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What Does My Review Say?

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here is a recent review of mine, from dance australia magazine, just published last week (the august/september issue).

i am putting it up here, so as to ask you - anyone - for feedback, as to WHAT IT SAYS to you - in very simple, general terms, please? i.e. if you had to sum up it's meaning, how would you describe its mesage or its content, to someone who hadn't read it?

as in: SHE said "........

i have a reason for doing this - obviously - but i don't want to influence your comments, by telling you what it is, before you respond.

so: here is my review. please respond!

Then & Now

West Australian Ballet

His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth

May 2003

More than the usual amount of anticipation flowed through the opening night foyer. The regular first night flock of sponsors and businessmen was there, but also, an unusual number of politicians. The Governor of Western Australia and his wife were greeted by the vice-regal salute, and Gough and Margaret Whitlam were formally welcomed from the stage.

The curtain went up on fifteen minutes of speechifying, in which, between effusive thank you’s, the name of BHPbilliton was repeated as many times as possible. WAB CEO Louise Howden-Smith spoke, followed by Artistic Director Simon Dow, then Culture & Arts Minister Sheila McHale (representing the Premier Geoff Gallop), followed by BHPbilliton Iron Ore’s President, Graham Hunt, who was there to announce his company’s gift to WAB: $300,000, over three years.

The gift has enabled the purchase of a new French Salto dance floor, to be used for touring – a floor which is reputed to have cut by half, the injury rate at Paris Opera Ballet. More extensive country touring will also be facilitated by this partnership.

It did not go unremarked during interval, albeit quietly, that this is the same company publicly criticized by Prime Minister Howard, this very day, for its payout to its sacked CEO : $12.5 million, plus an annual $1.5 million pension for life. Against that, $300,000 seems almost trivial, but in the ballet context, it’s a lot of money.

I believe it was McHale who congratulated WAB “on its track record of bringing business and the arts together over the years”. Since Howden-Smith’s elevation to CEO, sponsorship has clearly acquired increased importance, along with an almost painfully dutiful recognition.

One is torn between admiration for her efforts which pay off, and dismay at the visibility of this commercialization. There seems to be an increasingly desperate sense of exhilaration presented by the company, at just simply surviving.

The whole evening seemed to have a forced party atmosphere, with multiple bouquets at every curtain call, streamers and long-stem red roses hurled from the balcony, as if company supporters are trying hard to show the politicians that this West Australian product really IS a success. For those of us who hold the company in genuine and lasting high regard, this manufactured buzz is artificial, dismaying, and distracting.

Then & Now  gives us one traditional tutu ballet, one darkly intense Weir work (commissioned and premiered by WAB several years ago), and two new works by Dow. All are entertaining, and immaculately presented in every way.

Dow’s "Ludwig’s Games" is a comic ballet, making a play of time-worn cliches about aging.  Dow’s children are fractious, throw balls and fall down; his adolescent females primp in front of mirrors while males do pushups and display their biceps; his adults fall into nagging marriages, while the aged wear glasses and cardigans, hunched over walking sticks. Oddly, the men’s plaid trousers mark it as a piece of Americana, belying the theme’s universality. The old men's plaid trousers shout 'Americana' - a little at odds with the theme's universality. It drew more than a few laughs, but the work would sit better on students.

"Fall From Grace" is Dow’s strong response to a commissioned score by James Ledger. This darkly dramatic pas de deux depicts the climactic moment of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. Orpheus enters at the top of a center-stage black flight of stairs, making his descent into Hades (the stage floor) to rescue his lover, who appears Giselle-like, veiled as a moving spirit. A contemporary balletic pas de deux, en pointe, follows. Upon reaching the top of the stairs, when she tempts him to look back at her face, a slightly clumsy partnered move transfers her to a slide which runs parallel to the stairs. Thus she descends again to the underworld. Callum Hastie and Jacinta Ross-Ehlers gave truly outstanding performances.

Weir’s "The Collector" makes visual impact from the outset, with a massive rope grid marking the back of the stage area. Male and female bodies hang enmeshed, like prey in a cobweb, as high as the eye can see. David Mack gave a powerful performance as the title figure, backed up by a small able cast. Melissa Aurisch drew well-deserved cheers for her intensely dynamic portrayal of Miranda, the object of his obsession.

