Tweeted from the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, on 15th February, 2012:
Wow I wish I could review a ballet like you do. I’m impressed by almost everything because I just don’t know better. I suppose I can compare it to artwork: the average Joe cannot give a proper critique on an artist’s work until they have a good grasp on the components, techniques, and history of art. Most people just say, “I like this,” or “I don’t like this, but I don’t know why.” That’s kind of how my thoughts on ballet come out. “This was great!” or “This part was boring/uncomfortable, but I don’t know why.” Seems I have a lot to learn yet still.
You’ve hit the problem of criticism right on the head! What if a learned critic said “this dance, or this painting, is great” but most of the people who went to see it were bored? Does the critique matter? Few will pay money to see that dance company, or that artist’s work, again. That’s what publicists call “critical acclaim.”
What happens more often is a critic says “this is a piece of s***” and yet the public falls in love with it (and names their children after it). That gets labeled “pop culture”.
No matter how much or how little you know about dance, a performance either sparks something in you or it doesn’t. Of course the more you know about dance technique and history and the more you’ve seen of it, the more you’ll notice details and the more insights you’ll have into why you like something or why you don’t. But everyone brings their own interesting perspective to the viewing experience – as an artist, for example, you bring your appreciation for colour, shape and composition.
And do you realize that you know more about ballet technique than the chief New York Times dance critic? That’s right: Alastair Macaulay has NEVER set foot in a ballet studio. (In tights, that is – he may have watched a rehearsal.) Unbelievable, but true. He does not really understand how hard it is to maintain your turn-out once your foot leaves the floor (although someone has probably tried to explain it to him.) So you should take some pride in the fact that you have actually wrestled with inside pirouettes and when you watch someone else wrestle with them you can empathize in a way that Alastair cannot. He may have seen five hundred more ballerinas wrestle with inside pirouettes than you have – after all, that is his job – which gives him some interesting things to say. (Though generally I have to take out a dictionary – or two – and diagram his sentences before I can understand them.)
The idea of a professional struggling with the same things I do is mind-blowing… but honestly when I think about it, it is true! As a professional artist, I find I still struggle with the same things I did as a beginner– and what other people who are currently beginners say they struggle with. It’s interesting how well the two worlds can relate, and my understanding of one can really inspire or help the other. I think the next time I do a review on a ballet, I’ll do it as though I’m looking at a painting! That should make for an interesting review!
And as for critics not ever having taken a class… I guess it’s the same as artist critics. A lot of times art critics have never picked up a paintbrush in their lives. I know some are artists themselves, but sometimes it feels funny to hear a critique from someone who has never done it themselves. What an interesting thought!
When Merce Cunningham first came onto the scene as a groundbreaking choreographer in the 1950′s, it was the art world that sat up and took notice before the dance critics woke up to his genius… So your reviews of dance through an artist’s lens could shine a light on something that the rest of us miss…
I hope the venture capitalist paid for your ticket. No one can afford to see the ballet anymore. Or the opera. Or the theater. Most of us are stuck sitting at home watching 3 min clips on Youtube. I like your twitter reviews though, you cut to the chase. Some of these reviewers go on and on. And they say something was beautiful but they don’t really say what was the thing that made it beautiful. For a student like me it helps to read something specific.
I bought my own subscription, thank you very much!
Single-ticket prices are indeed outrageous but it’s not like the ballet companies are making money. Ballets just cost a fortune to put on, more than theatre and opera, and without meaningful government subsidies American ballet companies are constantly on the edge of financial ruin. More on this in my next post…
all those floundering arts institutes in the US should engage in more cultural exchanges with china & wangle something from their nouveaux riche tycoons who’ve wholeheartedly embraced capitalism & learnt that patronizing the arts helps make communism less scary
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