In our (the writers of this blog) first edition of the dance e-journal, The Dance JOT, I wrote a piece about the effects of the internet and online writers to the field of dance criticism. So I was obviously intrigued when someone shared an article from Dance Magazine, which speaks extensively on dance criticism from the views of critics themselves.
I highly recommend reading the full article here. Joseph Carmen interviews several top dance critics and provides their thoughts on the role of a critic and ways they approach the position. With input from Deborah Jowitt, Alastair Macaulay, Allan Ulrich, Joan Acocella, Hedy Weiss, John Rockwell, and Carmen himself, it’s great to hear the opinions of different reviewers regarding the work that they do.
One part that is really interesting to me is when each of the critics recall a particular review or action that they regretted. Even though most reviewers say they are not afraid to be honest and sometimes negative, many of them also admit to times that they were overly harsh or had a skewed focus. As an emerging writer, it’s always nice to hear that even the pros have a difficult time and make mistakes.
The other part of the article I’d like to mention is toward the end when a few critics discuss whether or not they feel they are part of the dance community. Ulrich, Acocella, and Macaulay all note not being able to ‘mix and mingle’ with dancers and choreographers. Apparently, the Times even told Macaulay that having casual coffee with a performer would be seen as a conflict of interest. However, Jowitt feels that her additional roles as dancer, choreographer, and teacher make it impossible for her to not be a part of the community. She says she has had to learn how to “behave honorably” within the community in order to manage her multiple interests.
So do critics and dance writers need to distance themselves from the community that they write about? To me this seems rather absurd. I feel that involvement in the community and closer connection to the actual art would only make the discourse stronger. In a way I understand ‘conflict of interest,’ but then again, can’t we all just act professionally? Why can’t a critic be friends with performers and have engaging conversations with choreographers, just so long as both sides are aware that the friendliness must give way to an objective lens when the critic does their job of writing a review? A writer should be professional enough to not let personal relations get in the way, and an artist should be professional enough to continue the conversations in the face of possible negative criticism. And if the critics act in this manner, then the audience should understand that ‘having coffee’ does not taint the effectiveness or quality of a critic’s work.
I know that I am not a bigwig dance critic myself, and perhaps there are many challenges involved that I don’t fully understand. But to me, it seems that there is a way to do the job and be a part of the community; and perhaps we should strive for this goal – a fully engaged community learning and growing through dialogue with one another.
For more thoughts on dance criticism, also check out Erica’s previous post. And be on the lookout for our next edition of The Dance JOT, which will be available to read online (for FREE!) in the next couple of weeks.