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#1 Ray

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 07:14 AM

For your...delectation...I include this link to a recent review of Pennsylvania Ballet by Jim Rutter in a local online publication.

The question for the group, before I begin my rant: do we celebrate this kind of review b/c the reviewer is paying attention to dance?

I'm not celebrating, at least right now. To me, the review reads as pretentious and wrong-headed on so many levels. I love the part where the reviewer describes Balanchine's Four Temperaments as "an exploration of each pole in the Ancient Greek system of dividing personalities." First of all, there can only be two poles--i.e., positive/negative, north/south; and, while the temperaments my have their bases in Aristotelian theory, Hindemith was going Medieval here. And the sentence "an artist should subordinate his voice a bit to avoid losing too much in his interpretation" is particularly vague.

Reading the review reminded me of some interesting connections, though. For instance, Orff and Hindemith were almost exact contemporaries, who, despite clear differences in musical expression, were both responding in similar ways to the musical directions of their times (i.e., exploring smaller instrumental forces; an interest in "neoclassicism"). Both also had complicated relationships to the nazis, although Hindemith comes off as the better guy in that regard (the nazis loved Carmina, btw!). NONE of that appeared in this "review," however.

#2 cargill

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 07:32 AM

Well, for a start this sentence belongs in the old Pseuds Corner.

From the start, the black-and-white costumes express the severity and isolating lack of middle ground between each extreme of humor, reflected more so in Hindemith’s varying piano melodies.

Mary

For your...delectation...I include this link to a recent review of Pennsylvania Ballet by Jim Rutter in a local online publication.

The question for the group, before I begin my rant: do we celebrate this kind of review b/c the reviewer is paying attention to dance?

I'm not celebrating, at least right now. To me, the review reads as pretentious and wrong-headed on so many levels. I love the part where the reviewer describes Balanchine's Four Temperaments as "an exploration of each pole in the Ancient Greek system of dividing personalities." First of all, there can only be two poles--i.e., positive/negative, north/south; and, while the temperaments my have their bases in Aristotelian theory, Hindemith was going Medieval here. And the sentence "an artist should subordinate his voice a bit to avoid losing too much in his interpretation" is particularly vague.

Reading the reveiws reminded me some interesting connections, though. For instance, Orff and Hindemith were almost exact contemporaries who, despite clear differences in musical expression, were both responding in similar ways to the musical directions of their times (i.e., exploring smaller instrumental forces; an interest in "neoclassicism"). Both also had complicated relationships to the nazis, although Hindemith comes off as the better guy in that regard (the nazis loved Carmina, btw!). NONE of that appeared in this "review," however.



#3 kfw

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 07:46 AM

Great topic, Ray. Some day we need a BT Bad Reviews thread. No, not mine -- a humorous thread with everyone reviewing an imaginary performance as poorly as possible. :wink:

#4 dirac

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 02:44 PM

I'll defend the unfortunate Mr. Rutter. I agree that the review is wrong-headed but I wouldn't call it pretentious and I think it is well meant. My view may be colored by the fact that while browsing for the Links I often come across "articles" or blog reviews for online publications that are not only much more ill-informed than this one but so sloppily written and edited that every once in awhile I don't bother to link to them, they're just that worthless.

I also rather liked his response to the person who asked him whether he'd rather watch figure skating or ballet:

During the recent Winter Olympics, a friend asked if I'd rather watch the figure skating in Vancouver or the Pennsylvania Ballet's forthcoming "Program II." Both display exquisite, inspiring choreography, paired with tremendous athleticism and artistry. But figure skating can only tell me something about the skaters (Joannie Rochette's fortitude, Evgeni Plushenko's arrogance). Ballet, by contrast, can teach me something about life.


That's not so bad. I don't know how long Rutter has been writing, of course.

#5 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 03:22 PM

Also, depending on where the writer is writing, you may be reading the writer - you may be reading the editor(s).

#6 LiLing

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 04:37 PM

I also felt it was pretentious. It read like a paper by a student trying to impress with his background knowledge, referring to Descartes, Verlaine, Matisse, Rousseau, and Becket in one review!

" I still believe that an artist should subordinate his voice a bit " And perhaps so should Mr Rutter.

That being said, I do like some of what he has to say, " artists know more about life than philosophers. ........Ballet,........, can teach me something about life." I've read much worse in major publications.

#7 Ray

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 06:03 AM

I also felt it was pretentious. It read like a paper by a student trying to impress with his background knowledge, referring to Descartes, Verlaine, Matisse, Rousseau, and Becket in one review!

" I still believe that an artist should subordinate his voice a bit " And perhaps so should Mr Rutter.

That being said, I do like some of what he has to say, " artists know more about life than philosophers. ........Ballet,........, can teach me something about life." I've read much worse in major publications.



Leigh: I think the editor of the blog lets him edit himself, so I guess you are right, sort of.

EDITED TO ADD: Sorry, I underestimated the nature of the Broad Street Review. They do indeed have an editor.

