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Dance critics often use information external to a performance to identify and separately evaluate the creative aspects of dance (composition of music and movement; design of scenery and costumes) and the interpretive aspects (performance by dancers and musicians; execution of scenery and costume designs). (1) Their evaluation may also take into account production factors not directly perceivable in a performance, including the type of floor, rehearsal time, illness, and injury.
These critical practices are problematic for an anti-geneticist theory of aesthetic value, the best-known of which is that of philosopher Monroe Beardsley. As a way of legislating against irresponsible criticism, such as describing Schubert's music as "pathetic" solely because one "sympathizes with his poverty," Beardsley will ". . . count as characteristics of an aesthetic object [the proper object of criticism] no characteristics . . . that depend upon knowledge of their causal conditions, whether physical or psychological." (2) Even some who consider this position too strict, excluding as illegitimate certain important critical discourse, agree that it contributes to a desirable goal, the exclusion of "clearly irresponsible criticism," or "'fantastic' criticism that finds in the work any property whatever suggested by biographical information." (3)
The apparent conflict between anti-geneticism and these critical practices in dance can be resolved by distinguishing evaluation of perceivable performances from assessments of the continuing skills of performing and creative artists.
Evaluation of the Creative and Interpretive Aspects of Dance Performances
Separate evaluation of the creative and interpretive aspects of a dance performance requires the identification of these aspects. Such identification is difficult without using sources of knowledge external to particular, or sometimes all, performances of a work. The difficulty results from the dance world's tolerance of considerable variation from the original choreographic design, the lack of completely standardized dance vocabularies, and the blurred " division of labor" or responsibility between creation and interpretation. For example, especially because human physical limitations and variations are uniquely important to dance among the arts, it is often acceptable for dancers to show off individual strengths by substituting different movements or adding major variations to the original material, (4) or for an injured dancer to simplify choreography in order to perform even a semblance of it.
It is not easy for critics to even recognize all such changes. Opportunities are rare for one to study beforehand the choreographer's design. Written notational systems exist, but they are relatively new and it is still generally impractical to follow a dance score at a performance, as one might follow the score of a musical performance. Relatively few films of dance performances are available, so dance critics usually cannot study recorded performances beforehand, as a music critic might listen to records. (5) Because of established conventions in music, a music critic who has not before heard a particular piece of music or seen the score can be reasonably certain that a musical performance is in accordance with the score (or, at least, that the musicians are attempting to perform it according to the score). In dance, it is difficult to determine exactly which movements in a performance are the design of the choreographer and which are strictly the interpretation of a particular rehearsal director, ballet master, or dancer. (6)
The lack of an absolutely standardized dance vocabulary also makes it difficult to identify creative and interpretive contributions from the perceivable performance alone, although critics occasionally draw such inferences. (7) A performance of a standardized movement, such as a series of multiple pirouettes, can be compared with what the critic knows such a movement should look like. But a choreographer might alter that standard movement by having the dancer perform it off-center with a strange finish, as Twyla Tharp did in Mikhail Baryshnikov's solos in Push Comes To Shove; a critic would not know solely from the performance whether this movement was designed by Tharp or was an /p. 30 intentional embellishment or an unintentional mistake in performance by Baryshnikov. The conclusion that it was planned by Tharp uses external knowledge about Baryshnikov's skills as a performer, Tharp's style of choreography, and the difficulty of performing the unusual movement (and thus the unlikelihood of its unintentional performance).
More fundamentally, the criteria for distinguishing between "creative" and "interpretive" aspects are not clear. Creative aspects might be defined as designs in advance of performance by someone other than the performer, while interpretive aspects are contributions by the performer during performance, but this distinction is unsatisfactory. Facial expressions, for example, are usually contributed by the dancers and considered "interpretation," but they might in fact be planned by the choreographer (or the dancer, or his coach) in advance of the performance. Changes in the original movement designs could have been planned by a choreographer or the dancer in advance of performance or could be changed spontaneously because of an emergency during performance. A critic who recognizes the changes might still be uncertain who to credit -- the choreographer, the dancer, or the coach.
Dance has no standard "division of labor." The choreographer can provide more or less of the design details through individual coaching. Every dancer necessarily "creates" when he adds details not designed in advance by the choreographer. If the choreographer does not indicate placement of the head or the fingers, for example, the dancer must choose their placement consciously or unreflectively. When a dancer substitutes his own complete movement design for a certain passage instead of just adding details to the design of the movement, though this still misleadingly might be considered interpretation. The distinction simply cannot be drawn precisely in terms of who is responsible (choreographer, coach, or dancer), when the activity takes place (design or interpretation), or what things are done (movements or facial expressions).
