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How much attention do you pay to critics' reviews?


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The new triple bill at the ROH has really divided opinions, both critics' and tweeters'. This got me wondering how much weight people give to critics' reviews. It's really striking how differently critics can respond to the same performance. Sometimes you wonder if they have actually seen the same performance. On a related point, I have recently been disappointed by the quality of some of the reviews which I have read. Some have contained glaring factual inaccuracies, some have been very superficial and some seem to have been written by journalists who had no real knowledge of dance.

 

What do other people think?

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its ever thus, Aileen. My 'reviews' are always superficial (because I'm not a professional for a start), simply because I usually only ever comment on things I have really liked. Like you, I do sometimes wonder if the pro critics were at the same performance as me though - and as for errors, well, we all make them, but you'd think they'd check and recheck, before going to press, wouldn't you.

 

I think many of us read certain critics, not because we particularly ever agree with them, but enjoy their writing. Or, occasionally, you do find someone in tune with your own views, so tend to value their opinions more. There are some I would only ever be tempted to go see something they hated, as I'd probably enjoy it! :-)

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It depends upon which critic I am reading. I've learned over time which critics have a real in depth knowledge and I've become familar with their style of writing. Some fall in love with their own words and one can tell that the clever turn of phrase is more important than truly conveying information. Some equate obfuscation with sophistication. There are one or two I read just for the pleasure of the writing. It is easy to tell when someone is writing to impress the reader, or if the writer is trying to hide a lack of knowledge behind a well placed "balletspeak" word or two.

 

I don't mind reading a critique written by someone who is plainly not knowledgeable but simply writing to convey his/her impression of the performance. I'd much rather that (an honest novice) than to read an article written by a pretender - someone who thinks he or she needs only to flaunt a French ballet term or two. That's not only dishonest but a severe dis-service to the dancers.

 

So, yes, if a knowledgable critic writes a review, I will read it. However, it won't stop me from attending a performance. Actually, if I intend on going - I'll read the critique afterward. And, if I intend to review the performance - I will never read someone else's review before I go and until AFTER I've written my own.

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What do other people think?

 

I agree with most of the above, including the glaring factual accuracies, which it seems to me are becoming more frequent. Ones I really can't forgive, though, are any professional critic not realising that it's the ballerina and not some member of the corps de ballet who does all the work in the second act of Coppelia (something I've come across at least twice over the last decade or so!) and other goofs on that scale. I am wondering whether the pressure to get reviews out fast contributes to the errors in any way.

 

As for individual critics, I've realised over the years (although it does irritate me when a paper/site switches its critic once I've got used to them and their way of thinking) that there are some I will see eye-to-eye with and some I probably won't. The latter, I just tend to shrug and think "that's life" if I don't agree with them; for the former, I am more likely to question my own reaction if we differ wildly. Do I let reviews influence me? Yes, I suppose so, to some extent, depending on who the reviewer is, but probably not just one reviewer: if I read a whole lot of them saying a performance stinks, I may well not bother going to it, especially if I suspected it was going to stink anyway (but I am going to the Eifman Onegin tomorrow, anyway :) ). On the other hand, there is one reviewer (not a dance one) who I find tends to be more enthusiastic than I would be about things, and I automatically knock a star off his ratings so that I don't get my expectations up too high and then get disappointed. And some just write so well and/or entertainingly that I read them anyway :)

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Most recently, I used reviews to decide not to take my children to see a performance, but based on the content of the performance, not the reviews themselves, which were mixed.

 

The reviews this week of the Eifman and the RB triple bill all make me want to see both, to make my own mind up. Having reviews so polarised between loving and hating the triple bill just make this more the case.

 

Isuppose as I read more, then I shall know whether Iam more likely to enjoy a performance based on a particular reviewers comments. This is exactly the same as reading reviews of films. I know which reviewers and publications reviews I am more likely to agree with.

 

For now, it's still a learning experience, and many, many thanks to all those who review performances - for whatever reason.

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The reviews this week of the Eifman and the RB triple bill all make me want to see both, to make my own mind up. Having reviews so polarised between loving and hating the triple bill just make this more the case.

 

Yes, indeed, definitely worth seeing the triple bill and make up your own mind. That it is polarising opinion, makes it vibrantly discussion worthy - so if you make it to a show, do post up what you thought, good or bad.