And to dirac: when I first posted this--before I went off on my snotty rant--I did ask the question about the value of this kind of reviewing--i.e., by an interested, perhaps educated person who is not a dance person. I'm definitely not against it, per se. And while I can see that he does offer some good "big picture" reflections about the nature of art and choreography--again, a good thing--I don't know how productive it is to compare Neenan's 3-year-old work to Balanchine's 50+-year-old work without, well, contextualizing that comparison. So while I will cede him his reflective creativity, I'll still wish he (a) knew more about dance, (b) didn't show off so much by throwing in so many disparate quotations , as LiLing illustrates, and (c ) could write more directly. It's ironic to cite Descartes, who wrote so clearly even if his ideas were difficult, and then churn out sloppy sentences.

#8 bart

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 06:05 AM

Also, depending on where the writer is writing, you may be reading the writer - you may be reading the editor(s).

Or LACK of editors, which is increasingly the case. In our own spread-out urban city/surburban region. The local paper -- owned by one of the two big chains -- eviscerated its staff 2 years ago. Virtually every skilled professional over 40 was offered "early retirement." The editors and writers were once professional and skillful. Since their departure, the standard of content -- and what the paper DOES with the content it selects -- has plummeted.

Some examples that apply to performance reviewis and performance arts reporting:

-- headlines that focus on the single negative point the reviewer makes in a generally favorable review;

-- off-the-wall headlines that make it clear that the headline writer has not taken the trouble to read beyond the first 2 paragraphs;

-- relying on reprints of syndicated reviews from sources like the AP or the Times; paragraphs are often cut ("edited"?) willy-nilly, often leaving a product that often makes no sense;

-- hiring cultural generalists or pop culture specialists who, having no specific knowledge of the higher art they are covering and almost no experience of prior performances, rely heavily on Google, especially Wikipedia. I suspect such writers suffer from feelings of insecurity, because they are prone to showing off their (very recently acquired) information. For example, a recent Palm Beach Opera review which devoted 40% of its space to criticizing the decision to elminate the statue of the Commendatore in Don Giovanni. The reviewer, who apparently had never heard of such a thing, was appalled. As a result, he ignored most of the rest of the performance.

-- reviewers who do not actually review so much as use the performance as an opportunity to blog about themselves and/or to show of knowledge, however acquired or accurate. Such reviewers often do not bother to change the adjectives they've read in Wikipedia, which is always a giveaway. Hey, guys, that's what online concordances are for: to help you disguise your plagiarism.

My goodness, I AM sour about this topic. :D Thank God for the people at DanceViewTimes, for Alaistair Macaulay, for the vestiges of dance criticism in The New Yorker and other magazines, and for all those other intelligent writers and editors who fill the gap that local newspapers have created.

#9 dirac

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 10:02 AM

The local paper -- owned by one of the two big chains -- eviscerated its staff 2 years ago. Virtually every skilled professional over 40 was offered "early retirement." The editors and writers were once professional and skillful. Since their departure, the standard of content -- and what the paper DOES with the content it selects -- has plummeted.



The papers aren’t doing these things for the fun of it. People are reluctant to pay for their product and classified ads are moving online. That said, management in many places have cut off their noses to spite their faces by cutting back on local news and stories that people are still interested in going to them for. But in other places the readership is losing interest. Gavin Newsom said publicly that nobody would miss the San Francisco Chronicle (and given its current condition, many probably won’t). But a community loses a lot when it loses its paper(s).

Even in their current situation many of the print reviewers still do better than the bloggers and online reviewers, although the Internet will likely catch up. How they’re going to get paid is another question, but then most writers aren’t paid anyway.

#10 bart

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 11:53 AM

Gavin Newsom said publicly that nobody would miss the San Francisco Chronicle (and given its current condition, many probably won’t). But a community loses a lot when it loses its paper(s).

This expresses the dilemma neatly.

Another point about reviews. I often look back to the online archives and am struck by the uniform structure of almost all entertainment reviews seem to have had in the old days (40s-50s-early 60s), at least in the daily papers. All reviews were just that: "reviews" of what the writer saw last night. They were short. With few exceptions they stuck to an almost rigid fomula, whether for Broadway, symphony, ballet or opera. Opinion was pretty much expressed in terms of simple adjectives: "moving," "dull," "exciting," "awkward," "memorable," etc. etc.

For example: a NYCB ballet review tended to begin with a brief (3 sentence max) introduction, often focusing on something novel about the work, program or dancer; then each of the 3 ballets gets a brief paragraph or two. There may or not be a summing up. In general, the pattern was ... almost no context, little in the way of "color," minimal summing up. These pieces were meant to tell you what happened on stage last night and rarely went further.

Extended think pieces began in the small weekly or biweekly press (Village Voice, etc.) and gradually moved their way up to the Times. Macaulay and a few others have the clout to continue that tradition. Others have, I suppose, moved on to the internet.