This distinction between creative and interpretive /p. 31 aspects; might seem to resemble that made in establishing the identity of a work between essential and non-essential aspects. The motives for establishing identity, however, are not clearly the same as those for making the distinction between creation and interpretation; it is questionable whether these distinctions coincide in purpose and criteria, at least as dance presently exists. The growing recognition of design and execution as distinct aspects of dance to be appreciated and evaluated by critics (8) reflects, instead, the acceptance of dance as a performing art with a collection of works distinct from performers, just as the field of music consists of a collection of scores separate from particular performances by musicians. Critics thus are increasingly interested in properly crediting what is perceivable on stage to the different creative and interpretive artists responsible for it.
Beardsley's view that perceptibility is a necessary, though not sufficient condition for specifying the aesthetic object, the proper object of criticism, (9) eliminates much of the information needed to make these distinctions. His anti-geneticism relies on a "principle of distinctness:"
If two things are distinct, that is, if they are indeed two, and not one thing under two names . . . , then the evidence for the existence and nature of the one cannot be exactly the same as the evidence for the existence and nature of the other. (10)
Different evidence for two characterizations of a work of art shows, prima facie, that two different characterizations are being made. Additional evidence or argument would be needed to show that one characterization necessarily entails the other or that evidence for one should count as evidence for the other. Obviously, just because two characterizations are distinct, and only one is the proper object of criticism, does not mean the other is irrelevant to all analysis of art! The question remains in what ways and to what each is relevant. To explain actual practices in dance criticism, consistent with Beardsley' anti-geneticism, I would suggest that the interest in distinguishing creative and performing aspects be recognized as an interest in the skills or abilities of individual artists. Such assessments are distinct from and use different evidence than assessments of perceivable performances, but they are still of legitimate interest to critics, consistent with anti-geneticism.
Assessments of skill evaluate an artist's continuing ability or proficiency at his artform. An artist possesses certain skills; he has the capacity, talent, or disposition to do well in his artform. But "being skilled" and "giving a good performance" are not the same thing. An artist is usually determined to be skilled because his many good performances constitute evidence that he possesses certain skills. But an unskilled artist can occasionally give a good performance just as an artist acclaimed as highly skilled might occasionally give a bad one, perhaps many. A "skillful performance" and a "good performance" are not precisely the same thing either. As each artform involves several skills, an artist could give a performance skillful in some ways that was not good overall. but even though a demonstration of skills does not necessarily constitute a good performance, it makes a good performance more likely. This relationship helps account for the particular relevance of skill assessments. The artist who possesses skills is praised because he is more likely to give good performances than one who is unskilled. an individual performance demonstrating possession of skills is part of the evidence that the artist is skilled.
In an ongoing dance world, it is quite appropriate to make assessments
of an artist's skills, appealing to knowledge of the artist's
work in many performances, as well as to extra-performance information.
As suggested by Joseph Margolis, "Critics are, fundamentally,
teachers. Their comments upon works of art, accordingly, are adjusted
to influence, to instruct, to draw attention to, to indicate,
to suggest with tact, to remind, to correct, and a thousand other
such functions." (11)
The critic is in a special position to instruct others about relationships
between certain skills and the quality of perceivable performances.
He is well-equipped to explain which skills of which artists are
more likely to result in good performances, what pitfalls there
might be in the development of certain skills, and how those skills
can be used, well or poorly, in striving for good performances.
A critic is also in a special position to provide guidance to
the dance world about performances that can be expected from certain
artists in the future. In an ongoing dance world, where people
with different interests look to the critic for guidance, these
skill assessments have a legitimate place in the critic's work,
even though they should be kept separate from the evaluation of
a particular performance, and should not detract from the primary
importance of the performance itself. (12)
The interest in individual contributions may not be the only motivation
underlying distinctions now made between creative and interpretive
aspects of dance, but it is an important one and the cause of
much of the confusion.
Production Factors and Performance Evaluation
Dance critics often take into consideration production factors which are not perceivable on stage but which are relevant to the perceivable performance in important ways. To be consistent with both actual critical practice and anti-geneticism, these production factors should be considered legitimate evidence for assessing the skill of artists but not for evaluating the actual performances. Several kinds of production factors, with differing importance to critical evaluation, can be distinguished. Physical performance factors are not directly perceivable in a performance, but they help or hinder the physical capabilities of a normal human being. Examples are a springy floor that enables a dancer to perform more effectively than he otherwise would be able to do, toe shoes that enable a dancer to accomplish movements and positions that she would not be able to achieve without such shoes, (13) and invisible wires and off-stage catapults that once were used to enable dancers to achieve higher and more sustained elevation than otherwise possible. Physical injury (14) and old age (15) are physical performance factors which diminish ordinary physical capabilities.