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As with most people, some critics I agree with and some I don't. I don't usually see reviews until after I have seen the performance so they don't usually influence me. I read some reviewers because I like their writing even if I don't agree with their view. I don't like reviewers who make personal and imho vindictive comments.

 

Again, as other posters have commented I do sometimes wonder if reviewers have actually been at the same performance as me!

 

I sometimes wonder when a reviewer seems to tend to the negative for most performances if they see too many performances and forget how to enjoy and see the positive. I remember the fuss when Deborah Jowitt left the Village Voice because her reviews were "too positive" and the paper wanted more "negative" reviews. I would rather the "positive" approach. You can be both honest and positive (for example you may not like a production but you can admire the commitment and talent of the dancers' performances).

 

This is an interesting article on the subject of Deborah Jowitt: http://www.orartswatch.org/deborah-jowitt-the-voice-and-negative-reviews/

 

Quite a few years ago, I attended a Northern Ballet performance of Romeo and Juliet in Nottingham. At the end of the performance the lady manning the Friends' stall commented that a national press critic had been attending but had left before the start of act 3 to get a train back to London. When I saw the review, the critic had specifically commented on act 3. I could accept the leaving before the end but absolutely NOT the comments about something the individual had not actually seen! When recounting this tale to another friend she told me of an occasion when an orchestra had to change an advertised piece of music at the last minute. The reviewer "reviewed" the piece that was not performed!

 

I personally pay more attention to the thoughts on performances of my fellow balletcoforumers! They are written from the heart and may be likely to influence me.

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Sparked, I think, by Gerald Dowler's very downbeat Classical Source review of the new Royal Ballet Triple Bill (today's Links), something of a debate developed today on Twitter on the need, or otherwise, for critics to have read programme notes before reviewing a ballet. Apart from revealing once again how insufficient 140 characters are for developing a coherent argument, there are seriously divergent views out there, all with a bearing on the theme of this thread.

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Yes, an infuriating discussion, not so much because of it's content but because Twitter is not the place for that sort of thing. The place is here!

 

One critic opined that it's wrong for a critic to read a synopsis before seeing a new work as it should stand by itself and be judged 'clean'. I think that's bunkum.

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So, yes, if a knowledgable critic writes a review, I will read it. However, it won't stop me from attending a performance.

 

My feelings exactly. As a specific example, I remember reading a rather negative Arts Desk review about Sylvia with Marianela Nunez a few days before I went. After I'd seen the performance I really wondered whether we'd seen the same production. I have absolutely no credentials as an expert or critic, but as someone who loves ballet I thought it was a charming production and Nunez was brilliant.

I'm now reading the triple bill reviews, and all I can say is, based on the rehearsal footage, I would give almost anything to be able to see Sweet Violets. If wishes were horses...

Edited by afds
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I'm lucky to know a few critics and I'm generally incredibly impressed by their knowledge and skill.

 

It shouldn't need saying but they don't make it up beforehand - and they want to see success and not report failure too. However half of what they see will be less good than the other half. The only exception would be a situation like Clement Crisp finds himself in wrt to Jiri Kylian - he thinks his movement style is an abomination and no amount of seeing Kilian's work will change that it seems. One knows the boot will go in but I don't for a moment think he writes anything before seeing the work.

 

They also don't all get into a huddle and agree a common line about a show - as has been suggested on occasion. They are all independent spirits with different tastes. Like the audience.

 

Some critics really prepare for seeing a performance and others don't. For example I know at least one critic who got Anna Karenina off the shelf for a quick read prior to seeing Eifman's version. Others don't prepare at all - the merit there is that they are seeing a show as most in the audience do. There is no right or wrong. You judge based on the writing and not much else I think.

 

Critics have prejudices just like the rest of us. But their prejudice is generally based on exposure to a much wider selection of dance and knowing people in the trade. I think you get the most from following a critic for some time and seeing where your views coincide and not. When you have them calibrated then you can decide if you see a show or not based on what they say.

 

I'm all for fans reviews and pushed them for nearly 15 years. And I'm glad I did - good for the audience to have a say when before it didn't. However many (but not all) fans reviews tend to be very rose tinted, sometimes remorselessly so, to the point where I no longer bother reading them. Critics reviews on the other hand I nearly always find interesting - there is a much stronger sense of reality - or my reality on seeing dance anyway.

