Why Criticism Matters

Why Criticism Matters

Criticism should be a force for good in the arts, especially for dance. It’s unfortunate that the word is so often understood only in its negative sense, and that the relationship between the critic and the artist is sometimes perceived as adversarial. At The Barre Flies we define criticism as “commentary and analysis,” and we invite contributors who truly know and love their subject. Our intention is to promote dance by providing a lively forum.

• At a time when companies are struggling to fill their houses, criticism legitimizes and raises public awareness of dance; it encourages both first-time and repeat attendance at performances.

• Critics are more than arbiters; they are the observers and reporters who create the historical record of live performances — events that are rarely captured on film.

• Criticism serves as an advocate for the audience. While some dancers may resent being judged by a critic who has perhaps never done a tendu, most people in the audience haven’t done one either. To those who dance, choreograph, and determine programming criticism makes the case for what an audience may reasonably expect from a performance.

• Criticism is a guide that helps the viewer to appreciate what might not be obvious to the uninitiated, and to see beyond what is merely a “crowd pleaser.” It can offer a context for new work: an experienced critic has broad knowledge of dances both past and present, and can illuminate a performance by putting it in perspective. Ideally, artwork speaks for itself and needs no explanation or history, but the reality is that most people unaccustomed to seeing dance are eager for, and reassured by, some background information.

• Criticism functions as an advocate for the art itself, for new work as well as old.  The New York Times, for example, famously championed Pilobolus, whose early performances shocked and bewildered many audiences; it also argued forcefully and successfully for government funding for the preservation of Martha Graham’s work. Fortunately, it’s usually less effective in reverse: Balanchine succeeded despite tepid reviews from his early critics. Furthermore a dance critic, unlike a theater critic, rarely has the influence to close or curtail the run of a show. Dance seasons are not open-ended like Broadway shows; dance sells its tickets well in advance, and savvy dance programmers put risky works on the same program as safer ones.

• Criticism levels the playing field for dancers themselves, too. Positive reviews can help deserving young dancers advance more quickly, or underappreciated ones be cast more often.

• Like dancers themselves, dance critics are motivated not by any hope for great financial reward, but rather by a love of dance and a desire to contribute to the art.


Copyright © 2014 Gaynor Minden, Inc

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