External production factors are all remaining factors which cannot be discerned in the perceivable performance, except by inference, yet which contribute to the nature or the very existence of the performance in some way other than by directly affecting the physical capability of a dancer. These include the methodology used by a choreographer in designing movement, the method of financing used by a company's managers, and the amount of rehearsal time prior to performance.
A third type is quasi-performance factors which are not perceivable on stage by the audience, but are perceivable in some manner by the audience during the time of performance, such as program notes, the decor of the theater, and the dress of the orchestra.
Some critics explicitly recognize the irrelevance to critical evaluation of factors not perceivable on stage (such as "performance" during rehearsals), (16) but most seem to assume that some non-perceivable production factors, especially physical performance factors, may be quite relevant. Such references could be written off as newspaper reporting, which happens to be written by a dance critic, to satisfy a gossip-hungry audience, except that the references are sometimes used to justify critical judgments. Critics sometimes argue, for example, that a performance was good even though or especially in view of the fact that the dancer was injured. (17) I would suggest that evaluation of a perceivable performance by reference to a physical performance factor overlooks the differences between evaluations of (1) perceivable performances, and (2) ongoing skills of dancers, which, due to non-perceivable factors, seem to be of greater or lesser quality than they are in fact.
The special interest of dance critics in physical performance factors, in contrast with such artforms as music, may be explained by the special status of a dancer's body as his instrument -- a body that is especially prone to all sorts of alterations affecting performance. A physical factor of similar interest to critics, although perceivable, is an unusual characteristic of a dancer's body, such as a long neck or well-proportioned figure. (18) Such factors do enhance the quality of the perceived performance, and the choreographer's choice of bodies is as important as his choice of scenery and is frequently discussed by critics. (19) These physical factors, largely unique to dance, are anomalous because they are not, in themselves, part of a dancer's performance. It is assumed that a musician acquires the best instrument possible; he is evaluated in terms of what he does with it. A dancer has no such choice of instruments; he is "stuck with" one body, thus making it more reasonable for a critic to qualify an assessment of a performance by noting explicitly that "in spite of" or "because of" certain characteristics of the dancer's body, the performance was of such-and-such a quality. Critical reasoning that uses physical characteristics, whether or not they are perceivable, assesses an artist's skills at overcoming or enhancing physical characteristics. (20)
Various physical or mechanical forms of assistance have been used in dance. "Machines" were considered a "necessary" component of dance in the seventeenth century. (21) Wires were used to produce the illusion of flight in early nineteenth century ballets. (22)
There is some evidence that Marie Taglioni, one of the most famous of the ballerinas who used wires, was actually praised for not using movements of great technical difficulty, while her contemporaries who demonstrated great ability at high leaps, unassisted by wires, were criticized for relying on acrobatics. (23) The use of wires in ballet is seldom found now, although some in the avant-garde are re-exploring their potential. (24) Toe shoes, introduced at about the same time, have gained widespread, although not universal, acceptance. (25) Critics who approve of such physical assistance usually claim it enhances the artistic or dramatic potential of dance, while critics who disapprove often claim such measures reduce dance to athletics. (26)
Another physical performance factor is the nature and quality of the stage. an untreated oak floor with a bit of spring is a favorite of dancers, and it is an important form of physical assistance, while slippery, hard surfaces can present serious problems. (27) If the floor is average, or especially good, it usually goes unmentioned by critics, but if the floor is especially bad, it is often cited as a qualifier in explaining the quality of the performance. (28)
The acceptability of some physical performance factors, but not others, can be explained in terms of audience expectations about non-perceivable factors relevant to assessing skill. The ongoing skills of a performer can be assessed from a perceivable performance in conjunction with established practices for physical performance factors. Contemporary ballet audiences expect that the women will wear toe shoes and that no one will use wires or catapults; when these expectations are violated by a change in established practice, skill assessments are rendered inaccurate. Knowledge of imperceivable factors is thus required only if they are different from currently established practices and only because they affect the skill assessments made from perceivable performances.