 

Finally I have to agree re Twitter - its a silly place to try and discuss anything substantive. Even if it were better you'd still end up with the discussion lost within a week. And using multiple posts just makes it even more difficult and tedius to follow. So I don't bother much with the Twitter verbose! Twitter is a great place to say you heart something or somebody. Very, very, few say that anything or anybody was really poor on twitter and that's a departure from reality. It is a wonderful and seductive place rubbing shoulders with dancers and companies but the fans part of the bargain is to positive and supportive and massage away any problems. If you really like a company, regardless of its ups and downs, it's paradise. But it shouldn't be confused with reality. (imho of course!!)

Edited by Bruce
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After some 15/16 months of harvesting reviews and articles for the Links thread here and at ballet.co, there's another angle on this that strikes me - namely, the degree to which column-inch space available and the sub-editor's pen affect what is finally published. (My assumption is that what goes online reflects what was published in hard copy, and that only very rarely would these versions vary.) As a result, we may on occasions not be seeing the full argument developed by a critic, and I do occasionally feel that an article has been rather awkwardly truncated without reference to the author. (Dare I say, I have sometimes wondered if Mr Crisp has not been thus treated in the FT, though I'm sure that the subs ensure that his more orotund comments and descriptions are preserved.) That - of course? - is not an issue that affects writers for online journals like Arts Desk, Classical Source, or DanceTabs.

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There are some critics I read with great relish, not because I agree with everything they say, but because they say it in such an interesting way. Clement Crisp definitely falls into this category.

 

Otherwise I don't pay much attention to critics at all, as far as ballet is concerned. Apart from anything else, they usually only see the first night, which is probably going to have a few teething problems, no matter how many times the company has performed the work in the past. I get far more useful information out of the personal reviews on forums such as this, where individual performances can be discussed and compared.

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The editor can certainly make a difference. There is one publication for which I write where the editor devises what he considers to be clever headlines - which I find at times downright embarrasing. Another editor once turned my meaning upside down - to the polar opposite of what I had said. Yes, I never submitted anything to that particular editor again - but the damage was done with my name attached. Another time as Ian mentioned above, a review had been "awkwardly truncated without reference to the author." I would have gladly shortened the article had I been asked or given a "word count" maximum - (for which I had asked) True - this doesn't happen often but it does happen.

 

As to which performance of a series the critic sees....

 

Some theaters/companies limit the critic's access to a particular performance - such as "first night only." Others will give the critic a choice.

 

Being human, although a critic (insert a smile here) one is also affected by how one feels - the chemistry we bring to the event.. I try to take into account the attitude with which I arrive at the theater. There are some days we are more open than others. Some days we feel more positive (or negative) than others. I remember having a particularly trying day and I arranged to cancel my press tickets for that evening to the next evening. One would hope that such a thing as personal chemistry shouldn't influence the professionalism of the critic - but who's to say it doesn't since all critique is subjective after all.

 

As for the rose tinted issue - one might ask by what standard? A performance of a particular company as compared to previous performances by that same company might be considered positive - but in comparison to the same production but danced by a world renowned company - would not be as positive. I try to go by what I am seeing before me as well as the growth (or not), the artistic development (or not), the artistic vision (or not), the production values (or not), of the dancers as individuals and the company as a whole.

 

I bring quite a different standard when reviewing a major world class company.

 

Another influencing aspect might be the frequency with which one sees a particular company. If a critic sees a company on a regular basis as oppposed to seeing a company only rarely (such as when it happens to tour to that area of the world) would certainly affect the critic's views.

 

In any case, any critique is a snapshot in time - of a particular performance at a particular time by one human being.

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Who'd believe it? Only hours after my remarks, above, about the various factors that can affect what we read, Judith Mackrell of the Guardian has confirmed on Twitter within the last hour that her review of the new RH Triple Bill for tomorrow's paper, now online, is "Not edited but victim of the layout of Monday's review page. Only 350 words allowed." However, unlike Anjuli, above, she at least appears to have been given a word count against which to edit her thoughts. It's an interesting example of something to keep in mind when reading a crit. In this case, you can judge the results in advance of tomorrow's Links:

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2012/apr/08/royal-ballet-review

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At the risk of banging on, the benefit to readers and prospective theatre-goers of a critic having the space to expand somewhat when writing for internet journals is surely evident in two reviews posted today on DanceTabs:

