The task of reporting the news has, for better or for worse, spread far beyond standard media. From Michael Jackson’s death to yesterday’s headlines, sharing the news is now the work of an online global community. Phones, computers and gadgets are propagating information in real time and the internet is overloaded with individual opinions on everything. This is one of the factors affecting traditional dance criticism, often said to be an endangered species. Performance discussions now happen in real time: in forums, on Facebook, via text messages; they are blogged or tweeted about within a few hours of taking place.
While it is clear readers are no longer sitting and waiting for printed media in order to form a view, the rise of dance in web 2.0 does not correlate with decline of interest in traditional reviews. A professional write-up is still valued for its educational value and for the additional insights it may bring. Many are wonderful to read. In the UK, eminent dance critic Clement Crisp produces reviews that are practically works of literature. In the US, many of Alastair Macaulay’s pieces dig deep into symbolism and meaning. As he said in this recent interview for Ballet.co Magazine: “There are so many ways to look at dance…So I’m always trying to stretch myself – to find more things to see and more ways of looking…I think what I’m learning from them will actually give me more to see in the forms of dance with which I’m better acquainted”.
Traditional Dance Criticism vs. Online Media
By distancing themselves from what goes on backstage (and because they do not have to act as publishers on top of writing reviews) traditional dance critics are better able to keep standards of objectivity as compared to bloggers. In effect, some argue that only critics that are held at arm’s length from the field they write about can really be objective. Others think closer involvement leads to a better understanding and sensitivity towards the art form. Dance blogger Tonya Plank made very interesting points on this topic in her notes about this recent panel on the state of dance criticism.
Though traditional dance criticism still has the power to generate debate and to engage the reader, it continues to face a battle for survival. And it’s ironical that online media, while putting pressure on the printed business model, makes it possible for traditional criticism to go viral and reach a broader readership – think of how many reviews are shared and linked to everyday. In the same way dance companies are embracing new media to attract audiences dance journalists will also need to embrace new technologies and ways of communicating. Perhaps critics should pay closer attention to the online dance community in order to better serve the interests of their readers (an increasing number of critics are turning to Twitter). Media and journalism are changing and dance criticism has to evolve accordingly.
A review needs to become part of a bigger conversation where the critic becomes its moderator, its leading voice. This has been suggested across many fields in the arts as we embrace the age of “curation”. In this model dance reviews have the potential to become interactive, the critic would manage and select information coming from both traditional and independent media. For instance, a review that explains obscure terms / jargon (think words like rubato, legato, fouetté rond de jambe en tournant, etc.) or that includes illustrative videos is not only informative, but also useful reference.
Contemporary Dance Criticism
More recently a number of professional dance critics have started to explore these avenues. One example is Ismene Brown, former dance critic of The Telegraph, who now heads The Arts Desk, an independent arts e-magazine. Freed from the constraints of 400-word reviews, Brown and her colleagues write features and publish on-the-night reviews, often including video examples. In the US critics Roslyn Sulcas, Tobi Tobias and Apollinaire Scherr favor blogging and addressing audience queries to provide audiences with a richer, all-round experience. At The Guardian, Sanjoy Roy links to YouTube videos and other online media in his outreach series Step-by-step guide to dance.
If this is the future of dance criticism, will it still possible to find dance pages in a newspaper? The answer is a “complex yes”. While the arrival of such new technologies as the iPad will increasingly drive media consumers to non-print content, it is clear that web 2.0 makes it easier for keen audiences worldwide to educate themselves and feed off good content. Consider that just over five months ago, Washington Post dance critic Sarah Kaufman won the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism. And in a Q&A with Post readers she was positive that dance criticism still has a place in the newspaper: “newspapers cover news. Art is news”. Mark her words and stay tuned.
Join the conversation: use the comment form below and let us know how you like to keep up with dance (and the arts in general) in the web 2.0 age.