An analysis based on the above would be more fruitful to critical practices than the analyses of George Dickie and Joseph Margolis that imperceivable factors must be taken into account in evaluating the perceivable performance. Dickie has argued that knowledge of hidden wires is relevant in evaluating the performance of certain extraordinary leaps, as the wires are part of the "proper object of criticism," the aesthetic object, even though imperceivable. (29) Similarly, Margolis has argued, against Beardsley, that "to know that the high-jumping male dancers of the Moiseyev ballet company are catapulted over the heads of the corps is certainly a part of a critical /p. 32 understanding of the company's performance." (30) Dickie acknowledges that we can "distinguish between what might be called the performance of dancers (which would include the wires and such) and the presentation of the dance (simply that which can be seen) which is independent of the means used to produce the presentation," (31) but he insists that "both are involved in the appreciation of ballet." (32) Dickie's own discussion, however, supports the view that the interest in wires is mainly an interest in the skills and perhaps the honesty of dancers, when he says, "Ballet is rather like athletics; a high jumper who used aids would be disqualified."(33)
The uncomfortable position in which he finds himself in a subsequent discussion would be resolved, I think, by distinguishing evaluations of the perceivable presentations from evaluations of the skills used by dancers in bringing about the presentations -- evaluations which may depend on evidence imperceivable in the presentation. Dickie says that certain information, imperceivable in a painting itself, may change the evaluation of the painting, just as information about wires changes the evaluation of a dancer's performance. If we learn that a painting was done before materials were developed which would have made the painting easier to produce, Dickie claims, we not only admire the skill of the painter, our knowledge of the obstacles overcome also seems to make it a better painting. (34) But he notes that although "we do seem to appreciate a painting more if it requires skills," this leads to the rather silly position "that if painters want to paint better pictures they ought to use the most difficult and usually older techniques."(35)
Dickie's solution to this predicament is not acceptable. He says that "perhaps the rational thing to do is to admire skill when it is necessary to produce a given result but to regard an unnecessary use of skill (when easier techniques are available) as simply 'precious.'" (36) But one consequence of this solution is that the efforts of dancers performing leaps without wires would be simply "precious"; we would not praise their skill for not making use of an available technique. If, as he says, we really are interested in the skills of the artist as part of the evaluation of what is perceivable in a painting or performance, we should be just as interested in the artist who had unusually great difficulties to overcome, because of what that tells us about his skills, as we are with the artist who had unusually minimal difficulties to overcome (as with the dancer using wires), again because of what that tells us about his skills. A better solution, when there is additional information about obstacles overcome by the artist, is to distinguish 1) the assessment of the painting or performance, which would not change, from 2) the assessment of the artist's skills, which would be upgraded. if a painter sets more obstacles for himself, as in his choice of more difficult techniques, our knowledge of these causal factors provides grounds for admiring his skills, but not for changing the evaluation of the painting itself.
Consideration of external production factors, the second category, potentially could raise the same problems, but critics rely on them much less in their evaluations. Critics sometimes report a company's financial problems, but in doing so function strictly as reporters of items of interest to a curious readership; they do not seem to consider these factors relevant to judgments of the quality of a perceivable performance. Critics occasionally mention such factors as limited rehearsal time, but describing a performance as well- or poorly-rehearsed seems to be only a convenient way to characterize perceivable precision or sloppiness. (37)
One external production factor which has been the subject of critical debate is the method of composition of the music for a dance. for example, although many ballet choreographers now usually use music previously and independently composed, this was not always the case. John Martin, writing earlier in this century, argued:
It is as in appropriate to ask a choreographer to create a dance to fit a ready-made score as it would be to ask a dramatist to write a play to fit a series of ready-made settings and costumes. It is not the dancer's business to exhibit the music, but the musician's to exhibit the dancer. (38)
Tchaikovsky's music for the ballets of Marius Petipa, including The Nutcracker, was written according to detailed instructions given by Petipa to Tchaikovsky. (39) Eighteenth-century critic and choreographer Jean-George Noverre gave similar instructions to Gluck for composition of the music for Iphigenie en Tauride. (40) Twentieth-century choreographer George Balanchine used this method in his ballet Union Jack, (41) although he is most noted for choreography using previously-written music. (42)
In contrast with Martin, critic Cyril Beaumont, some years later, accepts without question the acceptability of composing music either before or after the choreography is created. He is concerned instead with the appropriateness of that music to the movement, (43) which is perceivable during the performance. A careful reading of Martin's argument suggests that he too is really most interested in appropriateness though he recommends in 1939 that it is best achieved only when music is specially composed for the choreography. (44) Critics today rarely discuss and do not seem very interested in the manner in which music is composed, possibly because they recognize, as Martin did not, that the history of production, at least with regard to music, is not relevant to the evaluation of perceivable performances. (45)
Among quasi-performance factors, the third category, the program notes provided at dance performances are of most interest. As program notes are such a well-established practice, and since the audience is expected to read them prior to the performance on stage, it could be argued that they are an integral part of the performance itself and thus relevant to the overall assessment of that performance. Most critics do not subscribe to this extreme view, but they occasionally refer to program notes for additional justification of a negative assessment of a performance. (46) Critics also use program notes as a source of information about a choreographer's aspirations, especially when they do not seem to have been met. (47) These limited uses can be understood as ways of assessing a choreographer's skill at realizing his ambitions, but not for evaluating the performance itself. References to program notes are infrequent, perhaps because the printed work seems merely a crutch for explaining or making sense of the performance on stage, instead of a legitimate way of enhancing its quality.
