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Dance Writing in the Time of Covid-19


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How New York City Ballet Took On the Pandemic
With its season—including “The Nutcracker”—cancelled, the company created a video series that asks, What can dance, so dependent on bodies sharing space, become in the age of social distancing?

By Michael Schulman

Photography by Michael Avedon
October 29, 2020

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/11/09/how-new-york-city-ballet-took-on-the-pandemic

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This is a fascinating travelogue:

Diary of an American in Finland, Doing ‘Essential’ Work in Ballet

The author didn’t know when she’d be able to work again in America. So she was thrilled to go to Helsinki to help stage a new “Jekyll & Hyde.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/17/arts/dance/finnish-national-ballet-jekyll-and-hyde.html

My favorite line:
“We’re Finns — we like social distancing”

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A Critical Failure
Sofia Coppola directs New York City Ballet's Spring Gala film

https://fjordreview.com/new-york-city-ballet-gala/


The title, "A Critical Failure", may seem an odd one. I think it is meant as a reference to this situation:
"this is what reviewing dance in the pandemic has become: essentially, film reviews by amateurs"

Reading articles in the present day, I often find myself pining for Copy Editors. At least that is what I was thinking when I encountered this section:

A duet from the opening half of Balanchine’s “Liebeslieder Walzer,” set on the grand promenade of the theater, was lovely. It starred the imminently retiring principals Maria Kowroski and Ask La Cour—a towering couple who appeared, alongside the Nadelman sculpture pairs at either end of the space, to be at a Viennese ball for the gods. And the dancers’ soft heels made me less nervous on the marble floors than the slippery pointe shoes had in "When We Fell" earlier in the season.

The phrase "imminently retiring" sounds a little funny, but I won't say that it is ungrammatical. However, in this context, heels (and pointe shoes) cannot literally make Faye Arthurs less or more nervous on marble floors. In Grammar Land, I think the issues with this sentence would fall under the rubric, "Predication and Sentence Organization Problems".

Assuming that the sentence implies the verb "feel" ("made me FEEL less nervous"), there is still some missing information that shouldn't simply be left to the reader to fill in:

WATCHING the dancers perform in soft heels made me (FEEL) less nervous ABOUT the decision to perform on slippery marble floors. In the earlier film, "When We Fell", the dancers were performing in pointe shoes on this same treacherous surface...

Perhaps Arthurs is assuming this information is all implied, but truthfully, we only get what the writer gives us. Can this all be written as a single sentence? Perhaps, but it's usually easier and safer to stick to one thought per sentence if the meaning is getting muddled. I guess Arthurs didn't see any problems with her own (conversational?) writing style, but that's what a good Copy Editor can provide - a distanced, critical viewpoint of the writing. The better angels of our writing nature.  😉

 

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Posted (edited)

Copy editor here (among other things). Personally, I wouldn't alter the original sentence if I were copy editing the article. I think it clearly communicates all of that in a sentence that also conveys the author's style. [ETA: To clarify, I haven't read the full article. I'm basing my judgment only on what was given.]

It's not my job as a copy editor to impose my own style, just to make sure that the author's style (if there is one) isn't causing problems. (And if there isn't one, then I can perhaps provide one — if there's a need for one, given the context.)

(And yes, we get what the writer gives us, which includes all that's not given explicitly.)

Edited by nanushka
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1 hour ago, nanushka said:

Copy editor here (among other things). Personally, I wouldn't alter the original sentence if I were copy editing the article. I think it clearly communicates all of that in a sentence that also conveys the author's style. [ETA: To clarify, I haven't read the full article. I'm basing my judgment only on what was given.]

It's not my job as a copy editor to impose my own style, just to make sure that the author's style (if there is one) isn't causing problems. (And if there isn't one, then I can perhaps provide one — if there's a need for one, given the context.)

(And yes, we get what the writer gives us, which includes all that's not given explicitly.)

Great to hear from you, Nanushka. To me, this isn't a style issue, but rather, an issue with the grammar and semantics of that particular sentence. The core of the sentence (as written by Arthurs) is:

The heels made me (less) nervous [the other parts acting as modifiers of the sentence core]. She adds "on the marble floors" to point to her real concern. But Arthurs isn't feeling nervous on the marble floors - instead she's gets a nervous feeling watching the dancers perform on a slick marble floor. I can figure that out, but it's about me having to sort through the sentence and get to her probable meaning and intention. It's not a well-written English sentence. End of rant.   😉

Edited by pherank
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Hmm. Overall I think Faye Arthurs is one of the most intelligent dance writers around. I had the pleasure of sitting next to her at an ABT performance we were both reviewing. She's an observant, sharply opinionated lady.

