The Evil Imp

Malevolent Ego

We passed on making fun of the National Dance Awards (NDA) this year because, let’s face it, there’s not a whole lot more to say that we haven’t said already.

The Critics Circle, who decide the winners of these awards, are still picking the usual suspects, still cannot define what an “independent” dance company is (even though they give an award for the “best” one) and they still take terrible press images.

Award ceremonies not withstanding there is a bigger issue with the Critics Circle and with critics in general.

The NDA, like most award ceremonies, picks a short list of people, the nominees, gathers them all together and then tells one of them that they have won. The others are, by definition, the losers who are, of course, “happy to have been nominated”.

It’s not at all clear how you decide that one dancer is “better” than another or more accomplished or why the “best” dancer doesn’t also win the “outstanding” performance award because if they are the “best” then surely then should win both prizes.

Asking such questions though would give far too much credit to the analysis that takes place when giving out these awards in the first place because there is no analysis. From the point of view of the Critics Circle it doesn’t matter who they nominate or who wins because it’s all about projecting authority and power.

“You’re good because we say you are” and just to prove it, have a few stars, or some formed polymer with your name etched on it.

Critics love to think of themselves as the arbiters of good taste. Something is good because they say so, end of story.

Film critics get their knickers in a knot on a regular basis if a film is released without being shown to them first. “How dare the film company bypass us”, they wail, “they must be up to something.”

Rotten Tomatoes

The review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives ‘Skyfall’ (the latest James Bond film) a combined score of 92%.

Here in TheLab™, when we saw that film, we thought it was a ponderous, sloppy, boring waste of time with a story that was just about worthy of inclusion in an episode of Spooks and Daniel Craig needs to work on a few more facial expressions because “pissed of GQ cover guy” is getting old.

So, are we right and the critics wrong? Who cares!

We paid our money, we took our chance and we got to see the movie and we made up our own minds about what we thought of it.

Critics, reviews and aggregation websites, like Rotten Tomatoes (we’re not aware of any culture equivalent), are just playing into the idea that something has always got to be better than something else. Everything has to have a score, somebody has to win and somebody has to lose.

Malevolent Ego

Although most critics would deny it, what they really want is the kind of power exhibited by the fictional restaurant critic Anton Ego from the Pixar movie ‘Ratatouille’. He sits in his coffin shaped office handing down success or failure to restauranteurs on a whim.

“I will return tomorrow night with high expectations. Pray you don’t disappoint me” Mr Ego warns in the movie. How many critics are thinking like that as they take their seats, pens at the ready, vicious intent primed and ready to go?

Arts marketing folk enable these misanthropes by putting their pull quotes all over the publicity material. If anybody actually cares what critics think, and film box office takings would suggest they don’t, then what exactly are dance companies and choreographers going to do about it?

Will dance companies start making work to order just get favourable reviews? Well, some companies will do that because they have all the artistic credibility of a BBC producer, but most certainly will not. So why even quote them?

If critics want to write about dance then they should write about it. If you want to give awards then just give them, no ceremonies, no nominees just say “hey, we thought you were cool, so here’s a piece of plastic for your efforts”. Ok, you might want to be a bit more grandiose when you hand it over!