J. Homans in New York Review of Books
Posted 10 December 2002 - 09:52 AM
An example. In 1986, I had a student who wrote a paper that said, "Erik Bruhn is the finest James dancing today." And went on to say why. Well, Bruhn had stopped dancing the role in 1972 and, in 1986, wasn't dancing anything because he was dead. The student kept saying, "What's one little word? Okay! I made a mistake, but it's just one little word!" Well, to me, it's a big deal. Say Bruhn was the finest James of his day, or generation, or in the history of time, or whatever you want to say, and back it up (not, as he did, with copying what a reviewer wrote and forgetting to put in the quotation marks, but that's another problem). But check the date on the book you're copying from before you copy from it.
And that's what I mean by digesting facts and having a context in which to put them. And if he were writing a paper on Great Jameses, I'd want him to have read more than one book, and not base his opinion on one video, and consider that the first James was Bournonville. Not in an 8-inch newspaper review. But in an 8000 word commentary, context helps.
Posted 10 December 2002 - 10:11 AM
Originally posted by Ray
So what Homans doesn't do, to my satisfaction, is take seriously arguments, claims, or opinions that counter her own. But, to be provocative, does a critic like Joan Acocella--or even saint Croce--do any better?
Or for that matter, Lincoln Kirstein, although I think his affiliations were taken into account by readers.
I'm not sure entirely when that Olympian tone became standard in dance criticism. Croce certainly had it, and she was a good enough writer that one often forgot one when disagreed with her basic premises. Re-reading her compendiums recently was a very surprising experience for me. I still liked them as much as always, but for the first time, I found myself disagreeing with a surprising amount of basic impressions.
To bring this back to the general, when you read a critic, what sort of voice or tone is most convincing to you? Someone with a more energetic viewpoint, even if the viewpoint is narrower - or someone who examines all sides of the issue, even if that makes their writing less energetic? (Before you answer that question, I'd ask you to look at what you really read, not at what you think you ought to like!)
Posted 10 December 2002 - 10:16 AM
Or that the first James was Joseph Mazilier?
Posted 10 December 2002 - 10:21 AM
The facts don't bear it out. Read the rep; there's a mix for quite awhile. It was a gradual replacement. Read the other critics -- not as entertaining as Gautier, not as poetic. But with decidedly other opinions. And, strangeyl, reviewing things like "Alfred le Grand" which supposedly had died.
Is Gautier lying? No, just using a big, sweeping metaphor. He was, in one way, right -- neoclassical ballet was dead. It just hadn't died yet. It was still on institutional life support. Romanticism did sweep in and catch -- well, not everyone, but all the people in Gautier's ccrcle, or who wanted to be in that circle.
When someone is writing a commentary on the period, though, s/he has a responsibility to take these factors into account, and not just babble them, and reproduce the errors.
I think people with strong opinions will always sound Olympian -- and probably be surprised that their writing is taken that way. They're just expressing an opinion. It's the imitators who TRY to sound Olympian, but it's not from the heart, or the brain, that are bothersome, and there are some like that.
Posted 10 December 2002 - 10:38 AM
But, back to the historical commentary. Wasn't at some point, that essentially someone's review (or a few people's)
And to answer your question Leigh, I don't know which voice is most convincing for me. I think I like all of them, it helps me figure out my own opinion
Posted 10 December 2002 - 10:45 AM
I remember being bothered, at first, by Croce's Olympian tone, until I read a lot of other critics and realized that her thundering was well-grounded. I often disagreed with her, and she often made me angry -- because I thought a particular statement was too sweeping, say -- but I always read her, and I always learned something.
Posted 10 December 2002 - 11:25 AM
Posted 10 December 2002 - 11:28 AM
Posted 10 December 2002 - 11:43 AM
Posted 10 December 2002 - 11:49 AM
The examples you took, Ari, are exactly what I felt was "olympian" about Croce. Yes, it was very personal, but she hurled stuff with such force (and style) that I always felt her intention was not to get you to see it for yourself, but for you to see it her way (and maybe as Alexandra implies, this wasn't her intent at all, it's just her opinions are so strongly formed). Not that this is a particularly bad thing, I still feel that it was reading Croce that taught me how to watch a dance.
Posted 10 December 2002 - 11:50 AM
I think most lay people read the "daily" reviews and that's where the "education" comes from. That's why I think Tobias' release was such a blow, she at least provided a more consistent basis to get criticism. Which makes Homans all the more dangerous. In some ways it will be interesting to see what Homans has to write about in a few years, or will she have tackled all the controversy by then.
It's easier to knock an artform in this time period. It seems ballet is more business and competitive (between companies) than an artform.
Posted 10 December 2002 - 11:52 AM
I loved Croce's passion and her way with words, but I sometimes felt she was stating her opinions rather ferociously, and not always showing me the underpinnings or reasoning she used to reach them. I also always felt as if there were a metaphorical ruler waiting to rap me on the knuckles if i didn't get it.
I find myself gravitating to critics who give you their opinions couched in their observations and descriptions, where often it's a subtle but telling choice of words or a particularly evocative bit of imagery, in the mode of a Denby or a Jowitt. Denby's no less brilliant than Croce for his quieter and cozier tone; he's certainly more accessible and less intimidating, as befits, I suppose, a daily critic.
Posted 10 December 2002 - 01:42 PM
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