'm not sure that it's always evidence to readers when a critic has been "bought," though (and I don't mean to accuse anyone of taking bribes). I don't think most readers read criticism as closely as we'd like to think they do. At least from reading this group and other message boards, it's more like, "Well, Smedley Smurf certainly agreed with me and said the company had never looked better."

Alexandra

[This message has been edited by alexandra (edited April 12, 1999).]

#6 salzberg

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Posted 12 April 1999 - 06:32 AM

The inestimable Alexandra said: "Salzberg, I didn't mean that a critic shouldn't realize that the people she writes about are people, but that there should be a balance."

Oh, I know you didn't; you just sort of got me thinking on tangential lines.

She also said: "Too many critics (encouraged by their editors) like to write something witty."

Dorothy Parker once condemned a Katherine Hepburn performance with, "She ran the gamut of emotions from 'A' to 'B'."

Jeff Salzberg

#7 Guest_Barb_*

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Posted 15 April 1999 - 12:22 AM

I worry less about the impartiality of a critic who may be provided comp tickets by a company but still provides a fair assessment of the performance in question then I do about a critic who's assessment of a performance is based solely on a comparison of some other company's past performance...or even for that matter a comparison of some other performer's performance.

To the best of my knowledge, the papers here pay for the tickets for their critics; but admittedly we are not dealing with nightly events...more likely weekly or bi-weekly at best during busy times.

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 15 April 1999 - 09:00 AM

Barb, very interesting answer. As a critic, I'm constantly comparing. If I see a new production of "Giselle," I'm constantly (almost subconsciously) comparing what I'm seeing to "snapshots" in my mind of past performances. To me, it's of crucial importance whether Ms. "New World's Greatest Giselle" is like Fracci, or Makarova, or something else -- or is, in fact, not a World's Greatest at all, etc.

For you, it seems it wouldn't matter -- if I'm reading you right.

So could I ask, what would you want from a review of a ballet with a past (Of course, the review of a premiere would be of the thing in itself, primarily, although possibly with "looks like" references to other works)? Would you want someone to review a new production of "Giselle" or a new cast as though no other production or dancers had preceded it? (I'm genuinely curious; I don't mean this as a "challenge.")

Alexandra

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Posted 15 April 1999 - 03:39 PM

It's more to say that- why is it needed? First of all, A) who determines who the best ever, be all and end all Giselle production was, and B) who was the best ever, only one who counts, all others are compared to it, portrayal of Giselle? I would expect that everyone may have slightly different ideas as to who holds those titles. If you think Betsy Bloomer was the best ever Giselle, but the night I saw her she was drunk, or Big Ballet Company has the best production but when I saw it, the dancers were on strike and students filled in, I would probably have a different opinion. (And I realize that both examples are unlikely and over-emphasized to make the point.)

But now here is a review comparing Grande Ballet Company's new version to Big Ballet Company's version, and quite frankly, there will be no enlightening info for me as to Grande Ballet's version, since it will be compared to THE Big Ballet version. And Patti Plie's interpretation is only compared to Betsy Bloomer, and it doesn't hold up. Now, for me, why would I go see someone who was worse then the drunken and belching mad scene that I saw? I would rather know that Patti Plie did or did not ring true for the reviewer, that her extension was lovely, or her feet not so pretty, or the corp was energized but maybe had a few more canons going then originally choreographed, or they were sleeping.

Now, I readily agree that a critic can only make such pronouncements if they have seen a great deal of ballet to even begin todescribe these things. But I think the point is to review the performance at hand, and not the glories or failures of other times or cities.

Barb

#10 Alexandra

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Posted 15 April 1999 - 06:46 PM

Thanks, Barb. I totally agree with your summary, quoted below:

"Now, I readily agree that a critic can only make such pronouncements if they have seen a great deal of ballet to even begin todescribe these things. But I think the point is to review the performance at hand, and not the glories or failures of other times or cities."

I do think the critic should review the performance at hand and not write about someone they're not seeing, but my bias -- and it is definitely a bias -- is to see/review every performance within a context, not just the thing in itself. Problem is, Betsy Bloomer may look just great if you've never seen -- Ulanova, Fracci, etc. (And I hasten to add that I think critics should understand what level of company they're watching. I often wish companies were organized the way college sports were, by size/money: Class A, B, C, etc. Then you could write "Great performance!" of a "Class C" company, and not have Mr. and Mrs. First Time TicketBuyer thinking they were going to get Le Grand Ballet Sublime (my over-the-top name for the world's greatest ballet company, whatever that is).

What if no one in Betsy's audience (including Betsy and her coach/director) have seen a great "Giselle?" The critic tries to explain what separates this performance -- be it heaviness in the dancing or heartlessness in the acting -- from a great one.

I also agree that if you think the greatest Giselle is Makarova and I think it's Platel -- or Fonteyn, a very different Giselle, we'll be talking at cross-purposes. But if you know that I'm comparing Betsy B to Fonteyn and she wasn't your ideal at all, then you'll at least have an idea of where my mind is -- and whether you agree with it.

I guess I also should say that I can't imagine writing, "Little Miss Betsy Bloomer is certainly no Ulanova, but she sure was sprightly in the first act pas de deux," either. It's not fair to compare that way (I think). No one is expecting Ulanova. (But if she IS like Ulanova, or whatever, probably no one minds if the reviewer writes, "Not since Ulanova have we seen such a convincing mad scene," or whatever.

I'm not sure if we're in agreement, or disagreeing. Is that still too comparative for you? (If anyone responds, please start another thread, maybe Critics/Comps/Objectivity #3.)

Thanks,

Alexandra


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