 

Jann Parry, DanceTabs

Marina Harss, DanceTabs

 

And, at the same time, the elegant concision of Clement Crisp on one of the same shows has its merits too:

 

 

Clement Crisp, Financial Times

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Because I do not have infinite funds, time, opportunities or desire to see everything, I do take note of the critics. However, what can happen is that when a production is praised, it sells out and I can’t get tickets, or it’s not praised and I then don’t want to see it. The result is, I don’t see anything at all. Eifman Ballet’s Anna Karenina was one I had pencilled it, but after the reviews, I decided not to see it. I am not very knowledgeable about ballet and I suspect I would have enjoyed it, despite the reviews. I also had pencilled in Royal Ballet of Flanders’ Artifact. I read “masterpiece” and “Bach” from Sadler’s Wells’ website. I’d seen bits of In the Middle Somewhat Elevated on video and liked that. Then I read Judith Mackrell in the Guardian. I focused on “obstreperous actors ranting through megaphones”. I then wasn’t so sure about seeing it, but was still quite keen. Then I read Ismene Brown’s Arts Desk interview with Forsythe. I read it again. Now I thought this ballet was not for me, it was for serious balletomanes who knew about the history, forms and structures of ballet and I would not “get” it. At that point I had more or less ruled it out. I then read Clifford Bishop’s Evening Standard review. I focused on “superb young company”, and Graham Watts’ LondonDance review: “akin to being pampered in the most luxurious spa imaginable: a wholly refreshing, invigorating yet relaxing massaging of body and mind.” I bought tickets on Saturday morning for the final show that evening. I’m now not sure the reviews I read adequately prepared me for what I was about to see.

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Rowan, I feel that you have left us wanting to know more! It doesn't matter that you don't think that you are very knowledgeable about ballet. Most of us aren't, but we are still entitled to our own responses and opinions on what we see. You prepared before you went by reading the critics' reviews but how did you feel about the ballet yourself, if you don't mind telling us? If you like you could post your thoughts under the thread already started for Artifact. You'll see what I thought there.

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After reading the article, I would ask - is writing a review of a performance about producing or reducing the audience attendance?

 

I don't think so.

 

I have never written a critique with that goal in mind.  So, in the article saying a show's suceess is "defying the critics" doesn't, to my mind, describe the critic's role.

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Supporters of the Birmingham Royal Ballet don't really have this problem as very little of their output is covered by the London press. However, we do have a local critic who has had designs on being a louder voice in the ballet world generally.

 

For years he went out of his way to be hyper critical of Kevin O'Hare. I bet he regrets that now!

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Generally speaking I never read reviews in advance. I don't want to be told something I am paying good money for is not great or whatever. I like to just see it as is.

 

Two exceptions. Ballet Trocadero de Monte Carlo and Ashley pages Nutcracker. Ashley page created a new Scottish Ballet and came up with a new style that I could not get my head round but he  got audiences in anyway and kept Scottish ballet alive which was great. One critic said his Nutcracker was a disaster from the minute the curtain went up. Sorry but I had to agree. I liked the second half though and to be fair it was his first production and Aberdeen theatre is smaller so getting props or the set on stage meant not enough space for dancing in the first half. The other was the Trocs which I absolutely loved. The audience that night was not massive maybe but very enthusiastic. They did not miss a joke with there routines.

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Just laughing about this quote from "The Stage's own Katie Colombus" about the "neckerchiefed old rich folk from the dress circle of the Royal Opera House".  This is exactly the kind of sentence used by critics that I hate, as it reinforces the prejudice that people who go to the ballet or opera are over a certain age, wealthy, and with a fashion sense from a bygone era.  I suppose the great unwashed were waiting outside to doff their cloth caps and direct the nobs to their handsome cabs. 

 

Please.  It is just lazy reporting, and Katie Colombus, whoever she is, should be ashamed of herself.  Yes, there might be a few people who have put on smart clothes to go out in the evening, but so what?  Is it elitist now to go somewhere wearing something other than jeans?

 

Dear me, I seem to have Monday morning irritation. 

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It irritated me as well.  I suppose the critics don't get to be seated up in the Grand Tier, so she wouldn't know, but how many "neckerchiefed" people do you see wandering round the Floral Hall?  I'm surprised she didn't call the dress circle by its proper name, so as to emphasise the "rich" angle still further.

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