As I have reported on a similar previous occasion, the audience  spontaneously gasped and applauded when the curtain rose for "Le Corsaire Variations". A sumptuous mosaic –style backcloth designed by Kenneth Rayner perfectly complemented Anna French’s breathtakingly beautiful costumes. Rayner’s design was completely hand-painted by Leigh Hewson-Bower, from a colour computer printout. After researching the background of the traditional ballet, French wanted this set of variations to appear onstage like a Persian miniature. Her visualization of the music, in terms of its intensity, suggested rich jewel colours such as ruby, turquoise, claret and jade, highlighted with gold. These were used for the lively brocaded tutus.

Ballet Master Askhat Galiamov staged this version as a showcase. It would have better achieved its aim of a “glittering traditional classical performance of technical virtuosity” (programme notes) without his interpolated moments of blokey humour.

A lovely performance came from Natalie Clarke in her solo, but the evening belongs to Jacinta Ross-Ehlers and particularly her partner, West Australian Milos Mutavdzic, who provided the excitingly athletic macho high points.

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Ok, I'll try. I read this only quickly, but I would summarize as: "She said she considered the dancing good, but she didn't like the sort of commercial athmosphere of the evening. For some reason I also got the impression she seemed to feel that some of the pieces lacked something, like feeling or spirit maybe, though she didn't explicitly say so."

English is not my first language, though, so I might have gotten the nuances completely wrong...

This is an interesting experiment; how different people read the review. I hope as many as possible posts, without reading the interpretations of others before they do. :)

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"She was bending over backwards to be positive since they have a new artistic director, but was really teed off at all the claptrap and wants to be sure that it Never Happens Again."

I have to say the whole thing sounds awful to me --

interpolated moments of blokey humour.
would be enough to be very wary of ever seeing this again, and, deliberate or not, a cliche is a cliche.... once a critic.....
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"She was bending over backwards to be positive since they have a new artistic director, but was really teed off at all the claptrap and wants to be sure that it Never Happens Again."

VERY funny! :):unsure: :shhh:

more opinions now needed from others, please...

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Grace is obviously very fond of West Australian Ballet, but is uncomfortable about the direction in which it may be headed under its new CEO. Said CEO has a cozy relationship with politicians and business leaders, who are delighted to provide relatively modest financial support provided they get immodest amounts of credit for it.

The attention span of the gala opening night audience was not strained by the program. Even the most "classical" item on the bill, "Corsaire Variations," was tarted up with a vulgar sit-com routine. It's clear that Grace admires the company's dancers and is chagrined at what they have to put up with.

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I'll stand with Farrell Fan's reading. I sensed a disappointment that Corsaire Variations had great potential as a Classical bravura showcase, but was undermined by Galiamov's Need to Entertain. Overall, you have a high regard for the company and thought the program was good, if every piece was not solid.

You seem disgusted by the self-congratulatory posture struck by the government and corporate biggies. You're probably right. :unsure: I've seen much of the same behavior here in the Land of the Plaid Pants. :)

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I read that the union of state and ballet is acceptable, but the union of a commercial press conference and ballet is bad taste. I tend to agree. The performance of the actual business of the ballet company was, on the whole, good, but the evening had a damper put on it by the blatant public relations announcement at the head of the evening.

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The evening really wasn't a regular evening at the ballet, but a gala designed but for political posturing and attendees who haven't been seen much if at all at the ballet before, and likely won't again. As a long time follower of the company, the critic was, as critics and devotees usually are, rather put out by the fact that the festive hoopla far outweighed the artistic considerations; and also that, in the circumstances, she was really writing half news, half criticism. She made it clear that the dancers are excellent, and deserving of long time support. They could do without gimmicks and jokes to make them more "appealing." (Slides, blokey interpolations, what have you.) I would say that the reviewer is also appalled that corporations can buy public favor through the arts, while behaving badly otherwise. (So what else is new? Altria by any other name is Phillip Morris....)

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i'm wearing a big grin.

you're such a perceptive lot!

thank you so much.

