What is a Dance Performance Critique?
A dance critique is a statement of your point of view. Be specific with examples and descriptions to support your viewpoint. You should develop your ideas so that the reader can visualize and understand the dance as you observed the performance.
As you watch a dance try to do so without preconceptions of what you think should happen, allow yourself to respond. A critique has three elements: description, analysis, and evaluation. Use them and then write the paper.
Description: should communicate how the dance looked and sounded. This is the gathering of information. Be aware of space, levels, shapes, rhythm, time and dynamics. Look for interrelationships among the movement, such as: repetition and variation of the movement theme, organization into clear sections, and the dance relationships of the dancers. How does the dance relate to the audience? Is the energy projected out or draws the spectator in? Is the dance narrative or non-narrative? What are the costumes, lighting, accompaniment, and stage atmosphere?
Analysis: determines style and the choreographer’s intent. Recognize whether the dance is ballet, modern, jazz, tap, ethnic. Many dances combine different styles. Determine the choreographer’s intent: 1) the idea that the medium of movement is the message and the materials are placed in an interesting and pleasing manner, or 2) does the movement tell a story or convey a message.
Evaluation: conveys how well the choreographer fulfilled his/her intent and the how and why of the viewer’s reactions. Note the elements, fulfillment of the intent, and the viewer’s personal response. Outstanding individual performance can be indicated as well as the enhancement or diminishment of the dancing, the lighting, the costumes, and the accompaniment to the dance itself. Be aware of your own biases and be specific in statements supporting your likes and dislikes.
A Few Tips:
Be on the lookout for unsupported general statements like “This dance was very pleasing and beautiful to me. I liked it very much.” When you see such an unsupported statement, ask yourself “why” and then fill in the rest of the paragraph to explain your point.
What are your first reactions and what do you remember most? Do not be afraid to be honest with your opinion avoid being vague– “The dancers were good.” Remember you are reviewing not reporting. There are no “wrong” responses.
What you should look for while watching the performance:
Does this dance make me feel anything? —Good, bad, uncomfortable? Even if you don’t know why, don’t discard the emotions or physical sensations your mind or body is feeling while you watch a dance. Do your best to describe them anyway. Sometimes, dance can evoke feelings directly, as if bypassing the brain. You may not ever truly understand where they come from, but they are still worth addressing, even if only in the form of a question.
Does the piece communicate to you? Look at the title, any program notes, the costumes, the lighting—does it seem as though it is meant to tell a specific story or theme? Maybe not—consider that some dance work is not meant to be narrative and is for pure design, architecture, sculpture—something more abstract than a story. However, even in this case, it still may say something to YOU.
Avoid looking for what you think the dance is “supposed” to mean, rather concentrate more on what it is to you. As for looking for “meaning,” I find it helpful to think that watching dance is more like reading a poem than like reading a play. Often choreographers use movement as a metaphor since it cannot easily “say” things in the same kind of intellectual detail as words.
Write you paper:
Start by sketching out your overall impressions, mixed with any historical or biographical context that seems relevant. Don’t write a research paper. Whatever background info you include should be used to help enlighten your own personal reflection, or illuminate meaning, or help you to understand or explain a specific point from your own experience watching the concert. Stay focused on YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE. Then once you have an overview, tighten up your paragraphs by making only one point per paragraph. Start with a statement of opinion or response, and then use the rest of the paragraph to support that thought.
Be Subjective Write in the first person “I felt,” “I saw,” “this meant to me…” Avoid pretending that you are writing an objective observation of a factual event. Everything you see goes through your own private filter. Yes, there may be similarities in how people respond to common events, but I am most interested in what your personal experience is, not what you think is the norm or the common view. Just do your best to honestly offer your own perspective, both with the humility to recognize that others will have equally valid differing opinions, but also with the confidence that your take on it is just as good, or “right” as a New York Times critic.
Critiques for live or recorded dance performances should be 500 words, double spaced in 12 font.