Generally, the relative unimportance to criticism of external production factors and quasi-performance factors seems to reflect the absence of the factor of unique human bodies as dance instruments.
/p. 33 Despite the largely unexamined peculiarities of
dance as a complex, performing art, critical practices can be
explained consistently with the philosophical theory of anti-geneticism
to promote responsible criticism. Of course, these critical practices
might be clarified consistently with other philosophical viewpoints,
and the arguments here do not prove the necessity or validity
of anti-geneticism. This exploratory examination of some special
issues of dance criticism attempts to provide distinctions and
concepts useful in further analysis, especially with respect to
the relevance of non-perceivable factors and assessments of the
skills of artists.
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1. See Myron Howard Nadel and Constance Nadel Miler, eds., The Dance Experience: Readings in Dance Appreciation (New York: Universe Books, 1978), p. 1. Return to text
2. Monroe C. Beardsley, Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1958), p. 52 (hereinafter referred to as Aesthetics). Return to text
3. Jerome Stolnitz, "The Artistic Value in Aesthetic Experience," The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 32 (Fall, 1973), p. 6. Return to text
4. In 1938, Arnold Haskell stressed the freedom of individual artists to express themselves, as have many other critics, in his Ballet (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1938), p. 46. However, this practice is becoming increasingly less acceptable. It is not considered acceptable for anyone to change the choreography of George Balanchine's ballets, for example, unless Balanchine himself rechoreographs the work. Balanchine also rejects the practice of dancers changing the choreography themselves, explaining that, in his ballets, "Nothing is left either to principals or corps de ballet to do for themselves; I show them every tiny movement and the least mimetic action; and I count their every step." Quoted in Cyril Beaumont, Complete Book of Ballets (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1938), p. 793. Return to text
5. The Jerome S. Robbins Film Archives at the Performing Arts Research Center, New York Public Library, Lincoln Center, has over one million feet of film and is probably the largest collection of dance films accumulated in one place. Although the Library since 1967 has commissioned 58 films of major dance works, many of the holdings (including, e.g., most of the current repertoire of American Ballet theatre) cannot be viewed by the public due to contractual agreements with unions and choreographers. Some choreographers, including George Balanchine, have shunned, until very recently, efforts to record their works on film. Much of the Robbins collection consists of movies made by amateurs during dress rehearsals, which are incomplete and often focus on one dancer to the exclusion of the other dancers on stage. "Dance Collection: Resume of Services" (mimeograph) New York: New York Public Library . Conversations with library staff, January-March, 1976. Return to text
6. "Film can . . . often clarify whether a certain shift of weight, placement, phrasing, focus is particular to the dancer who's doing it or is an intentional part of the choreography." Marcia B. Siegel, "Waiting for the past to begin," in Growth of Dance in America, ed. by Edward Kamarck (Madison, Wisconsin: Arts in Society, 1973), p. 233. Although a film can provide some such clarification, however, it will not necessarily do so. the choreographer may still be responsible for those nuances, providing them through personal coaching rather than the written notation. Return to text
7. Arlene Croce, in her review of a performance of The Sleeping Beauty by the Bolshoi Ballet, includes a detailed analysis of those elements of a dancer's performance which seem to be the result of his interpretation and those which are apparently the result of the director's guidance: ". . Levashev gives every indication of having worked out his role himself. His mime declamations are rendered in a thrashing monotone, without the modulations good direction might have elicited. later, bad direction makes him completely illegible in a pointless downstage scene in which he's lifted and carried from place to place by his attendants. . ." "The Bolshoi Smiles, Sort of," New Yorker (May 26, 1975), p. 89. It is probably safe to assume, regarding a series of movements involving several dancers lifting others, that the movements are performed in accordance with the choreographic design. However, her characterization of the mime declamations is based solely on inference and may, of course, be false.
