Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Review

Friday, September 26, 2014

Things I’ll be Thinking about Sunday Afternoon

Based on Ms. Lee’s remarks, I assume the thrust of the performance will be somewhat didactic.  My impression she want us to feel something about a moment in Chinese-American history that still has relevance. I’m not sure, however, what we are intended to feel. Did you get an idea from her remarks how she wants us to feel? Or if she assumes some we might act in some new way as a result of this experience? Obviously your feelings remain our own. A thoughtful take in your review might be that the artist wants us to feel one thing and you feel another. Feel free to challenge the artist.  It’s your experience.

While watching the production, I hope to choose several particular moments to focus on determined by my emotional and intellectual reaction. I’m hoping there will be an emotional, not just an intellectual, connection. If I find myself puzzled or put off, I’m going to fight that response, at least for a while. I want to work with the performance, not against it. I want to be fair. Knowing (I think) what the artist has in mind, I’m going to ask myself if the piece works for me on those terms, and if – not for me - it might work for others?  There is such a thing as a partial success.

Although I don’t want you to write only as if this is a “pure” dance experience, with no larger social meaning, you might choose to emphasize the specifics of the physical performance. You might choose one dance – that is, one episode in the presentation - to scrutinize as a series of physical acts. Wandering around the net, I came across some possible vocabulary for description of dance. You might talk about:

·      * spatial arrangements (stage position, groupings, partnering)
·      * axial and nonlocomotor movements (bending, twisting, stretching, swinging) and locomotor movements (walking, running, hopping, jumping, leaping, galloping, sliding, skipping)
·      * use of body parts (head, trunk, arms, legs, feet)
·      * relationships (near, above, along, connected, shadow)
·      * shapes (curved, angular, symmetrical)
·      * balance (on balance, off balance)
·      * space (self space, general space)
·      * size of movements and actions (big, medium, small)
·      * level (high, middle, low)
·      * direction (forward, left, up)
·      * pathway (curved, zigzag, straight)
·      * single focus and multi-focus (might be particularly useful in judging multimedia)
·      * time (fast, medium, slow)
·      * rhythm (pulse, pattern, breath, accent)
·     *  energy (sharp, smooth)
·      * weight (strong, light)
·      * flow (free, bound)
·      * general understanding how human structure and function can affect dance movements and movement potential (think of gymnasts and cortortionists)

(The preceding bullet points were taken from a description of what an applicant desiring a certificate to teach dance in New York State public schools should understand.)

Your opening paragraph might do a variety of things, from plunging into description of a specific moment in the presentation to stating your reaction to the overall piece to a provocative bit of personal history or philosophy to prepare the reader for detailed development later. The name of the dance company will probably show up pretty high in the piece. But bury information about where and when the performance took place. Interest me before you tell me that.

Here are some other questions you might ask yourself:

·               Are you comfortable talking about the technical ability of the performers in carrying out the vision of the choreographer. Were the dancers technically up to the task? Did the group look well-rehearsed?
·               Is the music was suitable for the dance? Same thing for costumes.
·               Were the sets and props necessary and effective for the dance?
·               Do you find your eyes following one particular dancer? Can you explain why?

This production will also involve video. I think the video will be background, and the dance will be foreground. If that’s the case, the role of the video will be to support and complement the dance – though I suppose an artist might want to create a tension in mood or tone or content between foreground and background. My assumption is that we will be concentrating on the “real” – the dance – and not the video. Bottom line is that I want you to identify any and all multimedia elements and comment on them.

Also, there may be voiceover. Could be poetry. Could be prose. Questions are the same: How do all these elements fit together? Don’t just say they do or don’t. Be specific about what’s going on. What exactly are the sounds and the video and the actions of the dancers at a specific moment that either please or displease you?

Going into this review, you are going to have some expectations, some anticipation of what you are going to experience. You might include some of that in your review. I don't want it to crowd out the details of the actual performance, but the degree to which your expectations are confirmed or confounded is one way of judging the success of the presentation.

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