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57 minutes ago, canbelto said:

Hmm. Overall I think Faye Arthurs is one of the most intelligent dance writers around. I had the pleasure of sitting next to her at an ABT performance we were both reviewing. She's an observant, sharply opinionated lady.

And overall, I agree.   😉
The Fjord Review writers are some of the better writers on dance - whether or not I happen to agree with an individual writer's take on a performance/event. I appreciate anyone willing to get into the details of a performance.

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1 hour ago, pherank said:

I can figure that out, but it's about me having to sort through the sentence and get to her probable meaning and intention.

I agree with you. I don't think it would have violated her style too much to move "on the marble floor" to a different part of the sentence.

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41 minutes ago, volcanohunter said:

I agree with you. I don't think it would have violated her style too much to move "on the marble floor" to a different part of the sentence.

And there's no shame in breaking up a complicated sentence into multiple, simple sentences if there's more than one idea at work.

Arthurs "style" in this particular sentence just strikes me as conversational English, which often deviates from the rules of "Standard Written English". But the article isn't actually full of these deviations (and free-form thoughts) that one might expect from conversation. So it's not the overall 'style' of the piece, and that is one reason I was tripped up by that particular sentence. That and the fact that it doesn't appear to follow Standard Written English rules (whether or not one cares about that is a whole other thing). But, enough about that.

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File this under Dance Writing, and Cartoons, in the Age of Instagram.

Alastair Macaulay often posts well-composed statements on his Instagram page. But I do wonder and worry that this is a terrible way of recording one's thoughts for posterity. People such as Maria Kochetkova have referred to their Instagram pages as a kind of public, digital diary. Is this an effective way to convey and retain information? Or is it all as confused and tenuous as it often seems?

https://www.instagram.com/p/CQIyFw5gFwt/

E36qqoGWEAEMfAQ.jpg

alastair.macaulay: This cartoon was sent to me this morning. My tragedy is that I am both these men.

I’m also booking the policeman for deploying apostrophes instead of acute accents, and mis-spelling “off-balance”, “ballonné”, and “disastrous”. And yet his use of the Oxford comma is a highly mitigating factor.
[I personally appreciate the fact that Macaulay is calling out the unprofessional text display. If this is a New Yorker cartoon, then the mistakes are not forgivable.]

 

https://www.instagram.com/p/CQY1tQJg9kd/

she-did-only-twenty-eight-of-the-thirty-

alastair.macaulay: A George Booth cartoon from a bygone issue of “The New Yorker”. I love its depiction of manic-balletomanic obsessiveness.

In my first ten or fifteen years of watching “Swan Lake”, it was standard to see thirty, thirty-one, or thirty-two fouetté turns. There were rare occasions when usually reliable ballerinas managed fewer; rare ballerinas who could only ever manage between sixteen and twenty; and very rare ballerinas who substituted alternative steps. (On one sorry occasion at Covent Garden in 1980, Marguerite Porter actually fell onto her backside after sixteen fouettés.) I never saw Margot Fonteyn’s Odile, but treasure the description by my friend Richard Jarman @jarperson of a performance in the late 1960s when his heart thumped in his breast because of the phenomenal musical precision with which she timed each fouetté. A New York friend recalls the same with the Odile of Martine van Hamel.

In the twenty first century, the situation has become different but seldom better. A surprisingly high number of ballerinas add many double or triple turns, but fall behind the basic musical pulse, so that the number of actually fouettés (the whipped action of the leg following the initial demi-grand rond de jambe) is far fewer than thirty. (The audience applauds skill in turning that’s devoid of even basic musical rhythm.) When Misty Copeland, a ballerina who began dancing “Swan Lake” late in her career fails to manage thirty-two, some balletomanes carry on with the vindictive obsessiveness of this cartoon, and some of our sillier critics urge her to work harder and do better. (Basic lesson: where a ballerina has not had the technique for thirty-two fouettés before age thirty, do not expect or urge her to acquire it later in life.)

Even so, I had been watching “Swan Lake” for more than forty years when I witnessed one new peak achievement. As many ballerinas testify, fouettés nos 17-32 in “Swan Lake” are far harder because the music’s dynamics change, working against the fouetté action rather than supporting it. Even those ballerinas who add multiple turns add far fewer of them after no 16. <MORE>

...At New York City Ballet, music director Andrew Litton likes to set, for Odile’s fouettés, a pulse that is far faster than most of the company’s ballerinas can manage in tempo. Yet the phenomenal Tiler Peck @tilerpeck not merely delivered the first sixteen in tempo, she then added double pirouettes for fouettés 17-32: both rhythmic and brilliant. Who in our lifetime will be the first to equal this peak of musical and technical bravura?

