The reviews section of Article19 lurks at the top of the page like a street urchin few people want to go near. We've never been a big fan of reviews here in TheLab™ so there it sits, looking nervous, waiting for the hammer to fall. Perhaps one day it will!
With Resolution, the annual dance festival in London, come The Place's traditional reviews of the new companies that manage to get themselves onto the Robin Howard Theatre's stage. It's here, and with reviews in general, that Article19 is starting to wonder if dance criticism is put together by bored writers messing around with fridge magnets.
One set of reviews, for January 10th, caught our collective attention because we know one of the pieces very well. After a quick read we were, thanks to the ReviewOmatic™ writing, non the wiser about the other two. Sanjoy Roy and Kate Larsen were on call for the night, Resolution reviewers work in rotation, to watch Katja Nyqvist, All Play and Underground 7, they came with fridges in tow.
Mr Roy gets things off to a breezy start by calling the audience stupid. In describing All Play's 'It's Rude To Point' he opines;
"mostly they stay wacky, as if anxious that anything less lightweight might alienate their audience."
To prove his literary prowess he uses his full complement of magnetised words and brings "kooky", "riot", "garishly" and the aforementioned "wacky" in to play but when you get to the end of the review you have no idea what he actually thought of the work. Hard to believe he writes for the Guardian newspaper, or perhaps not.
Ms Larsen get's her review of All Play under way with a bit of fridge magnet sleight of hand by stating that "It's Rude to Point is self-consciously unconventional". See what she's getting at? The work is deliberately trying to be different, as apposed to work that's different by accident I suppose. It would appear that deliberately trying to be original is frowned upon and in order to obtain credibility, at least with these writers, you must bump into your uniqueness on a drunken night out in Slough!
Next Ms Larsen shows us how clever she is by bringing her readers an exclusive new revelation. Dancers rehearse!
"All Play's practiced enthusiasm and pre-planned banter (as well as their cute-but-quirky costumes) give them an air reminiscent of children's television presenters;"
Yes, dancers, dance companies, choreographers, comedians, actors, etc all rehearse. You figured it out, feel free to open the fridge you're writing on and help yourself to a cornish pasty. I'm assuming the "children's television presenter" comment was supposed to be an insult since there are few things worse than that (being a dance critic for ThePlace perhaps? Ed!)
When the writer gets to her piece on Underground 7's 'On The Edge' she complements Mr Roy's statement that the audience are all stupid with; "Visceral and fearless, this is uncommonly intelligent work." I'm not sure if Ms Larsen is saying that all the other pieces in Resolution are stupid or the collective works of contemporary dance as a whole, to date, are a bit dim-witted but you get the point.
It makes you wonder if these writers have been told to be as condescendingly neutral as they could possibly be. Every negative, or apparently negative, comment is followed by a half hearted attempt to be nice, to provide positive re-enforcement to fledgling dance makers, even if that's not what they are.
Combine that with these nonsensical statements;
"a hypnotic work that's quietly compelling without ever becoming dramatic"
"a crescendo bold in its stillness and simplicity."
"arcs and sweeps through thickening, syrupy air, her body a pendulum propelled by the force of breath"
and you are forced to ask this question; What are these reviews for?
There are absolutes in life, of course there are. A pane of glass is either a pane of glass or it's not. There's no in-between, you can't argue that a pane of glass is a cow and have any credibility although dance critics may give it a go. The arts are more problematic because most of the time it's not about quality or craft it's about taste.
Do these reviewers imagine that all Resolution participants will be reading these pieces and making changes accordingly? Are they trying to sway the paying public's future ticket purchasing choices? Is it a comprehensive statement on the very nature of dance and its place in the world? Or is ThePlace so devoid of ideas about how to actually cover their own festival that the best they can come up with is a couple of hundred half arsed reviews written on the side of a Sub Zero & Wolf (look it up)?
My money's on the last one!
Resolution reviews continue until the end of February or until they run out of magnets, whichever comes first.