Notes for a NoviceWriter's Web
(printable version here)

Notes from Anne Norman Van Gelder and Mark Broomfield:

1. Beginner writers have a tendency to use generalizations in their critiques because they are afraid to get descriptive. Simple opinions such as "It was great" or "I liked it" do not make a strong critique; one must incorporate all of the elements of the performance to explain why or why not the performance (or that aspect of the performance) was executed effectively.
2. Novice writers also tend to fear that they do not have the background knowledge to sufficiently critique a performance. Anyone can react to art, so you must not be afraid to share your opinion. If you are unsure of the technical dance terms to use when describing movement, layman's terms are sufficient if they effectively communicate the section of movement you are trying to describe.
3. Ultimately, a strong critique will answer these questions:
--> What was the performance trying to say?
--> Why did they need to say it in the first place?
--> How do the elements of the performance help it achieve what it is trying to say?

Zachary Streiff, a political science major at the University of Richmond, reflected on his first and only experience in an academic dance class, Dance History, and had some useful advice for novice writers within the field:

1. Don't be apprehensive about critiquing a performance even if you have limited background knowledge on the subject of theater or dance.
2. Don't be afraid to ask the professor about using correct terminology within your papers; when discussing choreography you can use layman's terms as long as they communicate a specific, vivid image of the performance. [However, there is some terminology you should use: see 'Writing About Performance' for a list]
3. Make sure you are very specific to compensate for your lack of expertise.
4. It can be hard for a novice to remember what you saw, so write the paper as soon as possible after the performance.
5. Bring paper and a pen to the performance to take notes!
6. Pay close attention to the resources and handouts given to you in the class.


A Bad Critique:

I couldn't tell the chicks from the dudes because of the costumes which made me mad because the title of the routine was Love Stories 2. Shouldn't there be two people in love? No! Instead they just walked in lines and made funny faces. I didn't like it because it didn't do what the title said it was going to.

A Better Critique:

As the name implies, Love Stories 2 is about love, but not the typical erotic type depicted in many dance performances; instead it is about the type of love a community shares. The color of the lighting and the symmetry of the costumes reinforce this idea. The costumes are the same for the male and female dancers. The costumes and the lighting also offer the same color palette, giving the stage a consistency that echoes the same idea of community. Beyond that, the movements also showcase the idea of community. For the majority of the piece the dancers move as one unit. When dancers break away from the group, the group follows them throughout the space even though not everyone on the stage is doing the same movement. The dancers move in response to one another which is what the idea of community and love is all about.

Still Don't Know Where to Start?
Susan Leigh Foster offers five frames through which dance can be examined in her book Reading Dancing: Bodies and Subjects in Contemporary Dance.

1. The dance's frame- How it separates itself from the rest of the world
2. Its modes of representation- How through resemblance, imitation, replication or reflection the dance refers to the world
3. Its style- How it creates a personal signature for itself
4. Its vocabulary- The individual movements of which the dance is composed
5. Its syntax- The principles governing the selection and combination of movements

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