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What is "unfair" criticism?


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#16 Alexandra

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Posted 10 March 2001 - 12:08 PM

Agree on the "fighting wars over dancers' bodies" Posted Image

On the situation kip mentioned (a professor's book being attacked in a review by someone with an ax to grind) that's certainly unfair -- one might say despicable -- and Drew can tell us, I'm sure, how often it happens. I can remember seeing letters to the editor in the Times Book Review and other places occasionally with similar situations -- one was that the reviewer had previously been unfavorably reviewed by the now-victim author and there seemed to be battles fought beyond the book at hand. It's the kind of thing that shouldn't happen, because the editor who assigns the book should know the background. Of course, anyone in a situation that even has a whiff of conflict should disclose it at the time of assignment.

I don't think this does much damage, though. It might to a first-time novelist without a track record, but in the academic world, I would hope that the work could stand on its own. Also, that world is so small, anyone who mattered who read the review would probably know the situation and smell a rat. In such cases, the author's colleagues may well come to his defense.

I've been in a similar situation several times. People whose articles I haven't printed, one person who was kicked off this site. In all cases, the attacks were so obviously personal they were perceived as such.

As far as dancers and choreographers are concerned, I think the same thing does happen if the person has somehow slighted the critic. I think this is also despicable, and it's less obvious to people reading the review. They'd have no way of knowing that the critic was, say, snubbed at a party.

One final example -- one of the blatantly unfair things I came across -- was a critic who had wanted to make a film of the Royal Danish Ballet from out takes of another film that had been successful (Dancing Bournonivlle) and the artistic director said no, he'd chosen the footage very carefully and what was left wasn't as good, and he wouldn't do that to the dancers (there was a lot of film of class and rehearsals.) The critic seems not to have taken the refusal well, shall we say. He had been commissioned to write a company history for that season's program book and did so, completely ignoring the artistic director (Kronstam) who had been the company's dominant dancer for two decades. He simply didn't exist. This is the worst example I've ever seen, but I can't believe it's an isolated one.

[This message has been edited by alexandra (edited March 10, 2001).]

#17 Ed Waffle

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Posted 13 March 2001 - 08:59 AM

Speaking of criticism and reviews-—below are excerpts of two reviews of the Metropolitan Opera’s current production of Verdi’s “Nabucco”. Both reviewers are very experienced and knowledgeable opera goers. The reviews were posted to an opera mailing list within 90 minutes of each other after seeing and hearing the same performance. Reactions to opera often seem much more visceral than to ballet—performances perceived as poor are a personal affront to the audience.

It also shows the range of discourse that is considered fair comment or acceptable terms of reference on another moderated list. I applaud our moderator here on Ballet Talk for not allowing personal attacks and simple vituperation regarding artists on this list.

Singers, managers and others directly involved with opera read this list, although only a few post (at least under their own names).

In each case the first excerpt, marked *** is from what you might consider a positive review, while the second, marked !!! would be thought as quite the opposite.


***One of the best Verdi performances I have seen in years. Guleghina, not one of my favorite, was very impressive in this fiendishly difficult role but also infuriating in that she could do much better than her already impressive best. Her soft singing, especially at the end, was gorgeous.
For what it is worth, she also looked stunning in her Coronation scene gown and robe. Likewise, she wore her rags stunningly in the last scene.***

!!!She was a disgrace from the beginning until the end. She cracked badly on the high C (just before the jump down two octaves) and was consistently flat throughout the whole performance. There also in no bottom there at all. She also cannot float a high note pianissimo if her life depended on it.!!!


***Sam Ramey was just like his Attila in Chicago. He shows his age slightly at the beginning but soon warms up and belies his almost forty years on the stage. A truly memorable performance from a great artist.***

!!!Ramey whom I admire tremendously should think about calling it a night soon. His voice has gotten smaller in size and there is a pronounced wobble.!!!

***Levine was engaged, his his orchestra was on, and his chorus sounded better than they have in years***

!!!Levine conducted like he was half asleep or on drugs or both. Never have I heard the chorus sound as dull and uninsprired than for "Va pensiero".!!!




------------------
"Happy are the fiery natures which burn themselves out,
and glory in the sword which wears away the scabbard:

CAMILLE SAINT-SAENS
Writing of Pauline Viardot

#18 Alexandra

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Posted 13 March 2001 - 10:12 AM

Great examples, Ed. They may be fun to read but no, I don't want vituperative attacks on dancers on the board.

