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The "Death" of Professional Criticism

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One other thing to bear in mind about professional critics is that they have to cover everything, regardless of whether it appeals or not, and write about it objectively. Bloggers, on the other hand, seem mainly to choose companies, programmes or casts they like or are particularly interested in which narrows their range of experience.

This is such an important point.

I look at some of the things Leigh Witchel covers in the "Post" and am glad that I can choose to do other things that night. He's got to know what he's talking about across a huge range of dance, which takes years of visual experience as well as knowledge and context. Plus, he's got to be able to write about it in a tight format for his audience by the next morning.

I might post here instead of blogging, but I think the principles are the same, since it's not about raising money through ad links. If I see something and am not sure what to make of it, or get busy with something else, I can choose to not write. If I need a month to mull it over, I can. If I want to focus on one piece in depth and ignore or simply give mention to another, I can. I get to set my own standards, and while I have numerous role models, if I don't reach that quality, no one is going to discuss why I should be fired. (I knew that rule we had about "discussing the discussion" was handy.)

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I too agree that choosing what you go to see is one of the key differences between professional and non-professional critics. The latter are in many cases simply "fans" who create an altogether different type of discourse. To take an example, detailed internet coverage of the Royal Ballet in London has increased vastly over the past few years, which at first sight appears encouraging. A group of the most rabid fans and most frequent attenders also engage in mindless banter with each other and some of the RB dancers on twitter.

Of course ballet companies have always had their fans who would hang around at the stage door and meet up in the interval, but now they are drifting into an online space which at first glance appears to overlap with criticism/reviews but is in reality closer to a promotional tool for the company. The focus is on the minutiae of dancers' lives - who is dating who?, how do they prepare their pointe shoes?, what do they eat for breakfast? - with little or no objective questioning of the artistic value of performances. It's not more than a soap opera and I really question whether the new "diversity" of opinions ushered in by the internet has added anything of value.

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As a Londoner, I rarely see any honest criticism about the RB other than here.

Actually some of the online critics are really good, such as Sophia on Dansomanie, and Ballet.co's Ian Palmer and CriticalDance's Lyndsy Winship both now write professionally (the latter for The Guardian). It's a question of being selective as some posters are frankly a joke whereas others write better than the professionals - and with a greater depth of knowledge too.

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Well, Sondheim is writing from the point of view of theater, where critics continue to wield more power than they do in other art forms. Strange reading this sort of thing from him, though:

There are thousands of critics tapping away their opinions to whoever will listen – so who needs a paid pontificator to tell you what your opinion should be?

Sondheim might disagree but quite a few of the "paid pontificators," by which I assume he means trained professional critics with background and qualifications - have done rather well by him over the years.

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One other thing to bear in mind about professional critics is that they have to cover everything, regardless of whether it appeals or not, and write about it objectively.

This is not universally true. Professional critics don't always have to see everything (and it isn't necessarily desirable to do so). A critic should see enough to know what he's talking about, but seeing too much can dull the senses of reviewers who really have to see everything, such as movie critics for popular publications. I see what you mean about "objectively" - no critic can be truly objective but bloggers are at liberty to be fans, whereas critics should restrain such feelings insofar as humanly possible.

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Just as a gentle reminder, discussing other discussion boards if off limits here, unless, like in Mashinka's post, where former discussion board members have become professional critics, it is newsworthy.

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One other thing to bear in mind about professional critics is that they have to cover everything, regardless of whether it appeals or not, and write about it objectively.

This is not universally true. Professional critics don't always have to see everything (and it isn't necessarily desirable to do so).

It's probably not the case if the critic writes a round-up type piece for a monthly magazine. There you can be reasonably selective. But for a daily or weekly paper, more or less every major performance or opening has to be covered. For instance, if company X is visiting again, you've seen them before and you hate everything they do, you still have to go and write a review. And the other exception - here in London at least - is something like Dance Umbrella or the other "contemporary" dance seasons where companies give just one show and the critic would probably see only a sample of what's on offer.

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Could I ask (politely) why details of other discussion boards have been deleted from my post please? I wasn't referring to any individuals and surely it's helpful for people navigating their way around interest groups on the internet to get pointers to what kind of discussion may be found where. They don't need to agree with my opinions but after all they are just opinions.

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It's probably not the case if the critic writes a round-up type piece for a monthly magazine. There you can be reasonably selective. But for a daily or weekly paper, more or less every major performance or opening has to be covered.

Yes, that's what I meant when I said it wasn't universally true. Writers for weeklies are not necessarily under that compulsion, either, depending on the publication. It also depends on the art form, as well. The New Yorker has two staff movie critics who alternate issues, as the magazine has done for decades, but it's clear that nobody's forcing Joan Acocella to write about everything she may be seeing.

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Could I ask (politely) why details of other discussion boards have been deleted from my post please? I wasn't referring to any individuals and surely it's helpful for people navigating their way around interest groups on the internet to get pointers to what kind of discussion may be found where. They don't need to agree with my opinions but after all they are just opinions.

As I posted above, discussion other discussion boards is off-limits at Ballet Alert! Critiquing other discussion boards or non-professional blogs is "board dragging". Our mission is to discuss classical ballet.

Google, bing, and other search engines make finding other boards and blogs simple, and our members can determine quality and interest for themselves. We encourage our members to read and participate on other boards, in comments sections of blogs, and even to start their own boards/blogs if what we offer doesn't meet all of their needs.

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variated,

Why do you object to discussions by fans about ballet dancers, their eating habits, etc.? For people interested in identifying how an athlete excels, such information is fruitful and sometimes inspirational.

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In the New Yorker, Acocella (I think) called Sara Mearns's dancing "creamy." What does this mean? (The article discussed Paul McCartney's ballet.)

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I think using the word "creamy" for a ballet dancer refers to lyricism and beautifully flowing phrasing.

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I also associate 'creamy' with a certain amplitude of movement.

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