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a few words to the wise

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I was at the NYCB matinee at SPAC just a little while ago, and after the second ballet, a member of the company appeared in the section of the theater where I work. I invited her to have a seat, at which point she glanced at my SPAC ID and asked me if I write for Ballet Alert! I had forgotten that my name is plainly there and I had forgotten that I couldn't think of an alias when I began posting here so I use my name. So I was a little taken aback--at first--and then this charming young woman and I had a lovely conversation.

She was very aware of which writers on BA like her and which don't--she referred to this board as "addictive" and mentioned that a number of company members read it religiously. Truthfully it started me thinking about what I may have said over the past year.

I know that Alexandra has said a number of times that many people in the ballet world do read this board, but having this conversation really brought it to reality for me. Somehow I thought that we were writing somewhat in a vacuum--for each other--but not for anyone else's eyes.

I only say this to remind everyone that it is nice to be important, but it is more important to be nice--and let's say what we need to say and let those chips fall--but let's also remember that there are human beings who see what is being said about them--and I think we can try to say things in a constructive and positive way.

I haven't reneged on my pledge to try to write short reviews of as many performances as I possibly can. I always forget how busy this short season is, and how quickly I become caught up. I am meeting BW tonight and tomorrow I'll have time to post some impressions of the past three days.

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It's also a potential win-win situation!:) If Ballet Talk is known for candor and immediacy, then good! If we know who our readership is, then it's an exhortation to improve our critical and e-journalism skills and make the reviews, positive or negative, the best we can.:)

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Before we all get swelled heads, I don't think every dancer in New York, much less the world, is reading us, or we'd have a lot more people on line than 50 at a time :)

I hope we are all aware that these posts are NOT private conversations -- put a post it note up on your screen, if you need to. "What I write is being read, right now, by people I don't know." Or whatever it takes. BUT HOWEVER, MOREOVER AND NEVERTHELESS, I hope people will not freeze at this thought. I think it is possible to write about Dancer Y, even if you've been told that Dancer Y checks this board every hour, along with her entire extended family, three of whom live in your building. One can say, "I was disappointed in Dancer Y," or "I wondered why Dancer Y had been cast, as she doesn't seem to have the technique for the role," or something north of "Good grief, why on earth is Dancer Y even on stage, with that crooked nose, those bow legs and sway back? My dog dances better."

Somewhere in between silence and insults lies Net Heaven :) I think most of us hit that happy median most of the time, and if we do, then being confronted by someone who reads us won't be a problem.

To the dancers who read this board, I hope you'll remember that if someone doesn't like one of your performances, it doesn't mean they don't like YOU. :)

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There are also many moms of dancers who read this board. Most are not brave enough to post but do read. I think that it is harder for moms to see criticism of their dancer children than it is for the dancers to see it about themselves. Dancers do not like to get bad press, of course, but are more likely to say "consider the source" than a mom is. I think that posters on this board are considerate and posts make it clear that it was the performance and not the dancer themself that they did not appreciate that night. Also, as a reader of posts, I know that all dancers, because they are people, have bad days, are tired, have bad shoes, etc so shouldn't be judged on a single performance. Also, it is obvious that everyone appreciates the same performance differently, so it is great when multiple reviewers have seen the same show and those that DID love it also post when others have not appreciated the performance as much as they expected to.

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As a dancer, it is very interesting, actually, to read what everyone has to say. Generally, most people on this board offer very constructive criticism, and while the truth may hurt, in some cases, we cannot always rely on the press to offer completely objective reviews. One critic can only write one article, but here on BA, you can have three, four, and often times many more people offering their opinions.

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Guest Allegro_brill

In 1962 (God that ages me:) ) I received one of the worst reviews i've ever read about man, beast or fish whilst in my third year with NYCB, needless to say it devastated me, to tell the truth I wasn't ready for the work I'd been cast in Second movement Symphony, and it was several months before I could even face going on stage again ( I faked a torn ligament) however, without those reviews I would never have grown past the first blush of abject adolescent cockiness which on looking back characterized all my performances up to that point, indeed I very much believe that Mr B cast me, knowing at that point the role was beyond me, in order to make me see the world of my performance outside of my ego, outside of my limited sphere of understanding of what I believed ballet to be. I began to see my colleagues on stage not as rivals but as equal partners, magnificent acolytes in service to the dance. It made me grow up!!!

Thank God for criticism and for the ability to learn from it, it turned me into a much better dancer, artist and indeed person.

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What a wise and beautiful posting, Allegro_brill.

There's so much to be said for learning endurance, becoming seasoned, getting polished like a stone by the sea...

One of the paradoxes re: notices in the press is that whilst the negative critiques hurt, they can force one to grow. But worshipful praises can lead to an inflated sense of self, distance from other company members and sometimes sloppy "resting on my laurels" work. Not to mention the "getting knocked off the pedestal" syndrome certain critics love to apply down the line on an off night.

In fact, if you ask me which is more treacherous: lacerating criticism or euphoric overpraise, I'm not sure which is harder to endure.

Strange, isn't it?


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There is more than one kind of criticism: the constructive kind that is intended to help the performer grow, to understand his/her mistakes and problems and the destructive kind that merely serves to undermine the performer - to belittle him/her. I have rarely seen a performance that was so bad that one could find no mitigating factor(s) in it.

I have seen dancers who were totally unsuited to a role but who were clearly trying hard. Perhaps it was a role that particular dancer had always dreamed of doing and was being given an opportunity or perhaps the dancer had been miscast or was the only one available to do the role. I'm sure a critic who is trying to be fair can find *something* of value in the performance. I do know that there are dancers whom I do not like to watch - that doesn't make them bad people who need to be ripped apart in the press.

