Is "Best Dancers" a useful category? Or is it like those Book Review lists of "Best Novels of the Year," which attempt to include something for everyone's taste? Why not focus on Ballet Dancers, on Ballet Talk at least?
I don't think it's useful at all, but I think you need 'Ten Best Novels Ever Written' to be analogous. 'Best Novels of the Year' is vapid enough, but is at least based on a reasonable delimitation, just like '10 Best Films' by Village Voice critic or NYTimes critic, etc., is just not making any bones that it's other than just mostly subjective, but at least about something they can really put their hands on, and admit it's just opinions. And even, say, just take the VVoice, they'll usually put 6 or 7 critics deciding what the 'best films of the year' are and even an 'honourable mention' category. I don't think '10 Best Ballet Dancers' is much better, even for Ballet Talk. 'Favourite Dancers' is enough, isn't it? And we've got all sorts of versions of that. '10 Favourite Ballet Dancers' may not be an elevated exercise either, but it's playful and honest and 'people like it', etc.,
Also -- Would it be useful to create a separate category for something like the Top 10 Historically Important Dancers? That is, those dancers who changed the way informed audiences think and feel about the art and who even set new standards for what we look for in performance?
Yes, that would be the right way to do it, as I see it, and what Jennings's should have been. But would that make a good Feature for the Guardian in the way '10 Best Dancers' does? That's for a general public more than knowledgeable balletgoers, I'd suppose, so maybe it's a 'bringing ballet to the people' thing done somewhat indirectly. Even within the shabby format, it's sort of surprising he didn't call it '10 Greatest Dancers' though. And if he had, and did it with a subtitle going along with what you say about 'Historically Important Dancers', that would have been a good little piece. As it is, he's chosen dancers he's never seen in person in some cases, or some he saw do one (or a few) performances that moved him personally very much and decided that that meant 'best dancer'. It's like Helene's signature on her posts (have to go look that up), and while I have very treasured actors, for example, that doesn't always mesh with who would objectively be called the best. The Garbo thread is therefore nice, because that's one case where I like one who is always considered one of the best. But I like all sorts of obscure ones that I would never call 'best' just because they mean something to me that I consider especially meaningful.
Yes, here's Helene's sig., which seems to me to apply here:
"Critical awareness involves the ability to distinguish between personal taste and artistic merit." -- James Calvert
That's why I think the Japanese I never heard of are just as legit as what jennings wrote. Some of it is based on historical weight of legitimacy, some of them are just 'what he has liked'. He was 'moved by Gelsey's Juliet' and this Pavlova youngster i'd never heard of (made me wonder if he wanted to put a Pavlova on there who wasn't the one we all know about).