Jack Anderson, in a review of Cinderella, also seems to assume that the original choreographic design is being followed, but that the dancers are inserting their own interpretive nuances: ". . because the specific choreographic motions devised by Mr. Panov within this structure range from the pleasant to the uninspired, the production requires sensitive performances by its principal dancers to provide it with charm and fantasy throughout all three acts." "Berlin Troupe Dances 'Cinderella,' by Panov," New York Times, July 11, 1978. It might be the case, of course, that the sensitive performances resulted from coaching of the dancers, either by the choreographer or by someone else. Return to text
8. Joanne Friesen has urged: "The aesthetic quality of a dance is . . . affected by its technical competence. . . . Dancers and choreographers are used, and the discriminating viewer must learn criteria for evaluating and enjoying the technical aspects involved with each." "Perceiving dance," Journal of Aesthetic Education, 9 (October, 1975), p. 100. Return to text
9. Beardsley, Aesthetics, p. 58. Return to text
10. Ibid., p. 19. Return to text
11. Joseph Margolis, The Languages of Art and Art Criticism (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1965), p. 67. Return to text
12. Friesen urges, consistent with this distinction: "The respect for skill is not an adequate substitute for aesthetic appreciation of the aesthetic image as such." "Perceiving Dance," p. 101. Return to text
13. It could be argued that toe shoes are perceivable on stage during the performance, and thus are not properly a "physical performance factor," as the notion is used here. However, what the audience perceives is a satin shoe with ribbons and a box-shaped toe. The audience does not perceive the layers of glue and stiffening on the point and sole of the shoe that give the dancer the means by which to raise to "full pointe." Return to text
14. Judy Bachrach speaks glowingly of Alicia Alonso's abilities as a dancer, especially in view of Alonso's almost complete loss of her eyesight for ten years. "Cuba's Alicia Alonso: Free to Dance," Washington Post, April 8, 1976.
Critic Alan M. Kriegsman once praised Rudolf Nureyev's performance in Raymonda, especially considering that Nureyev had just recovered from pneumonia. "Nureyev's 'Raymonda'," Washington Post, April 9, 1976. Return to text
15. Alicia Alonso seemed to receive special praise because of her age (56?) for her 1978 performances in North America with the National Ballet of Cuba: typical of such comments are those of Alan M. Kriegsman: "to watch Alonso dancing this role is to see a miracle in action. It is an immensely strenuous part, demanding sharp attack and heated emotional outpourings. Yet Alonso performs it with unflagging energy and intensity, looking half her years all the while, whipping off half a dozen pirouettes at a clip, shooting out those incredible legs like javelins. How it is possible for a woman of 56 to do what she does is a secret known only to Alonso and divine providence." "Alonso and An Imposing 'Oedipus'," Washington Post, June 7, 1978. Return to text
16. Audrey Williamson says, e.g., that "The final criticism must, however, be based on the dancer's performance on the stage, not on his technical feats in class which, until they are definitely employed by a choreographer, are a matter only of speculative interest." Robert Helpmann, in Dancers and Critics, ed. by Cyril Swinson (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1950), p. 76. Similarly, A.V. Coton says that "A dancer must be judged in performance -- a fine piece of 'show-off' in classroom will thrill any connoisseur present, but it isn't a performance." "Beryl Grey," in Dancers and Critics, p. 35.
/p. 34. Dance teachers seem to agree that what finally counts is the perceivable performance, and that dancers must develop skills to overcome all such adverse conditions and not use them as "excuses" for poor performance, as perceivable to the audience. For example, in the late nineteenth century, Christian Johannson trained dancers in St. Petersburg to maintain their equilibrium under the most adverse stage conditions by making puddles of water on the classroom floor. Natalia Roslavleva, Era of the Russian Ballet (New York: E.P. Dutton & Col., 1966), p. 111. Return to text
17. Kriegsman seems to reason in this fashion in a praise-filled review of Rudolf Nureyev: "One would scarcely have guessed looking at Nureyev as Armand, that he was still recuperating from an injured foot." "Dance Artistry," Washington Post, July 10, 1975.
In a related example, Edward Villella's injury is cited as an excuse for a performance not as good as Villella ordinarily gives. [unsigned], "Maryland Ballet: The Best News of All Was in the Performances," Washington Post, February 24, 1976.
