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Magazines: critical cliches?


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Open call -- I'm writing an article for the Dance Critics Association newsletter called "Dancing with Wild Abandon, The Ten Phrases Critics Should Never Use." I'm asking writers as well as readers to offer your favorite, er, least favorite phrases.

 

What are your favorite, er, un-favorite, examples? If your "entry" is selected, I'll contact you and see if you want your name used. I'll be glad to give you credit, or you may remain anonymous. (Real name, not screen name)

 

Thanking you in advance, and eagerly waiting your responses.....

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Guest Herman Stevens

critical shortcuts

 

She became a swan / village maiden / mechanical doll / princess / sacrificial virgin.

 

Upside: you don't have to define the dancing.

 

Downside: doesn't mean a thing.

 

Herman

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Yes, that's a good one. Thank you! It's handy, though. sigh. ("He WAS Hamlet.")

 

Your point about "critical shortcuts" is a good one, too, Herman. Sometimes they're taken because the critic can't write about the dancing, and sometimes because you have only 250 words to write about 4 casts, or 4 new ballets. I've often thought we should do what American real estate ads do -- 4 rms riv vu (4 rooms, river view) is one of those cliches. Sat mat La S O/O 32fs not. (On Saturday Matinee, La Sublimova as Odette/Odile did not attempt the 32 fouettes.) Still doesn't tell you what she did do, but it's handy :wink:

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In the early days of Ballet Review, Arlene Croce wrote a very funny article about bad dance criticism that included a list of hackneyed phrases, such as "Markova is Giselle." She said something like, "Markova is Markova. What the critic probably means is that he was moved." Another chestnut she singled out was, "There is only one [name of dancer]!" She quoted a review that exclaimed, "There is only one Tallchief!" and pointed out that there were in fact two (Maria and Marjorie).

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"By contemporary standards, the plot is feeble and far-fetched. Yet the ballet has held the stage for well over a century."

 

Ms. Assoluta was unaccountably off-form.

 

"The revival of "Harlequinade" brings to mind Todd Bolender's unjustly neglected "Commedia Balletica" from 1945."

 

"Mr. Diddly Cool's 'Hip Hop Mish Mash' is an instant classic!"

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Here's some:

 

"He dances with a panther-like grace"

Usually applies to a male dancer(Nureyev, Acosta) I've even seen "pantherine"

Is that a word?

 

"He/She commanded the stage"

 

"He/She danced as if they were composing the music with thier body"

Huh!! :)

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"Pantherine" is indeed a word. So is "amplitude". But it is NOT an exact synonym for "ampleness", as most dance critics make it.

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Guest Nanatchka

You betcha "pantherine" is a word. Have you been reading me? I use it when I describe Stephen Petronio. (So shoot me.) I love that word. It sounds so, well, panther-like. (Guilty, guilty, guilty.) Not that there aren't things I'd like to see retired:

 

haunting

heart-stopping

 

 

 

And maybe we should take "iconic" out of circulation for a while. I remember when that word was launched--by Joan Acocella, as I tracked it--and it was fun to watch it make the rounds.

 

The theater critic Richard Gilman wrote a whole essay on this topic in the 1970s. I will try to find it. (He hated "haunting." He said no one was ever haunted by a performance.) He liked to make his students write without adjectives. It makes for a more, well, pantherine prose. (Don't you just hate it when people call prose "muscular?") I now regard adjectives the same way I do chocolate. Yummy. I just love them. Which reminds me of another word I could do without, unless it is Deborah Jowitt writing.

 

She can write about "luscious thighs" all she wants. Everyone else should stop. Let's just call a moratorium on all food adjectives applied to dancers. It implies that the writer 1)needs a life 2) is hungry.

 

Mel, I think people use "amplitude" rather than "ampleness" because they want to make it quite clear they are writing about a movement quality, and not a plumpness quality. I don't know why the words have different connotations to that effect, but they do.

 

About the body playing the music, or writing to that effect: it is an attempt to describe the experience known as "synesthesia," or a confusion of the senses, which is, when not produced by neurological problems but by a work of art, a magical sensation. You look at a dance--for instance, the concentric circles in Mark Morris's L'Allegro--and you feel as if the movement is producing the music. So your ears see, and your eyes hear. Balanchine was very fond of this notion.

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This is off-topic, except that for me it is always the topic: Maurice Bejart said of Suzanne Farrell: "She's like a violin; the music comes out from her body."

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Guest tempusfugit
She can write about "luscious thighs" all she wants. Everyone else should stop. Let's just call a moratorium on all food adjectives applied to dancers. It implies that the writer 1)needs a life 2) is hungry.

 

Nanatchka, I'm still laughing. Hilarious!

of course, I might say "and just what's wrong with being hungry?" :)

it might also be construed to imply that the writer 3) was haunted by the dancer's luscious amplitude.... :P

Yes. Balanchine used to say "see the music, hear the dance...."

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"The amplitude of her port de bras...."

 

I have a picture of a sine wave on an oscilloscope. Not much good, except if you're doing "The Dying Swan". Since 1960, I think I've seen "amplitude" used correctly and effectively in dance criticism maybe three times.

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Anything that "defies description."

 

Someone recently emailed me the results of winners of last year's Bulwer-Lytton contest (run by the English Dept. of San Jose State University) for the worst first line of a bad novel. Here's #8:

 

"With a curvaceous figure that Venus would have envied, a tanned, unblemished oval face framed with lustrous thick brown hair, deep azure-blue eyes fringed with long black lashes, perfect teeth that vied for competition, and a small straight nose, Marilee had a beauty that defied description."

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posh stuff, DJB -- keep it coming..

 

By the way, it wa geat to meet you at hte Arthur Mitchell talk, about 90 minutes ago now..

 

Wonder what his life would have been like if he'd taken the scholarship to Bennington?

 

About these locutions, Nanatchka, I[m with you -- pantherine is a major category with me. I once described Frankie manning, the great exhibition-Lindy dancer, as pantherine-- he not only was the first swing dancer to throw his partner over his back, he developed a deep-bent stance, with the body sloping at about a 50 degree angle and hte knees in almost perpetual fondu, that not only suited his heroic figure but gave hte dance a new sleek look, very cat-like

 

 

 

Ugly phrases I have used: supremely musical (yuck), that's the one I hated the most when I read it.

 

weird locutions I can not forswear: I reserve the right to use hte adverb "unmisunderstandably" when hte situation calls for it. I first heard it when at a master-class, when Karl-Ulrich Schnabelk assured a pianist at Mills College that if he used this fingering, he would play hte phrase unmisunderstandably. ("The smallest steps on pointe can register from the back of hte house. La Optima phrased the sylphide's hesitations and sudden return of confidence unmisunderstandably.")

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