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Dance Critique

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A critique is an oral or written discussion strategy used to describe, analyze, and interpret works
of art. There are three major areas of art criticism: description, analysis, and evaluation. Your
critique should describe what you see, analyze (interpret) what the piece makes you think or
feel, and evaluate or judge whether or not you think the choices made by the choreographer
were successful. While you are watching a dance, be active in thinking about how you would
describe, analyze, and interpret the work. Make notes and use the following question prompts to
help you think about how you want to discuss the work. You should not simply write the
answers to all of the following questions or prompts. Instead, pick a few select ideas to focus on,
discuss in detail, and support your ideas.


Writing Guidelines


What is a critique?
A critique is an oral or written discussion strategy used to describe, analyze, and interpret works
of art. There are three major areas of art criticism: description, analysis, and evaluation. Your
critique should describe what you see, analyze (interpret) what the piece makes you think or
feel, and evaluate or judge whether or not you think the choices made by the choreographer
were successful. While you are watching a dance, be active in thinking about how you would
describe, analyze, and interpret the work. Make notes and use the following question prompts to
help you think about how you want to discuss the work. You should not simply write the
answers to all of the following questions or prompts. Instead, pick a few select ideas to focus on,
discuss in detail, and support your ideas.
Description
In order to support your opinions (your analysis), you must be able to briefly describe what you
see in a dance (an important moment, a repeated movement, how the elements of space, time,
and energy are used, etc.). You do not need to describe the whole dance in vivid detail. Instead,
focus on a few important moments or ideas. The brief description of a moment in the dance will
be what you feel are the most meaningful moments because you will analyze what they mean to
you. Meaning, your descriptions should be support for your analysis. The following categories
and questions are prompts to help you think about how to describe what you see. DO NOT
answer all these questions. Pick the few that feel are most important in helping you describe
what you have seen. Once you describe a meaningful moment, move onto analyzing it.
You could describe the Choreographer’s Tools: ( This category must be used for the first paper )
• Space: shape/line, level, direction, focus, points on the stage, floor pattern, depth/width,
phrases, transitions
• Time: speed/tempo, pulse, rhythmic pattern, time signature/meter, no counts, breath
phrasing, stillness, words/text/sounds/silence
• Energy: dynamics, qualities
• Other: style, forms, structure, movements, use of dancers.
Be aware of the elements of space, time, and energy. What topics from each element were used
most and how? Look for interrelationships among the movement, such as: repetition and
variation of the same movements, organization into clear sections, and the relationships of the
dancers. For example, are they always at a low level? Do they remain “trapped” in one part of
the stage? Do they keep the same speed throughout? Is the energy projected out or draws the
spectator in? Once you describe these moments, you can move onto analyzing them.
OR you could describe the Choreographic Concept:
• What mood, idea, or theme seems present? What can you describe to support this?
• Was the theme fairly literal, like a story? Or more abstract, like an idea? Describe a
moment that portrays your choice.
• What is the dance all about? What is the subject matter? Describe a moment that supports
this idea.
• Are there recognizable images? If so, what parts, movements, shapes were used to show
these images?
OR you could describe the General Performance:
• Quality of the dancers’ technique.
• Dancers’ use of projection and conviction in performance.
• Dancers’ ability to change roles from one dance or section of a dance to another.
Were the dances well rehearsed and/or well performed? Support your comments with specific
examples. Did the dancers work together well in the ensemble pieces?
OR you could describe the Production:
• Costumes
• Lighting Design
• Music or sound accompaniment
• Sets and/or props (if any)
Describe the effectiveness of the theatrical elements in relationship to each dance. What was the
relationship; did it play an important role in the dance?
Analysis/Interpretation
Your analysis or interpretation is the most important part of your critique. This is the portion of
the critique in which you state your own unique ideas, opinions, and thoughts regarding what
you thought the dance meant to you. Not every dance has a literal story-line, so remember that
you may choose to interpret an abstract concept like flying, death, love, etc. or just making
interesting designs in space. Your interpretation should align with what you describe, meaning
that you should tell me what you see and then tell me how it makes you feel. The following
questions or prompts are ways to help you think about how analyze the work. You DO NOT
need to answer all the questions in your critique.
• What thoughts or feelings did the dance evoke? Always back up your assertions, positive
or negative with concrete, descriptive examples. Try to offer some constructive criticism
or logical reasoning behind your feelings whether you liked the dance or not.
• When writing about a choreographer(s) always identify them by name. Try to get inside
the head of the choreographer. What do you think the choreographer was trying to
communicate?
• What do you think the dance was about? Analyze the symbolism. Does it relate to
current events? Can you relate it to your life?
• Determine the choreographer’s intent: 1) is the work simply meant to show interesting
movements and show how materials are placed in an interesting and pleasing manner, or
2) does the movement tell a story or convey a message?
• Describe the expressive qualities you find in the work. What expressive language would
you use to describe the qualities (i.e., tragic, ugly, funny, sensual, etc.)?
• Does the work remind you of other things you have experienced (i.e., analogy or
metaphor)?
• Recognize whether the dance is ballet, modern, jazz, tap, ethnic. Many dances combine
different styles. Does the style used help tell you something about what the piece is
“saying”? Is it commenting on culture, religion, social-class, etc.?
Evaluation
In this section, you should focus on how well the choreographer fulfilled his/her intent as you
determined in your analysis/interpretation. While you may have interpreted something in the
dance, you might have felt that the choreographer could have been more successful in helping
you reach your interpretation. If so, what else could be done or what could be changed for you to
reach your interpretation more clearly? You can discuss how the dancers, the use of
choreographic elements, or other elements were either outstanding or poor. Be aware of your
own biases and be specific in statements supporting your likes and dislikes. Present your opinion
of the work’s success or failure. You DO NOT need to discuss all these ideas.
• What qualities of the work make you feel it is a success or failure?
• Did the choices in movement, costuming, lighting, etc. help you reach a clear
understanding of the piece? If yes, how, and if not, what changes would you recommend?
• Did the dancers help bring the piece to life, or get the message across clearly? Why or
why not?
• Compare it with similar works that you think are good or bad.
• What criteria can you list to help others judge this work?
• How original is the work? Why do you feel this work is original or not original?
• How effective was the choreographer in communicating his/her idea?