Anna Kisselgoff seems to make a clear distinction between on-going skills and perceivable performances in her comments on Daniel Duell's performance in Harlequinade: "Since he is said to be recovering from a severe injury, Mr. Duell's appealing, wistful Harlequin should perhaps be judged more on potential than achievement." "Ballet: The Grandeur of Balanchine's 'Barocco,' New York Times, January 8, 1979. Return to text
18. Arnold Haskell, e.g., says that "The dancer needs the perfect instrument, for of course she is an instrumentalist. She needs also an attractive and expressive face." "Irene Skorik," in Swinson, Dancers and Critics, p. 45. Return to text
19. A typical example is George Jackson's criticism that ". . . the one man was miscast; Lazaro Carrero looked too juvenile as the eldest's fiance." "Two Cuban Premieres," Washington Post, June 8, 1978. Return to text
20. Etienne Gilson has noted the physical characteristics of the dancer's body and what the dancer does with those characteristics: "Although natural beauty is a useful asset to the dancer, it is not indispensable; certain defects can even be advantageous provided they facilitate the effort and movement proper to the dance. A feminine dancer with a fairly small head on a fairly long neck, with legs and arms that are longer than the average can achieve effects that would be otherwise impossible. But we also see male and female dancers with small builds who turn the particularities of their physique to good account." Forms and Substances in the Arts, trans. by Salvator Attanasio (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1966), p. 190; see also, p. 192. Return to text
21. Saint-Hubert, "How to Compose Successful Ballets," in Dance as a Theatre Art, ed. by Selma Jeanne Cohen (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1974), pp. 32, 37. Return to text
22. Didelot's Flore et Zephire is credited with being ". . . the first ballet in which wires were used to enable the dancers to simulate aerial flight." Beaumont, Complete Book of Ballets, p. 21. However, ". . . the principal dancers did not risk themselves on the wires, their parts were doubled by others; and there were only two dancers on wires. . . ." Ibid., p. 85. "in [Didelot's] Alceste, demons flew from the depths of the scene to above the footlights, and waved their flaming torches over the spectators in the stalls. In Cupid and Psyche, . . . Didelot made Venus appear in an aerial chariot drawn, apparently, by fifty doves. Each bird was fitted with an elastic belt carrying a length of fine wire which was attached to the car." Ibid., p. 17.
Although Didelot's efforts received considerable praise, a later ballet, La Sylphide (first produced by Philippe Taglioni in 1832), also made extensive use of wires to lift the dancers. In the second act of the ballet, some twelve to fifteen dancers, including the ballerina, Marie Taglioni, used wires to create the illusion of flight. Ibid., p. 85. Return to text
23. Ivor Guest, The Romantic Ballet in Paris (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1966), p. 115; see also, pp. 114, 128-9. Return to text
24. See Anna Kisselgoff's review of Rebound by Batya Zamir, "Dance: Above the Ground," New York Times, March 8, 1976. Choreographer Stephanie Evanitsky's Buff Her Blind -- To Open the Light of the Body uses ". . . a scaffold . . . with nine elastic tightropes stretched across at three levels." Anna Kisselgoff, "Dance: Miss Evanitsky," New York Times, March 12, 1975. Choreographer Trisha Brown has used harnesses on pulleys to enable her dancers to literally walk on walls during some of her dances. Anna Kisselgoff, "Wall-Dancer Adds a New Dimension," New York Times, January 8, 1976; see also, Susan K. Berman, "Four Breakaway Choreographers," Ms. Magazine III (April, 1975), p. 44. Even the traditional American Ballet Theatre once had ballerina Nora Kaye ". . . swinging head down on [a] rope ladder." Quoted from John Martin's review of The Sphinx, in the New York Times, on April 22, 1955, in Selma Jeanne Cohen and A.J. Pischl, "The American Ballet Theatre: 1940-1960," Dance Perspectives (1960), p. 82. Return to text
25. Toe shoes are widely accepted for women, but not for men. There are some isolated examples, however, of men dancing on full point, including a 1937 Russian ballet, The Prisoner in the Caucasus: "The principal interest of this ballet is the Circassian dances, which the men dance in their pointed boots, many of the steps being actually sur les pointes. This kind of dancing was effectively used by Fokine in his ballet Thamar, the scene of which is also laid in the Caucasus." Cyril Beaumont, Supplement to Complete Book of Ballets (London: C.W. Beaumont, 1942), p. 172. More recently, in The Dream, "[Frederick] Ashton used a balletic convention for a surprising and comic purpose, by putting [Bottom], when transformed into an ass, on point." David Vaughan, Frederick Ashton and His Ballets (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977), p. 343.