I also abhor critics who make snide remarks sort of "behind the door" - such as the one made by a well-known critic about a Kirov ballerina when she was referred to (in a cattily-phrased manner) as one of the "senior ballerinas" - the implication, in the context in which it was written, was that the dancer was past her prime. The object (again given the context at the time) was to make the ballerina in question look bad compaired to the critic's favored dancer (who earlier in the day had given a simply dreadful performance). In other words, in order to make the "favored" dancer look good, the critic had to 'put down' the less-favored dancer.

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I hadn't looked at this thread since our resident Saratogian - reporter at large - initially posted. I think that Allegro_brill has shown us an especially touching aspect of the life of a professional dancer. Many thanks.

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IT's important to remember, sitting in the audience, that we can see something go wrong, but we can't always know why. That's why phrases such as "it appeared" and "it seemed to me" are not merely filler. Perhaps a dancer "appears" out of control because her partner is not reliable, and not because of personal excess. (I just remembered how much I miss personal excess, of the technical kind, writing that. I don't mean tossing one's head towards the wings, I mean tossing one's leg to one's beautifully bent head. ) What I am getting at, not too directly, is that criticism is opinion, and that we can soften what we say by mentioning that it is from a singular pair of eyes in a singular seat. That being about dancers. On choregraphers, it's always open season on my keyboard.

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I have seen some harsh performance critics here at Ballet Alert. However, most posters do seem supportive and very much in love with the art form. I am not a professional ballet dancer, but I have spent a considerable time around the ballet. Documenting it's history, studying technique and taking photographs of it's performers. Ballet is extremely hard work. The discipline alone is overwhelming. By the time you add the pressure of performance, physical injuries and competition.. you're basically as vunerable as you can be as a person. The standards are very high. This may explain many of the emotional setbacks an insecurities of some performers. I suppose it's fair to pick apart the technical aspects of a certain performance. You did pay your money. However, these artists are inspiring the next generation of young dancers. Its easy to negative. It takes strength to be gentle and kind.

So to all of the current dancers who are giving themselves to the art and to those who have come before.

Thank you!

Dance on. I've got your back!

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I suppose it's fair to pick apart the technical aspects of a certain performance. You did pay your money.

Ballet lovers analyze dancers' performances because they love the art and want to see it thrive. They (or at least those of us here at Ballet Talk) don't see a performance as a commodity for which they've shelled out money, and what we do here is not the balletic equivalent of product reviews on Amazon. We all appreciate the fact that artists work very hard, and are grateful to them for doing so. But like all artists, they have to recognize that the people for whom they're performing have opinions about what they see, and some of these may not be to the artists' liking. Here at Ballet Talk we have certain rules for our discussions, and one of them is that posters should be aware that the dancers may read what they write and to phrase whatever negative criticism they might have tactfully. Anything rude or cruel is deleted from the board. As you say, 32tendu, we are all here because we love ballet and this is one way of supporting it. But support doesn't mean unrelieved praise.

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A rule that we have used in the past, with varying degrees of success, has been the mother in the elevator paradigm. Write as though you know that you're going to be spending a solo trip with the mother of the dancer you're writing about on a slow elevator up the Empire State Building, and she knows who you are. :D

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Hello, Everyone,

Happy weekend!

I haven't posted in awhile and this is indeed my 10th post and this thread seems as good an any other to which to add my thoughts.

I really appreciate the care with which posters strive to post thoughtfully and considerately, bearing in mind the feelings of this wonderful community of dancers, artists and posters. I'm always dismayed and sometimes shocked at how cruel posters' comments can be on YouTube, for example. IMO, regardless if one dances supremely well or one has had a supremely bad night, their efforts and hard work should always be considered and acknowledged, as well as the performer's intent to give a great performance for the audience, and then provide constructive criticism, which can be extremely useful. I know that criticism isn't all touchy-feely and sometimes one must say what they feel/believe/know, etc., but it's always good to be kind.

Also want to say that I am enjoying reading the threads when I can and really like this forum! Now that I've posted 10 times, I guess that makes me not so new anymore! I do want to start a thread on Tiler Peck soon when I have the time - I think she is a really exciting and dimensional ballerina.

- Regards

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Thanks, AlbanyGirl, for your comments about the constructive emphasis in Ballet Alert postings about dancers and specific performances. I agree. We all benefit from it.

OFF TOPIC: Regarding Tiler Peck -- there's a very effusive appreciation of (love letter to?) Peck's dancing in the Summer 2012 issue of Ballet Review. Author is Don Daniels. I don't get to see NYCB performances any more, but I have seen video clips including Peck. Her Marzipan was for me the single most memorable part of the company's 2011 televised performance of Balanchine's Nutcracker. Brief cameo; big, lasting impression.

I hope that you do start a Tiler Peck thread and that lots of posters chime in with their own thoughts.

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Thanks,Bart, for your reply. I can't wait to get my summer BR issue, which reminds me, perhaps I'd better check if my subscription has expired . This is my first year as a subscriber and I haven't received a reminder yet or the issue. I will start a thread on Tiler Peck once I have more time - I think she is really terrific. But for now, let me just say that I agree with your view about her Marzipan - IMO, she was brilliant. And in general, Tiler is sooo much fun to watch! Lots more to say about her.

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Write as though you know that you're going to be spending a solo trip with the mother of the dancer you're writing about on a slow elevator up the Empire State Building, and she knows who you are. blush.gif

I would give my eye teeth to ride the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building with Veronika Part's mother so I can unblushingly wax enthusiastic about her daughter's supreme gifts and superlative training. I wouldn't say a single negative word. Her minor technical insecurities make her especially endearing and give each performance a spontaneity that doesn't happen with certain other ballerinas. Veronika's mom, I hope you're reading!

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