It's clear that Grace admires the company's dancers and is chagrined at what they have to put up with.

since the review is rather a long one to ask people to read, here, i doubt that many more comments will be forthcoming.

so i will tell you why i asked for your feedback.

i am very happy with this review. i wrote it with care, and i feel strongly that these things need to be said. i THOUGHT i was backing up the company. i THOUGHT i was saying that this is (generally) a great product, which is being demeaned by their 'trying too hard' to BE SEEN as a good product. quality speaks for itself. in this sense, i thought my review was SUPPORTIVE. (alexandra - let's not get into whether or not i SHOULD be "supportive', here!!! :D )

so: imagine how surprised i was, when they rang me up to say how angry they are, at how my review undermines their standing, and will do them irreparable harm, in their current position of negotiating with the government and business for survival funding.

they seem to take the view that - because, as part of the arts industry, the magazine is intended to "support" the arts in australia, and therefore support the company - therefore, in print, i should, support their SPONSORS.

now, it seems to me that they do a deal with their sponsors - something in return for something else. and that's as far as it goes. what THEY provide to their sponsors should be good publicity, via presenting the best possible product, and giving the sponsors credit. they DID this. so, their end of the bargain is fulfilled.

they do NOT buy MY support of their sponsor, not flattery from me, for their sponsor. what *I* think of their sponsor, is totally outside the deal.

i'm sure you will all agree, and therefore perhaps wonder why i am bothering to go through all this...

i guess i am amazed that they think that stating the truth (i.e. the bare facts, as i saw them unfold, of what happened at the beginning of the evening) damages them, and their sponsors... and that my comments about the COMPANY - i.e. the dancers and the works and the standards upheld onstage - are clearly of almost negligible importance and value, because they were accompanied by what the company management perceive to be criticism of their fundraising practices.

they will say that they really ARE fighting to survive. and i'm sure this is true.

so i feel sorry for them, that they are under so much pressure. and that they have to TRY so hard. and that this seems to have shifted their attention from the product, to simple existence. (but it's still a great product.) ...and i thought i was SAYING how sad this is....for them. not "criticising" them - or their sponsors.

but that's how they are reading it.

so, that's why i wanted to see how others read it.

thanks guys. you're intelligent articulate perceptive people - and good friends. :lol:

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My heart goes out to you, Grace.... You WERE, as Alexandra says, bending over backwards in this piece -- and to have them hit you when you're in deep cambre is NOT at all gracious, nor courteous, nor becoming -- not in a ballet nor in life.

I hope it was the marketing people and not Simon Dow who rang you up... marketing people are not ALWAYS awful -- I have a dear friend who’s a marketing director, in the sports racket, even, wonderful guy -- on the other hand, MOST ARE. PR folk are always friendly, but the suits in the marketing sanctum are often "what's in it for us?" types.

You have a sensibility, which indeed WAB helps you to cultivate, and your situation as a critic also helps you to cultivate -- but it's not in their interests to have sensibilities, au contraire, im Gegenteil!!!

Hmmm, I'd better stop this; I'm having too much fun. But I will say, you should maybe have a drink with Simon Dow in 6 weeks or so -- and tell him SanFrancisco still remembers him fondly -- but DO NOT take this criticism to heart. Those ingrates...

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:wink: I would like to pass kudos on to Grace for writing what is becoming more and more blurred and a rarity: THE TRUTH! I personally try to avoid opening nights because of the artificiality of it all plus you are likely to see a better performance music wise and dance wise after some repetition of the ballet.

:o I was surprised someone actually called you! I guess they didn’t appreciate you biting the hands that feed them and ultimately feed you because without them, then well there would be no ballet to review. It’s too bad ballet always seems to be in a perpetual state of just trying to survive.

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Grace, as I'm sure you know, for a company to call and berate a critic or editor is extremely bush league. I've had it happen rarely, and my approach is, if they're nice, say I'm sorry you were disappointed in the piece; I wrote what I believed. And if they're nasty, snarl, "I am not your press agent!" at them.

To companies: just don't do this. It puts the critic in a terrible position -- if s/he has a more positive take on your next performance, s/he'll be worried that you will think your bullying was the cause.

