Guidelines for Viewing Dance and Writing Critiques for Dance Performances
By Myra Daleng, Richmond Department of Theatre & Dance
(printable version here)
Chance favors a prepared mind! A mind is like a parachute; it works best when it’s open! The creative critic approaches each concert with open eyes and an open mind. Do not go with preconceived ideas or compare one performance against other performances. Each person will find a different aspect of the dance that is interesting for their own personal reasons and interests.
Guidelines for Viewing a Dance Performance:
- When writing a dance critique, there are many things to consider prior to the performance. Who is performing? Are they professionals or amateurs? Is it a new work or classic choreography reset? Who are the choreographers? Are they known for other works? It is important to meditate carefully on the performance prior to seeing it so you can take as much from it as you can.
- When viewing a performance be an active participant, don’t be a passive consumer. Work as hard at viewing the piece as the choreographer did making the work. Consult your program notes when writing critiques.
- During the performance, there are also many things to consider that should be incorporated into your writing process. What style of dance is it? Is the performance experimental or conventional? What are the cultural implications of the performance? How do elements of the performance, such as lighting, scenery, and costume, enhance the choreography?
- If a performance is very abstract, take as much from it as you can and strive to deliver your opinion of it as clearly as possible in your writing. Remember that there is no right answer since art is abstract and everyone responds to art differently.
- There is a lot to take in when viewing dance, and it can be easy to forget aspects of the performance. It is helpful to bring a notebook and pen to jot down notes and initial reactions to the performance that you may forget later on. Also, write the paper as soon as possible after the performance to prevent a foggy recollection.
- If there is a talk-back at the end of the performance, at which the choreographers and/or dancers answer questions and explain the performance more thoroughly, it is highly advisable to stay. It can offer you some insight into the choreographer's motivation as well as uncover some of the meaning of the performance.
Guidelines for Writing About a Dance Performance:
- The opening statement of your critique should draw the reader in. Be creative. Tell the reader where and when the concert took place.
- When writing about choreographers, always identify them by name. Try to get inside the head of the choreographer. What were the choreographer’s intentions and were they successfully communicated? What do you think the choreographer was trying to say with the dance, or what did the dance say? Try to have a thematic focus when writing your critique. Were the themes of the individual piece clear? What was the dance about? Analyze the symbolism. Does it relate to current events?
- Discuss the choreography. Did the choreography flow, what were the dynamics, how did it move in space and what were the motivations for the movements? Make general comments but also include detailed descriptions. Try to give at least one specific movement image. Example: “In another vignette, a woman seated properly, perpendicularly, on a bench, begins to tilt at an angle. As her legs leave the floor and her torso leans to the side, both she and the bench seem to levitate a little above the floor.” Vienna-Lusthaus (revisited); Reviewed by George Jackson: Dance Magazine, May 2003: 79.
- What thoughts or feelings did the concert or piece evoke? In constructing your critique, reflect on why you may have had certain reactions. Always back up your assertions, positive or negative with concrete examples. Don’t just be a negative critic; offer your thoughts in a constructive way.
- Comment on the music and identify the composer(s) and musician(s) when possible. What was the relationship of the dance to the music? Did the music play an important role in the performance? Was the music live, pre-recorded or some combination of both? What difference did it make? Did the form of the music influence the form of the dance or vice versa?
- Were the dances well rehearsed and/or well performed? Support your comments with specific examples. Did the dancers work together well in the ensemble pieces?
- Were the makeup, props (if used), and costumes appropriate? Discuss the scenic design, lighting design, and overall use of the theatre space. When speaking about any element of design, you must include the designers' names.
- Comment on the overall production; give the reader a sense of what it looked like. What was your reaction to the concert as a whole? How did the piece or pieces connect?
- Each critique should reach a conclusion regarding the performance.
- Do not write in the first person. Your critique should be written in the third person.
- Your essay, paying attention to grammar, neatness and spelling, should be as thorough as possible.
- All critiques must have a title page, which will include name, date, professor’s name, course and the pledge written in full and signed.
- The ticket stub and/or verification from the performance must be attached to each critique.
- Only typed papers, three pages, double-spaced, in standard 12 font, with one inch margins on all sides, are acceptable; do not justify right margin. Check your computer for margin settings.
- Student’s last name and page number should be included in the upper right corner of each page.
- Critiques are due the second class following the performance. Read other critiques in Dance Magazine, if necessary.
- Tell the reader the name of the performance, the company or dancers performing, the date and place of the performance.
- Identify the composer(s), choreographer(s) and title(s) of the work(s) you have chosen to discuss. When writing about a specific dancer(s) identify them, when possible.