Linking to Dance History:
For more complex papers, start by sketching out your overall impressions, mixed with any
historical or biographical context that seems relevant. Be clear in how you connect the work
from the dance to your knowledge of dance forms from class. For example, how does the work
compare to what you know about various dance forms? Does the choreography have any
similarities and/or differences to certain styles of dance or choreographers that you have learned
about? Explain the similarities and/or differences. Does the work affect society in the same way
other dances have?
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.
A Few Other 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 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.
Narrow your thesis. Do not write a summary of an entire dance or every dance in a concert.
Limit your writing to only the most important material. After seeing a concert, you may find that
one or two works, or something about the style of the choreographer in general is most
interesting, evocative, provocative, intriguing, etc.—this is where you should center your
writing. What interested you most? What made you feel the most? What made you most want to
get up and move? These sorts of places will make the assignment more interesting for you to
write, and more interesting for me to read.
What to look for: While you watch the dance, it may be helpful to be aware of several possible
issues on which you might focus your paper.
Does this dance make me feel anything? —Good, bad, uncomfortable? Even if you do
not know why, do not discard the emotions or physical sensations your mind or body is
feeling while you watch a dance. Do your best to describe them anyway.
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, and 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. To help you determine meaning, think of the dance like a poem. Often
choreographers use movement as a metaphor. A movement can mean something very complex or
very simple. Movements and gestures may be more pedestrian (everyday) or they may be very
abstract.
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.

  

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