Critics have second thoughts. All the time. But of course, writing dance reviews overnight, it’s our first thoughts that make it into print.
Sometimes the second thought is simply a change of heart–a piece that didn’t speak to you before suddenly does, either because of some quality you can finally see in it or some experience you’ve had that allows you to relate to it. Sometimes you feel the same about a work but realize the tone of the review was more strident than deserved, or more gushy than merited. Sometimes you realize you just plain missed the point. Sometimes you still feel that you were “right” that a piece didn’t work, but you misdiagnosed the flaw. Such are the dangers when your copy is due at 9 a.m. the next day.
I believe there are no “right” or “wrong” reviews–this is art. I believe there are only well-informed reviews and uninformed ones, sensitive reviews and insensitive ones. When I say “sensitive” and “insensitive,” I mean both to the intention and effect of the work, and to the creators and performers behind it.
Some of my recent reviews have stirred heated reactions. Often, I believe, sparking a spirited dialogue is the critic’s job. When the dialogue becomes this polarized, it does not suit my temperament. I really don’t thrive on conflict.
Sometimes what a respondent has to say makes me see a work a bit differently, sometimes not. And sometimes a remark touches a nerve because it pinpoints an opinion or piece of rhetoric I already feel I would write differently now, if I could.
So herewith, some second thoughts on how I would–and wouldn’t–redo my coverage of the San Francisco Ballet season thus far if I had the chance.
–I’d write a bit differently on “West Side Story Suite.” This is one case in which I feel, inexplicably, I bought into the hype about the San Francisco Ballet premiere of this work, and then manufactured some hype of my own. It was fine. Nothing to swoon about. The singing, predictably, was not good. I think Robbins’ reduction of his musical works well–I like how the bows between songs nods overtly to its structure as a suite–and I had a new appreciation for the adaptation’s choreography after hearing Robert LaFosse talk about the “Something’s Coming” solo at the excellent Words on Dance discussion. I agree with those who feel the “Somewhere” finale cuts off too much of the story arc to feel satisfying. I do admire how the SF Ballet dancers tackled this with gusto (incidentally, corps member Shannon Roberts was wonderful as Anita, principal Lorena Feijoo, whom I saw in a second cast, painfully bad–she simply didn’t have the pipes). If I could write about this one again, it would be a generally positive review, but not nearly so breathless.
–I would write the same about Yuan Yuan Tan in “Giselle.” I would write exactly the same review. I marvel at the irrational fanaticism Tan’s exquisite lines inspire in her fans. No dancer, not even one as lovely as Tan, is right in every role. As a performer, Tan flirts with the audience, she sells herself, she is beautiful and she knows it and her self-awareness projects to the audience. She is one of my favorite dancers in the world. In so many roles, she takes my breath away. But she is not a natural actress. She is temperamentally unsuited to “Giselle,” and also to the works of Jerome Robbins, which require an unaffected presence. As for her performance in Balanchine’s “Diamonds,” I would write about this differently if given the chance now, giving far less latitude for her endless flourishes–especially after being reminded, by Sarah Van Patten’s performance, how richly tragic that central pas de deux can feel.
–I would write about the same about Wayne McGregor’s “Eden/Eden,” though I would give more credit due to the innovation of the movement vocabulary. And I would never, never again presume to speak for how the general audience felt.
–I would stand by my assessment of Christophe Maillott’s “Altro Canto,” but tone down the rhetoric a bit. I would also be more mindful to assess it on its own terms, rather than dismiss prevailing trends in Europe wholesale. For the record, I love a great deal of European work, having fallen swooningly early in my dance-viewing years to certain works by Jiri Kylian and Mats Ek. I am not oblivious to the great volume of exciting work happening in Europe now. But between Nacho Duato’s San Francisco Performances visit (another review I would stand by) and “Altro Canto,” we have not seen the best coming out of Europe lately in San Francisco.
These are my second thoughts. I’m happy to hear yours, and your first thoughts too.