I don't think there's a review ever written -- except those that seem to have been dictated by the choreographer or artistic director (and this does happen) -- that pleases a company. Anything short of "the most stupendous performance in the history of time by the world's greatest company" won't do, and that must be backed up about 70-11 adjectives.

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Did they phone you at home, Grace? That would give you fodder for another story-Especially, if you had it on tape! I tried in vane to locate Dance Australia Magazine on the web but could not. I assume you must subscribe to view?

I’m curious if critics have been criticized by :wink: company employees :o before? Could they bar a critic from the barre or perhaps restrict access to the critic’s lounge where light refreshments and snacks are commonly served? Could they ban a critic from entering a training facility to view a ballet being created? Could the company prohibit dancers from being interviewed by a critic? This certainly has opened up a veritable Pandora of possibilities! :ermm:

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It should be noted :wub: the lovely Grace :wub: was very gracious by not naming :wink: the crybaby :o who called to chastise her over a review! If I was in the same position I would have exposed :ermm: the big sop :yucky: and mailed :yucky: the whiner :yucky: a pacifier! Indeed, that person, whoever they may be, is very fortunate they did not call moi because I record all my home phone calls. I used the device for interviews a decade ago and left it on and well, it came in very handy one day. I can’t go into it here but well it is perfectly legal to record incoming phone calls to your home. :shhh:

FYI: In some industries, inappropriate phone calls, can result in a PINK SLIP! So be careful, you are responsible for what you say whether this be during or outside working hours. :grinning:

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I would like to offer up a tip to Grace. Instead of bluntly stating your opinion of what you saw:

For those of us who hold the company in genuine and lasting high regard, this manufactured buzz is artificial, dismaying, and distracting.

You may consider writing up a description of the events in question. Perhaps quote a rather monotonous speech, provide the time frame, and :sleeping: reaction of those sitting in your area. :sleeping: That way, you let the reader decide for themselves whether the pre-ballet activities were worthy of an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest and loudest collective :yawn: !


I recall a ballet premiere eons ago where the above mentioned posturing occurred and a mayor who was particularly long-winded, and not a very good public speaker, stalled the proceedings by a good 10 minutes. None of the Toronto critics commented on this because, quite frankly, too many of them serve up PR for the National Ballet of Canada. I, myself, created a social ballet faux pas by cupping my hands to bellow:


I was quickly :shhh: SHUSED :shhh: by those unfortunate enough to be sitting around me but there was also some laughter and applause. So, others did share my opinion. Note: Readers of Ballet Alert. I’ve matured a lot since that boring day. I no longer yell out

at the ballet!

I do believe it is important to be sensitive to those who provide funding and give to the ballet, but in the end, if you are a true critic, you should be allowed to voice your honest opinion. If you don’t, then nobody will read you and for those who do, you won’t have any credibility. I would much rather read a critic who offers up an honest constructive critique than one whose title should actually be PR writer for providing corporate :wink: jobs! As long as you back up what you write with the appropriate facts and observations (as Grace did), well then, the recipient of the critique should as Bogie once said:

Take it, and like it!

If you’re honest with yourselves, you will admit that ballet, of all the arts, receives the kindest of reviews by critics. I’ve read reviews of plays, movies, concerts, and sporting events in which the reviewer, while being absolutely honest, was also absolutely ruthless. I assume what we are possibly debating here is whether special consideration should be given to an industry that is struggling to survive and depends on charity for its very existence?

Of course, even if Grace had used a softer approach with her prose, the management of West Australian Ballet may still have called her to offer up their opinion of her opinion. It will be interesting to see if any :rolleyes: heads will roll :rolleyes: as a result of ‘the phone call.’ I’m hoping they conveyed their thoughts to Grace in a civil manner. If not, somebody may be out of a job. Of course, this all depends on the work culture and politics involved. In some industries, inappropriate behavior is not tolerated – especially when one is representing one’s company in a work capacity.

If I was the management of West Australian Ballet, I would have issued a PR Release publicly apologizing to the public and thanking Grace for bringing the pre-ballet boredom to their attention! This would have created, albeit bad publicity for the ballet, but as someone once said:

Any publicity, good or bad, is G :o  :ermm: D!
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