:( Sometimes I think younger people forget that newspaper readers in the big cities had an enormous range of papers to choose some. Few, however, chose more than one or two. In New York City, right into the 1960s, the Times was for the bankers,well-educated business class, the socially prominent, and for elitists and moderate conservatives; the Herald Trib was for for a more narrowly Republican group; the Post was for liberal secular Jewish Democrats; the Daily News was for the kind of people who support the Tea Party movement today, as was its near-clone, the Daily Mirror. (I could never figure out the Daily Mirror.) ALL reviewed Broadway, and each gave a certain amount of attention to ballet and opera as well.

The Wall Street Journal was essentially a trade paper for the financial industry. There was not a trace of the high-quality arts reviewing and commentary that one finds in the WSJ today.

People in those days were amazingly loyal "their" own paper and rarely picked up a competitor. Then papers started folding. What remained were big-tent papers trying, until it became too costly, to appeal to a wide constituency to capture market share. When that proved impossible, they once again narrowed their focus. At this point, coverage of the higher arts in any serious and systematic way became expendable.

Newspapers in smaller cities may continue to publish reviews reviews but their approach to cultural reviewing/reporting seems scattershot, without serious journalistic commitment. There's a randomness about what is selected to be reviewed and what is not. Reviewers for the most part are no longer staff writers; they're paid by the piece, and often at low rates. (It's usually less than $100 plus 2 free tickets per review in our city.)

Questions: Where do good writers committed to the higher arts go nowadays to learn and obtain experience their craft? Where do they go to earn a decent living?

#11 ltraiger

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Posted 14 March 2010 - 04:55 PM

Questions: Where do good writers committed to the higher arts go nowadays to learn and obtain experience their craft? Where do they go to earn a decent living?



Over the years there have been a very elite few who have earned their livings solely as dance critics. Aside from the well-known writers in New York who worked for the Times, the NY Post, and those at the Washington Post, the SF Chron and perhaps a few other publications, most dance critics hold or held other jobs or covered other beats like music, fashion or theater, alongside dance.

As for how one 'learns' to become a dance critic, aside from practice and the same 10-plus years of dance-going that it takes to make a dancer, there is an organization, the Dance Critics Association, based in New York, that offers yearly conferences, a newsletter and opportunities to connect with other dance writers around the country. Presently, a number of former or freelance dance writers teach dance writing and criticism at workshops and on college and university campuses. From anecdotal knowledge, I believe that most of these critics are not full-tenured faculty, but adjunct (or freelance) teaching on an as-needed basis.

Currently, I believe there may be three dance critics in the United States who make their livelihood entirely from dance criticism. This is neither a growing nor a lucrative field in light of the dearth of healthy print publications.

Here is a link to a survey the Dance Critics Association conducted of its membership in 2006. Keep in mind that four years later the picture is grimmer in light of additional newspaper closings and layoffs, magazine consolidations, and far fewer paid opportunities for dance writers:

http://dancecritics....veyresults.html

#12 sandik

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Posted 20 March 2010 - 10:25 PM

Hi Lisa, and thanks for the link to the DCA study!

Lisa has pretty much summed it up -- there are very few critics working in the US today who are making even a significant percentage of their living from their dance writing. Almost all of us learned "on the job," pulling together a collection of workshops, related writing courses, discussion with colleagues and extensive self-education. Although the DCA does offer a few professional development programs we are primarily about networking among peers.

I clicked around on the Broad Street website and learned that the author of the review in question used to be a lecturer in philosophy, which may explain some of his references. And I have to admit that, of all the Balanchine I've seen and thought about, 4 Ts tends to generate the most abstract thinking and speculating among my colleagues. Including me!

#13 NSMH

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Posted 21 March 2010 - 04:49 AM

Credibility was lost immediately for me when the photo caption did not get the names correct....It is Jonathan Stiles and Laura Bowman...elementary, basic, fact-checking...so how could anything else written be taken as educated and respectable? A review should be a balance between what is seen (concrete evidence) and what the writer interprets (intangible perception). Just as the voice is a means of communication, so are words. There are those that like the sound of their own voice best, but you would hesitate to call it a conversation, as you need someone listening to you for it to be such. There are those who write words to pontificate their opinion, but you would hesitate to call it educated or balanced, so you come away from reading knowing little about the subject, but a great deal about the author. This review is the latter of both points.

#14 bart

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Posted 21 March 2010 - 09:02 AM

Credibility was lost immediately for me when the photo caption did not get the names correct....It is Jonathan Stiles and Laura Bowman...elementary, basic, fact-checking...so how could anything else written be taken as educated and respectable?

Sadly, fact-checking and editing seem to have become dispensable in all sorts of media, including book publishing. Thanks for the correction. At least we care about such things on Ballet Talk. :)

#15 sandik

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Posted 22 March 2010 - 08:21 AM

"elementary, basic, fact-checking...so how could anything else written be taken as educated and respectable?"

It's highly likely that someone else (not the critic) wrote the photo caption -- I don't see the cut lines (photo captions) or the headlines for the stuff I write until they're published. Which does occasionally lead to some errors, as you've pointed out.


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