"A New Work of My Own": Welcome to The Dance Debrief
"Criticism is always done wrong and is always dying"
- A.O. Scott (Better Living Through Criticism, 2016)
Since writing my first dance review in 2014, I have heard time and time again that art criticism is dying. Of course, I am biased in my disagreement, but I am also in good company.
I see my role as a critic similar to A.O. Scott's in his book, Better Living Through Criticism (2016). Scott claims that art is something that we do in our spare time and that the task of criticism is to help figure out what to do with this freedom. The critic is to help their readers sift through their vast and ever-growing options of art products. Friends tell us about films or shows that they are watching, and if we should give them a go. Some of us are heavily involved in writing reviews for the most prominent current publications of criticism - Amazon's comment sections or Google reviews. Because of this, Scott argues that criticism will never die; it simply continues to take on new forms. No longer are the days of professional paid critic roles (shucks!), yet Scott argues that many critics are turning to academia in its transition (hello from a Ph.D. candidate in Dance Studies at York University). To me, it is a labour of love and an outlet unlike any other.
As Oscar Wilde claims, "To the critic the work of art is simply a suggestion for a new work of his own, that need not necessarily bear any obvious resemblance to the thing it criticizes" (The Critic As Artist, 1891). Wilde asserts that criticism offers as much scope for imaginativeness as creating art. Engaging actively and intelligently with art involves exercising many of the aptitudes most closely associated with making them (Wilde argues even more so). Wilde also states, "An age that has no criticism is either an age in which art is immobile, hieratic, and confined to the reproduction of formal types, or an age that possesses no art." If this is true, I hope to avoid both of these options.
Edwin Denby, one of my favourite dance critics, argues that reading dance reviews helps viewers sharpen their own eyes and discover their own sensibility for dance (Dance Criticism, 1948). Denby writes that the critic's goal is to distinguish between good and bad dance technique, look at choreographic craftsmanship, specify technical inventions, and explain any gifts that make a choreographer or a dancer remarkable despite any negatives in the performance. These are some of the things that I hope to emulate.
To get deep into the academic weeds of the dying criticism debate, although some may side with Madison Mainwaring's view in "The Death of the American Dance Critic" (2015), I instead find solace in Kate Mattingly's response in "Digital Dance Criticism: Screens as Choreographic Apparatus" (2019). Mattingly sees dance criticism as not dying but proliferating through screens, which are shifting how writers and readers engage with dance. Digital dance criticism is helping to redistribute access, speed and scope of a critics' communications, as well as is changing what gets reviewed, canonized and funded.
In 2018, I joined Mooney on Theatre as a dance-focused critic. Unfortunately, they announced that they were closing their virtual doors on March 28th, 2022. Thus, here we are, a new chapter and website as I aim to fill a (dance) gap that I perceive as mightly worthy within the brilliant Canadian dance and theatre scene. I wish to do so with the insights of Scott, Denby, Wilde, Mattingly and many more of the authors I have listed below.
All of the reviews below this post are past dance reviews that I wrote for Mooney on Theatre. For the entire team there, I will forever be grateful for all that they taught me and their patience in helping me work on my writing and critiquing skills. All the above posts are a part of my new venture.
Welcome to the Dance Debrief. I am happy that you are here!
Books on Dance and General Criticism:
- Ann Daly's Critical Gestures: Writings on Dance and Culture
- Edwin Denby and Robert Cornfield's Dance Writings & Poetry
- Edwin Denby's "Reminiscences of a Dance Critic." Publish in the Performing Arts Journal.
- Edwin Denby's “Dance Criticism.” Published in The Kenyon Review.
- James Elkin's What happened to art criticism?
- Miguel Gutierrez's "The Perfect Dance Critic." Published in What Makes a Good Dance Critic
- Theresa Ruth Howard's “Op-Ed: Why We Need To Confront Bias in Dance Criticism.” Published in Dance Magazine
- Deborah Jowitt's Dance Beat: Selected Views and Reviews
- Pauline Kael. 5001 Nights at the Movies : a guide from A to Z
- Sandra Kurt's "On Dance Criticism: Seeing the Work in Front of You." Pubished in Dance Chronicle
- Madison Mainwaring's "The Death of the American Dance Critic." Published in The Atlantic
- Kate Mattingly's "Digital Dance Criticism: Screens as Choreographic Apparatus" Published in The International Journal of Screendance
- Wendy Perron's Through the Eyes of a Dancer: Selected Writings
- A. O. Scott's Better Living Through Criticism : How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty and Truth
- Marcia B Siegel's “Virtual Criticism and the Dance of Death.” Published in the TDR
- Susan Sontag's Against interpretation: And other essays.
- Diana Theodores' "On Critics and Criticism of Dance." Published in New Directions in Dance
- Diana Theodores' First We Take Manhattan: Four American Women and the New York School of Dance Criticism
- Charmian Well's "Strong and Wrong: On Ignorance and Modes of White Spectatorship in Dance Criticism." Published in Movement Research Critical Correspondence.
- Oscar Wilde's The Critic as Artist (last but NOT least as this is my favourite title of all!)