>> Entirely off-topic, but Macaulay's constant video recording of wildlife activities at Clissold Park (in the London Borough of Hackney) has been fantastic:

https://www.instagram.com/p/CO6HphNgILa/

https://www.instagram.com/p/CQV3fncgWb-/

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On 6/25/2021 at 2:19 PM, pherank said:

File this under Dance Writing, and Cartoons, in the Age of Instagram.

Alastair Macaulay often posts well-composed statements on his Instagram page. But I do wonder and worry that this is a terrible way of recording one's thoughts for posterity. People such as Maria Kochetkova have referred to their Instagram pages as a kind of public, digital diary. Is this an effective way to convey and retain information? Or is it all as confused and tenuous as it often seems?

https://www.instagram.com/p/CQIyFw5gFwt/

There are days I think that Alastair Macaulay doesn't sleep at all, since he regularly turns out hundreds of words a day on various subjects.  Since he's not writing for the NYT, he's increased his output everywhere else.  Much of this does end up on his website, though, so it's not quite as ephemeral as you might think, Instagram being what it is.

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9 hours ago, sandik said:

There are days I think that Alastair Macaulay doesn't sleep at all, since he regularly turns out hundreds of words a day on various subjects.  Since he's not writing for the NYT, he's increased his output everywhere else.  Much of this does end up on his website, though, so it's not quite as ephemeral as you might think, Instagram being what it is.

In his case, the website makes sense.

When it comes to text comments on Instagram, accessibility is a real issue. Using Macaulay's postings as an example, if we want to locate a particular statement he made regarding the ballet Serenade, we have no means to search on text phrases - aside from run-together hashtag phrases, but that would only yield a page of postings from people all over the world. A real mess. We don't have any way to filter the Macaulay posts and their text content based on some particular keyword or phrase (to 'disappear' everything that isn't tagged "Clissold Park" for instance). It's all about hashtag words and "Following" in Instagram-land.

Facebook/Instagram just wants lots and lots of interconnections (of a dubious nature, imo). I don't have much faith that Facebook/Instagram is going to take good care of the content anyway. At least with a personal website, it's entirely possible to backup the content and save it to a hard drive or burn it to a DVD. Not so with Instagram or Twitter postings.

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But critics and scholars have always uttered ephemera, haven't they? Once there were coffee houses and cocktail parties (remember those?); now there's Instagram and Twitter. Unless there's a Boswell on the scene to record those thoughts, one just has to note them in one's own diary, or hope they reappear in some more permanently accessible form.

I wonder if the seeming impermanence of these media is part of what allows for the free-form trying out of ideas that we see from such writers. (Though Macaulay has certainly written some questionable things in published print...)

Edited by nanushka
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6 hours ago, pherank said:

We don't have any way to filter the Macaulay posts and their text content based on some particular keyword or phrase (to 'disappear' everything that isn't tagged "Clissold Park" for instance)

Given that Instagram content is an absolute goldmine for influencers or anyone with something to sell or something to research, there's a healthy marketplace of third-party services that will scrape IG content from the account or accounts of your choosing and dump the results into a spreadsheet or json file for you, where they can be searched and filtered how you like. There are even Chrome extensions that will scrape publicly available IG data for you. (Some of these tools are pretty sketchy, so beware ...)

If you know your way around python, javascript, or PHP, you can choose from among the dozens and dozens of open-source IG scraping tools posted to GitHub

7 hours ago, pherank said:

I don't have much faith that Facebook/Instagram is going to take good care of the content anyway. At least with a personal website, it's entirely possible to backup the content and save it to a hard drive or burn it to a DVD. Not so with Instagram or Twitter postings.

In the wake of the EU's GDPR privacy law, Instagram now makes it possible to download everything you've posted to a zip file and either save it or transfer it to another service. 

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As a dance critic, I look at social media tools in several ways.  There are fewer and fewer outlets for writing about dance while dancers and choreographers are less likely to use older, more conventional ways to promote their work.  I've had to sign on to platforms like Facebook and Instagram in order to hear about events and keep track of artists in my community, while I try to follow along with colleagues who are self-publishing their commentary or using their social media contacts to link to their work.  We are now responsible for promoting our own work, even if it's posted on a fairly conventional website, since readers may not follow along with the site, but just be looking for writing about a particular artist or ensemble.  It's a big time sink, among other deficits, and as pherank points out, it's very hard to sort the wheat from the chaff.  But it is how work is being done now.

Truly, there has always been a divide between the writing that gets published, and the commentary that is part of the larger conversation about the art form.  You can make the argument that our increased use of social media actually gives more people more access to more stuff -- the big problem is finding it, and then finding a place to keep it.

And in case you didn't know, Google will link you to individual postings here on BA.  So smile, and say "hi" to the rest of the sphere... 

