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A critic question


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#1 Calliope

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Posted 12 June 2002 - 06:17 AM

I was a reading a review of Melissa Barak's new piece and Clives Barnes says of the ballet "She should have been tougher and ended ambiguously. She took a wrong turn at the end, perhaps..."

And perhaps this is more of a statement than a question, but my first thought was, it's her piece, so she ended how she wanted to.

I realize that's it's inevitable that choreographers/dancers be compared to their predecessors and perhaps that's where the comments come from, but are critics now than they were say in Balanchine and Ashton's time?

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 12 June 2002 - 08:03 AM

I think that's a good point -- critics usually try to stay away from blatant advice giving. But I suppose it's irresistible. I'm sure someone wrote "Petipa should think again! Obviously Siegfried has learned his lesson and they should be allowed to live happily ever after!"

Having just read a good chunk of American and British (not to mention Danish) criticism of the past 50 years, I think there is more viciousnous now. (I don't mean to say that I think Barnes' piece is vicious.) And more overtly political criticism. A reviewer may really not mind this new ballet that much, but saying so might give Maestro A a boost and Maestro B, my friend, or the person I support, won't like it, or will look bad in comparison, etc.

I've read several New York reviews from the 1950s that are virulently anti-Ashton and there's a distinct undertone, to me, that it's because they perceived him as a threat. (Strange to think now, but Illuminations and Picnic at Tintagel were big hits at NYCB and that, and the acquisition of a Tudor repertory, was not liked by some.) They didn't suggest how he should choreograph, though, just that he should go away. One I remember -- B.H. Haggin -- dismisses the entire oeuvre as mere baubles and says that the one thing Ashton can't do to save his life is make a pas de deux. (!!!!)

John Martin did give Balanchine a lot of advice, but it was mostly "go back to Europe where you belong and take those frothy little ballets with you." He later became appreciative of Balanchine's choreography and had the decency to say so. There was a lot of anti-Balanchine sentiment in the 1950s and '60s from the modern dance wing of the dance world that, as in the Ashton case, seems, to me, to be created wholly out of resentment -- he got the crowds, he got the money, our native art form is unappreciated, it's not fair. The criticism of Balanchine was that "all his ballets look alike" meaning they were put into the "divertissement" slot and few people looked further to see the differences. Our atm is an exception :) )

I'd like to spin off of Callipe's question and ask what people think about advice giving. If a critic thinks a new work is good, but this or that is wrong with it, should s/he say so? Where is the line? Is saying "the work needs a pas de deux" okay? Or "Either make a literal work or an abstract work, but pick one?" How could that be phrased so it's useful to both reader and, perhaps, choreographer?

#3 dirac

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Posted 20 June 2002 - 01:21 PM

Well, Kenneth Tynan once said that a critic is someone who knows the way but can't drive the car. Giving back-seat directions sort of comes with the territory. :) I don't see anything wrong with comments on structure -- a recent example that occurs to me is Tobi Tobias pointing out in an otherwise admiring review that in Martins' "Morgen" there were too many consecutive pas de deux. (Advice along the lines of "Go back to Russia" is plainly counterproductive, as they say nowadays.)

#4 atm711

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Posted 21 June 2002 - 11:25 AM

Alexandra, thanks for exempting me f rom that 50's and 60's crowd. It wasn't just the modern dance world that opposed him--it was also the 'Ballet Theatre' crowd of the time--it was always--:"But they only dance from the waist down". I never could forgive John Martin---the only thing he admired in ballet was Alicia Markova's 'Giselle'. (Nothing wrong with that, but the poor man missed so much--at least we had Denby, and to a lesser
extent, Terry.)

To further appreciate what ballet had to go through then, there is a wonderful cartoon parody (by Alex Gard) depicting Walter Terry with a copy of 'Ted Shawn' jutting out of his pocket, and John Martin with a copy of "My Life by Isadora Duncan".


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