These really aren't fair or unfair criticism though, in the sense that I meant, because they're not published. At least at this point, internet or email list reviews don't have the effect of printed reviews.

Fairness and unfairness on the internet is a whole 'nother story. The ethic seems to be that anything goes. I have a friend who's a football fan, especially a fan of Doug Flutie. There's a whole web site -- Doug Flutie, World's Greatest Quarterback. And its counterpart. I forget the title, but to the effect of World's Absolutely Most Horrible Quarterback. Neither site aims for objectivity or fairness!

#19 Sonja

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Posted 13 March 2001 - 10:45 AM

I know this leads us a bit far from where you started, Alexandra, but your last comment reminds me of Germany's most famous soccer team, Bayern München - there is the official website, some fan websites - plus an "anti-Bayern website"... Let's hope ballet won't polarize that much (as I think much stuff on the "anti" sites is really not funny and certainly not fair!

#20 Alexandra

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Posted 13 March 2001 - 01:08 PM

I agree, Sonja. It's certainly possible that that could happen in dance. One of the many bad things about the net is the dark side of its good -- that everyone has equal access. A partisan of one artist (whether it's a relative, friend, or whatever) could well put up a site that attacks someone else, could make the rounds of the message boards spreading rumors, and could sound very credible. The web doesn't really make everyone equal. Someone who can write well has an enormous advantage and can often seem more knowledgeable than they really are. And for someone who enjoys attacking people, the net is a huge playground.

We had one very nasty incident here early on that was a bit frightening. It was late Saturday night, and luckily, both Leigh and I were on at nearly the same time and caught it. I could delete the post and block the person before he did more harm. But someone came on and just started attacking dancers, using extremely foul language. He started small, as it were, just calling somebody a "bitch" and each post got nastier, until he put up threads with the dancer's name and every gripe he had about that person. It seemed like a dancer or former dancer (I hope a drunken one Posted Image ) who came on and wanted to vent. On the sites that aren't moderated, this kind of behavior could be quite upsetting to the victims.

The internet is often touted as the way for "truth" to get out -- and often that can be true. But it also give a license to anyone with a grudge, and it can be difficult to sort out someone with a legitimate grievance from someone who just wants to settle a score.

#21 atm711

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Posted 13 March 2001 - 02:46 PM

Ed Waffle---I saw the Met performance of Nabucco last night--and my only sour note are the designs of the sets by John Napier. It's a wonder the artists didn't break their necks trying to manipulate all those steps. It's too bad Napier didn't immerse himself in Asyrian art for his inspiration. The Sets were much too high. I was sitting in the back of the orchestra under the box-seat overhang and there were at least 15 rows of expensive seats that could not see the top of the set.

As to Guleghina--both critics had a valid point:

Guleghina was both visually and vocally gorgeous---and even to my un-trained operatic ear, she did "crack" at some point--but it certainly didn't lessen her performance for me.

The critic who criticized "Va, Pensiero" was probably half asleep---what a thrilling, sublime performance!--and Levine repeated it.

I must get a "ballet" reference in here---while listening to the overture I couldn't help thinking--"What a wonderful substitute this music would be for Giselle"

#22 Jack Reed

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Posted 16 March 2001 - 05:37 PM

I'll take Verdi over Adam any day, atm711, although Adam's music doesn't spoil "Giselle" for me.

But to get back to the topic, fair to whom, or what? I agree with some of the longer posts that pettiness and bias are out, that anything that happens on stage is fair game, and most of all that explanation and detail, supporting observations, are necessary: Just as in science or engineering, where we think that measurements presented without giving us some idea of how they were made are pretty meaningless, so a critic who claims to have taken the measure of a performance owes me some explanation of how they arrived at what they say. Without that, the criticism is unfair to me, the reader. With that, not only is bias and pettiness likely to be exposed if present, but the criticism has meaning as though we were sitting in the critic's seat, looking out of the critic's head through their eyes, thinking with their mind. For me, the best critics are transparent in this way (Anita Finkel's term for Arlene Croce), and looking at the dance through the lenses of their writing helps to train us to be our own critic, responding more completely to what we see, even when it's not one of the ballets we've read about.


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