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, Kathleen O'Connell said:

In the wake of the EU's GDPR privacy law, Instagram now makes it possible to download everything you've posted to a zip file and either save it or transfer it to another service. 

My days of dealing with GitHub tools are, hopefully, long over.  😉   For the average reader, there's got to be an easier way to filter content on social media, and that really needs to be provided by the platforms themselves.
I didn't know that Instagram was allowing for content downloads now - that's good for everyone to know. Funny that it would take government pressure to make that happen. Hah hah.
 

1 hour ago, sandik said:

As a dance critic, I look at social media tools in several ways.  There are fewer and fewer outlets for writing about dance while dancers and choreographers are less likely to use older, more conventional ways to promote their work.  I've had to sign on to platforms like Facebook and Instagram in order to hear about events and keep track of artists in my community, while I try to follow along with colleagues who are self-publishing their commentary or using their social media contacts to link to their work.  We are now responsible for promoting our own work, even if it's posted on a fairly conventional website, since readers may not follow along with the site, but just be looking for writing about a particular artist or ensemble.  It's a big time sink, among other deficits, and as pherank points out, it's very hard to sort the wheat from the chaff.  But it is how work is being done now.

Truly, there has always been a divide between the writing that gets published, and the commentary that is part of the larger conversation about the art form.  You can make the argument that our increased use of social media actually gives more people more access to more stuff -- the big problem is finding it, and then finding a place to keep it.

And in case you didn't know, Google will link you to individual postings here on BA.  So smile, and say "hi" to the rest of the sphere... 

"It's a big time sink, among other deficits" - if there's one thing I learned during my association with the software/computer industry, it was that the biggest selling factor - "this will save you time and money" - was truly The Big Lie. The entire point of these tools is to involve people in endless hours of production, fixing, fine-tuning, what-have-you. And that's how jobs get created. But none of it is actually "necessary". It's just how we spend our time these days (unless you are fortunate enough to be able to drop out of the electronic establishment entirely).

Yes, it's no problem finding links to BA postings by searching on a line of text in Google. But try to do the same for Instagram - no results.

As far as Macaulay goes, I think I like his commentary on wildlife more than his thoughts on ballet - though he often has interesting things to say. He delights a bit too much in provoking his audience.

His wildlife postings are generally good humored:

Tales of Clissold Park 926. With this video, Actaeon Stag III makes his debut in this series. As you see, his antlers are far less developed than those of his predecessors: they’re almost soft, almost furry. Presumably he knows he has a public, but as yet he seems too young to handle a commodity so dangerous as admiration. As yet he also seems to have made no serious contact with the does: he was grazing at the same time as they five days ago, but keeping apart. He therefore attends solely to what he can handle: his body, the grass, the park, the weather, the light.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CQq3sDAgroE/

 
alastair.macaulay
Tales of Clissold Park 926, 927. As you see from these two videos, taken fifteen minutes apart, this afternoon has been Action Stations for Telemachus and Taglioni Terrapin. Never a moment’s quiet to enjoy their post-coital bliss, always hustle and bustle, everything perpetuum mobile.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CQrTmbSAuDx/

Edited by pherank
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2 minutes ago, pherank said:

For the average reader, there's got to be an easier way to filter content on social media, and that really needs to be provided by the platforms themselves.

Agreed! It's now possible to search Instagram using keywords (not just hashtags), but its keyword search functionality is extremely limited. It doesn't appear to be possible to limit your keyword search a specific account, for instance, or to apply any kind of meaningful filters. Plus, IG won't let you search on a just any old keyword: keyword searches are limited to "general interest topics and keywords that are within Instagram’s community guidelines." If you've got a niche keyword, you're likely out of luck. And, since it's IG, search coughs up photos and videos, not comments.

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27 minutes ago, Kathleen O'Connell said:

Agreed! It's now possible to search Instagram using keywords (not just hashtags), but its keyword search functionality is extremely limited. It doesn't appear to be possible to limit your keyword search a specific account, for instance, or to apply any kind of meaningful filters. Plus, IG won't let you search on a just any old keyword: keyword searches are limited to "general interest topics and keywords that are within Instagram’s community guidelines." If you've got a niche keyword, you're likely out of luck. And, since it's IG, search coughs up photos and videos, not comments.

IG's idea of a keyword is a little different from mine. There seems to be no way to target a particular posting for its text content (either through standard search engines or IG search). I would imagine there are times when a writer would want to credit an IG statement by linking directly to it from an online article. But if one hasn't already bookmarked the posting, it can be a real struggle to find the comment again. I tried to do that once with one of Maria Kochetkova's postings, but I could never locate the comment. Just too much to wade through. I wonder how posters manage to find all their "Collab? Dm us!" requests. 😉

 

Edited by pherank
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