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Critics/Comps/Objectivity #3

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#1 Dale


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Posted 17 April 1999 - 10:52 PM

Barb and Alexandra brought up a point that I take into consideration when reading a critic -- where that critic is coming from, or their preferences. For instance, if Critic A prefers dramatic ballet, then I take that into account in a review of an abstract ballet. I think this point was brought up in a Tobi Tobias review of Eiffman. She said that that type of ballet wasn't her cup of tea but that the audience, which did appreciate that form, was very moved by the performance. I think that was very fair of her. She allowed the reader to know where she was coming from. She could have just ripped it apart.

I'd also like to add something about objectivity. Because I've been thinking whether getting free tickets would alter a critics review of a ballet. Journalists have codes of ethics, just like other professions. It's up to each writer to govern themselves. If anything, I'm more careful when writing about people I admire or like.

Also, I don't like the idea of papers only covering events for which they pay. Let's say I'm Rich Critic and I can afford to go to everything. Then there is Poor Critic, who can only cover a few things. Or a large paper vs. a smaller paper. That would only allow for one econimic viewpoint on a certain event (in this case a ballet). I don't think we'd be better off.


#2 Guest_Barb_*

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Posted 17 April 1999 - 11:35 PM

Dale brings up a good point. If a paper only covers what it can afford to pay for, your coverage could be limited. Good point.

Now here's one...actual case history: A newspaper from another town calls, requesting video tape of a company (a company soon to be performing in this other city), because they are not familiar with the organization, and want video and information about the work, prior to attending the performance. PR person duly returns call, and sends the requested information. Company arrives in this un-named city, and the morning OF the performance (this is a one night stand type deal) sees to their wondering eyes a REVIEW of the performance to occur that evening; and a bad review, I might add. Now anyone who read this review and still managed to attend the performance, would have seen immediately that the pieces reviewed didn't exactly match the program that evening.

A true story.

#3 Alexandra


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Posted 18 April 1999 - 01:16 AM

Ouch, Barb! That's appalling -- and I believe it happened. Unfortunately, newspapers can dub anyone a "critic." In the Large Metropolitan Area where I reside, a Major Metropolitan Daily, which shall remain nameless, started using writers whose experience was in writing rock music reviews. Not all of them, shall we say, worked out. An editor reportedly suggested getting "one of those guys that does plays for us." Dance gets no respect -- especially, in this case, the local modern dance companies. They think ballet needs some sort of expertise because the steps have French names, but dance in general -- anybody can review it. So think what it must be like in smaller cities.

I hope in the case that you cited, the company involved raised Hell.

There have also been cases when a critic leaves a performance early and trusts that Boris Boriosov and our old friend Betsy Bloomer really did star in Finale. (I've done this; I've seen Finale 9 times. The big news that night was the premiere. There's a deadline. If I make it back to the paper by 10:00, I can get the copy in by 10:45 and it will actually get in the edition that everybody sees.) But what you can't do is write that "Boriosov and Bloomer, the two most boring dancers on the face of the planet, gave us, once again, their slack, insipid, and altogether stupifying "Finale."" Because what happens if Boris stubbed his toe, and two other dancers substituted? And danced magnificently? Someone may notice. (Actually, this happened in a West Coast city, big paper, a few years ago. The company complained; the critic was fired. And should have been.)

Now I've got an ethics question for all of you. What do you think of a ballet company -- an established, though not Huge and Great ballet company -- whose director complains to editors when they don't get a good review and suggests that this critic not be used, or that critic should be used? Fair play? Or over the line. Should the editor hang up the phone, or listen?


#4 salzberg


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Posted 18 April 1999 - 11:34 AM

A critic in a large Texas city which shall remain nameless (about 180 miles from Dallas, on Interstate 10, between New Orleans and San Antonio; has a major ballet company) once reviewed a ballet that wasn't even performed. . .and was *not* fired. Really.

In the case of the editor who is called by an artistic director who's demanding that a certain critic not be used, that editor should hang up the phone. . .and *not* gently.

[This message has been edited by salzberg (edited April 18, 1999).]

#5 Guest_Barb_*

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Posted 18 April 1999 - 07:13 PM

I would hope it would take an artistic director more then one bad review to make such a call. If it was just one bad review, and no other reasons, then hang the phone up.; the guy/gal must be nutso anyway. But if the artistic director is concerned because the work isn't really being reviewed...just trashed, or compared, poorly, to other companies, or there is some other matter going on, I would hope the editor would listen, and then deal with it, or not as he/she saw fit. I do think that some critics are a little too full of themselves. Just as I think some critics have made it their mission to educate and comment. As everywhere, it takes all sorts make the world go round and keep it interesting.

#6 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 18 April 1999 - 07:25 PM

I think a circumstance where the editor needs to listen is when the director alleges a conflict of interest. I recall a situation where a company was reviewed in the only paper in town by the manager of the rival dance school, who expressed with some regret how much he "wanted to like this performance" and then proceeded to trash it.

Reading this makes me recall how different the situation is in smaller cities and towns, where maybe there is one (or no) actual dance reviewer. Were I writing in a smaller city, as opposed to New York, I admit that I would probably deliberately "lower my standards" in print so as not to torpedo struggling arts groups. I'm not saying I would that what was inept was brilliant, but I'd probably give an awful lot more points to an organization for merely existing and presenting performances than I would here.

Is there anyone on the board who is in the situation of writing about dance in a smaller city (Sorry, DC doesn't count!) How do you cope with the balance between reportage and trying to support and encourage the existence of art in your community?

#7 Alexandra


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Posted 18 April 1999 - 09:01 PM

To Barb -- I think anyone who gets a review that they feel is really unfair has every right to complain (problem is, of course, defining unfair. Some artists apparently feel that anything short of a total rave is unfair. In my experience, especially with choreographers, many artists genuinely feel that if you understood them, you'd recognize their greatness. Ergo, if you don't recognize their greatness, it's becauase you don't understand them). The situation I was thinking of was one where a director would call an editor and basically say he/she didn't like the review, more postive coverage was needed, please don't send that person again, and I'm sure you'll be able to find someone more suited. If I were the editor, I'd listen; if I thought there were any justification for the complaint, I'd talk to the critic -- I'm presuming I'd only send a critic whose judgment and ethics I respected. But I wouldn't give in to bullying. I agree; I'd hang up. Not sure they're nuts, just used to getting their way.

Leigh, DC is actually a very small dance town with a strange situation as far as critics go. The Post considers itself a national paper, and therefore gives very little regional coverage -- regional, in the sense of Local Boy Makes Good. In a smaller city, a kid going off to a competition or a company making its first overseas tour is Big News. At the Post, it's no big deal (even when they had an arts editor who actually liked dance). The smaller companies here put enormous pressure on critics to cover them, letting them know that a grant application is in the works, etc. and obviously expect boosterism. What kills my humanitarian instincts is the use to which such reviews are put. What is a well-intentioned, "Not bad for a first show" review becomes WASHINGTON POST HAILS DANCER X AS THE MOST PROMISING YOUNG CHOREOGRAPHER IN THE WORLD. My rule is tell the truth, be kind, let the audience have some idea of whether they'd like the performance, and keep an eye out for the really truly most promising young choreographer (or dancer) in the world.


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