Dance Critique Pet Peeves:
When writing about the subjects below:
Refer to male dancers, men or danseurs (if classical ballet)
NOT men dancers, boys, guys or males
Refer to female dancers, women or ballerinas (if classical ballet)
NOT women dancers, girls, gals, chicks or females
Refer to a piece, work or dance
NOT routine or act
Refer to movements
Refer to live music
NOT live musicians
Refer to recorded or pre-recorded music
NOT taped music
Refer to danced together or in unison
NOT in sync or synchronized
Refer to the performance or the concert
NOT the show, play or recital
DO use both names ("Catherine Zeta-Jones danced well in Chicago" or "Ms. Zeta-Jones danced well in Chicago.")
DO NOT use first names only to refer to dancers ("Catherine danced well in Chicago")
DO write in the third person
NOT in the first person
DO NOT make general assumptions for the audience
DO NOT include title page information on first page of critique (name, date, professor's name, class, performance)
DO NOT switch tenses;
Example when to alternate tense;
(Serenade was performed poorly yet it is a choreographic triumph.)
Example when not to alternate tense;
(On Friday night the dancers appeared tired which causes the choreography to be lack luster.)
DO NOT identify the performers in a list from the program notes.
This is poor example of an opening paragraph because it does not grab the reader’s attention and only lists information readily found in the program. Also it does not provide the reader with any additional information or insights into the performance.
At 8:00 PM on February 27th, 2004, Les Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, directed by Serge Diaghilev, performed “Symphonie Fantastique” at the Maggio Musicale in Florence, Italy. The choreography was done by Léonide Massine. This ballet consisted of five movements. The set was created by Christian Bérard, executed by Prince A. Schervachidze. The costumes were designed by Christian Bérard. Costumes for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th movements were made by Madame Karinska. The costumes for the first and fifth movements were made by Madame Larose. The ballet premiered July 24th, 1936 at Covent Garden, London, England, and was conducted by Efrem Kurtz. Performing lead roles were, Léonide Massine and Tamara Toumonova. Also dancing were Tatiana Riaboushinska, Alexandra Danilova, Yurek Lazowski, Vera Zorina, Marc Platoff, Vera Volkova, Igor Youchkevitch and George Zoritch. Hector Berlioz did a great job composing both the music and the libretto for this performance.
Dance Critique Checklist:
_____ Title page including: student's name, due date of paper, class, concert critiqued, professor's name, pledge written in full. No title page information should be included on first page since you have a title page.
_____ The ticket stub and/or verification from the performance must be attached to each critique.
_____ Student's last name and page number should be included in upper right corner of each page.
_____ Be sure to use one-inch margins on all sides in the text of your paper. Check your computer for margin settings.
_____ Do not write in the first person. Write in the third person.
_____ The first sentence of your critique sets the tone for the paper and should draw the reader in.
_____ Critique has a centralized theme.
_____ Critique has a conclusion.
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There are many established dance styles that have been popular around the world for centuries and often they adhere to rigid rules about musical accompaniment as well as movement and choreography. Contemporary styles are different however, in that it does not adhere to any one set of established rules and structure, its focus is on expression and movement, regardless of the origin.
Drawing aspects from various forms and music for its creation, contemporary dancing utilizes both the strong foot work of ballet along with many upper body movements and various bits from just about any culture, such as African and Chinese styles. It also tends to stray away from the classically accepted methods of choreographing that involve predictable rhythm and a climax- anticlimax structure.
Merce Cunningham was one of the first to develop a different approach to ideas concerning choreography. His peers noticed that he was no longer structuring his routines in a linear manner, possibly surprising and alarming some audiences. Comparing his work to that of abstract paintings, he explained that every gesture, movement and level of lighting could be considered a form of expression, the meaning of which can only be supplied by the audience. In 1953 he formed the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and since then has created more than 150 works under that title, many of which have been performed by ballet and modern performance companies.
The choices of routines, music, sounds and even dress are all subject to artistic evaluation. It is the role of the choreographer to select and construct routines and styles that best demonstrate the talent and skill on display as well as promoting the key idea or concept portrayed by the performance as a whole. In contemporary styles, it is the choreography that most sets it apart from more common forms of classical and modern performances. It is the choreographer that can decide to include the eastern sitar in a ballet performance creating an experience never seen by the world before and this is the basis of contemporary dance.
All in all, contemporary dance has contributed much to the world of performing arts and its acceptance into the world of theater has opened the door for many styles and artists who never had an avenue for expressing their talents. We live in an ever changing world and while it is important to pay respects to the classics, we must be careful not to deny ourselves of the new experiences that could exist in the world.