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Reviewing in a small or one-paper town

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This is an offshoot of the recent thread on whether companies should have a say in hiring and firing critics. Ari just put up in links this article, a review of the Minnesota Ballet in Duluth. There's nothing "right" or "wrong" with the review; I'm putting it up here because in one article, it touches on almost every hypothetical issue we've discussed, and it could be any of them -

  • A reviewer stuck with an audience he considers unable to appreciate what he thinks the company ought to perform and what he would like to see.
  • The reviewer has seen much better companies than this local one and thinks this artistic directorship is not very interesting.
  • The reviewer would rather be watching a completely different style of dance.

What do you think? We can't know without background, but what do you infer from the review? Can you read between the lines?

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I agree completely with your analysis -- and I think this is a good example of the situation where a critic and company are stuck with each other.

I think the critic was fair, though. It's not a blast. He points out the positive, and makes it clear that he doesn't care much for what they're doing generally, and why. I always feel uncomfortable reading about audience reaction -- he's saying, in essence, that this is pretty basic stuff and the audience is lapping it up. I don't know how he would avoid it, though, giving his point of view.

Other reactions?

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What's interesting about this review is the fact that the critic is an experienced balletgoer who has, as Leigh infers, seen much better. Most small town critics (and, sadly, some large town critics) know little if anything about ballet and are very easily pleased (or else are under an unspoken mandate to be boosterish about local talent).

I would hope that the critic's background would teach his readers something about the art form. But there are those — I've met some myself — who dislike critics who are "too critical." They think there must be something wrong with someone who "doesn't like anything."

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well found, leigh! ;)

i suppose we could email the writer and ask him to join in, here...

it's an interesting read.

it doesn't read (to me) as if he's got a chip on his shoulder. it is reasonably descriptive, and gives a bit each way. i think it is very fair to acknowledge that the audience seems to love something, when the writer doesn't.

"less musical and more emotive than any I have seen in recent years"
COULD be damning - but seems to be followed by comments which soften the impact hugely...

btw, i just did a search on the author's name, and found the following:

Staff Reporter V. Paul Virtucio covers arts and entertainment. He welcomes comments at vvirtucio@daily.umn.edu
there was also this one: pvirtuci@duluthnews.com
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Just to make myself clear, I also thought Virtucio's review was quite reasonable. I'm not entirely sure which of the circumstances I outlined was true - it could be any or all. I'd have to read a few more reviews. Like Alexandra, I think it sounds like a rough match between writer and company, and there probably isn't much respite either gets; he's probably the only person to review every performance. I have sympathy for both sides, and I put this up because it seemed like a clear example of the dilemmas both a writer and a company face in a one-paper, one-critic, one-company town.

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I agree with Leigh's inferences. However, I don't think boosterism is wrong, per se, or that the writers are necessarily bumpkins who are easily pleased. You don't want to appear to be condescending, or hurt a company that's struggling just to get by. There's nothing wrong with taking such things into account. I thought this was a fair and honest review, but I'm not sure if it would be helpful to see a variation on it every week. And you certainly wouldn't want someone who was constantly implying "We'll, I've seen Paree, and this isn't it." Of course, it's not.

Under different circumstances, however, I do think boosterism can be damaging, not so much in the smaller cities and towns as in the larger cities, where the paper can afford more than one critic and the company is strong enough to take a little criticism – and doesn't get it.

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