Most critics and audiences of classical ballet accept them now without question, but choreographer Kurt Jooss never used them in his ballets, arguing that they ". . . got in the way. . . . But I trained my dancers' feet so high that audiences often had the impression we were on pointe." Roy Koch, "'I'm a Playwright of Movement,'" New York Times, March 14, 1976. Return to text
26. See, e.g., Cohen, Dance as a Theatre Art, pp. 66-7; 104-5. Return to text
27. See, Alan M. Kriegsman, "Uneasy Landings: It's a Hard Opera Floor," Washington Post, March 2, 1979. Return to text
28. Typical of critical comments is an assessment by Clive Barnes of Valery and Galina Panov in performance at a sports arena: "The bare, square stage, covered with what looks like slippery linoleum . . . was hardly conducive to artistry. Yet, . . . pure genius triumphed over all circumstances." "Ballet: The Panovs Make Debut in U.S.," New York Times, February 6, 1975. See also, Clive Barnes,"At Long Last, the Panovs," New York Times, February 16, 1975. Return to text
29. George Dickie, "Art Narrowly and Broadly Speaking," American Philosophical Quarterly, 5 (January, 1968), p. 74. Return to text
30. "Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism" (Review). The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 17 (December, 1959), p. 267. Return to text
31. Dickie, "Art Narrowly and Broadly Speaking," p. 74. Return to text
32. Ibid. Return to text
33. Ibid. Return to text
34. Ibid., 76. Return to text
35. Ibid. Return to text
36. Ibid. Return to text
37. A typical comment is George Jackson's that, "As usual in this company, the cast was utterly rehearsed and boasted some potent performances." "Two Cuban Premieres," Washington Post, June 8, 1978. Return to text
38. John Martin, Introduction to the Dance (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1939), p. 217. Return to text
39. Norman Lloyd, "Composing for the Dance," in The Dance Has Many Faces, ed. by Walter Sorrell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1966), pp. 140-1. Lloyd gives an example of Petipa's instructions: "Soft music . . . 64 bars. the tree is lit up . . . 9 bars of sparkling music. the children enter . . . 24 bars of joyful animated music. A few bars of tremolo depicting surprise and admiration. A march . . . 64 bars. A short rococo minuet. . . 16 bars." Ibid., p. 140. Return to text
40. Ibid., p. 141. Return to text
41. Anna Kisselgoff, "Ballet's Bicentennial Bow to Britain," New York Times, May 13, 1976. Balanchine choreographed to a simple hornpipe tune played repeatedly by a pianist to provide a "skeleton of beats." The composer then ". . . wrote down the number of counts the dancers needed for each sequence," and only after the choreography had been completed did he begin the score. /p. 35 Return to text
42. Bernard Taper notes, for example, that "Some choreographers habitually choreograph first and then commission music to go with their steps. Balanchine does not work in any such fashion. Music, he says, provides the platform on which he can move. when a piece of music intrigues him, he feels impelled not to illustrate it in dance but to invent movement that provides a visual complement." "Balanchine is A Prism that Refracts Music Into Dance," New York Times, November 17, 1974. Return to text
43. "The Practice of Ballet Criticism," in Swinson, Dancers and Critics, p. 15. Return to text
44. He claims, for example, that music's " . . full mission . . . is to serve as a projection of the dancer's voice and rhythmic pulse; its purely musical requirements are nil and the farther it is removed from their independently developed mechanisms of musical structure and orchestral instruments, the more completely it will fulfill its functions." Introduction to the Dance, p. 246. Return to text
45. Jennifer Dunning notes the unusual method of production of the music in a recent review, but she seems more interested in the perceivable qualities of the performance: "Dance created through the collaborative efforts of choreographers and composers was once a fashionable experimental art form. Its popularity has not waned entirely. . . . the mutually unenhancing choreography and music went uncredited, but if these were improvisational efforts by the two dancers and a handful of musicians, they certainly had none of the vitality of spontaneous invention." She then describes the perceivable qualities of music and movement in some detail. "Dances by a Pair of Loft Veterans," New York Times, July 15, 1978. Return to text
46. Clive Barnes seems to argue, in a generally favorable review of John Neumeier's Trilogy, that the program notes detract from the overall quality of the ballet: "His irrelevantly subjective program notes tend to obfuscate the drift of his choreography." Elsewhere in the review, Barnes says, "There are six dancers, although all represent (according to the program note, for one could never guess) six aspects of one individual. . . ." "The Ballet: A Trilogy by John Neumeier," New York Times, April 7, 1975. Return to text
47. Anna Kisselgoff says in a review of Walter Raines' After Corinth: "The catch is that the program note insists on a theme that is simply not borne out by the action onstage." "Harlem Troupe Dances 'After Corinth,'" New York Times, May 2, 1975.
Similarly, in a very negative review of a performance by Merce Cunningham's company, Clive Barnes says: "In a program note, Mr. Cunningham is quite precise as to his purpose. . . . fine words, but an infernally dull evening." "Pomare and Cunningham Dance Companies Perform," New York Times, May 28, 1975.
In a negative review of Gilbert Reed's The Fiddler's Child, Jack Anderson wrote: "Without the program notes, the dramatic situation might have been unclear. yet choreographically the story was not really much of a story. . . . but the plot defeated the ballet." "Ballet: Tribute to Janacek at Spoleto," New York Times, June 12, 1978.
In each of these examples, it seems that the criticism of the ballet was based solely on the inadequacies of the perceivable performance; the program notes provided confirmation that a goal was not met, but they were not themselves used as evidence to justify the assessment of the value of the perceivable performance. Return to text
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