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Critiquing the performing art

Posted on Sep 14, 05:47AM | IBNS

For the average viewer, appreciation of a performance is no doubt enhanced by the critiques written on them because they help them to catch the nuances, the intricacies that might miss the untrained eye.

Unfortunately today, what with rapid commercialisation of arts, publications paying homage to the undiscerning consumer, a major section of advertisers stoking this sector, space for art criticism has been denuded to a great extent.

Anyone who is associated with this field- and readers, are familiar with this trend. Added to this is the conceived idea of such programmes as not being 'so important' by publications which result in critiques written by novices or by those who do not have the skill to analyze a performance.

These and other topics came up for discussion at an invite-only forum titled "Critiquing and reviewing the performing art", with particular emphasis on dance, organised by the British Council, Kolkata, recently.

The event that featured dancers, choreographers and members of the Press saw Emma Gladstone, programming head of Sadler's Wells, and Sanjoy Roy, dance critic with The Guardian, UK, taking in the views aired by the participants.

Indeed, in the discussion moderated by Ananda Lal, well-known theatre critic and reviewer from Kolkata, many of the aspects of the problems in dance criticism came up. The performers expressed their woo at half-baked write-ups, the tendency to 'take help of brochures' to do a quick review, even the experience to find members from the Press not turning up at all.

All this underlies a lackadaisical attitude towards art criticism today, but most glaringly towards dance, they said.

The situation is rather different in England, where, as Roy revealed, there is dedicated space for dance criticism, both classical and contemporary. It is also expected that the critic is familiar with the subject, and not just a random 'fill-in' assignee. "Writing can be like a performing art'' said Roy, with its in-built knowledge and experience.

That dance is taken seriously enough back home as articulated by the visitors can be gauged from the fact that Gladstone has moved Sadler's Wells from a receiving house to a commissioning and production house.

She has also observed a change of attitude to how "dance is seen" today. Now even biggies like the National School of Arts, Tate Gallery etc. go beyond classical schools of dance and consult contemporary, experimental dance companies for their programmes.

Among the suggestions for improvement in dance critiquing participants agreed that holding workshops with writers is a good idea where the performers can elaborate on the techniques and a concept; the dance groups too should pay attention to holding press conferences to talk about their work because "It's crucial for the readers to know about the production," said Roy. A preview is also important so that critics can write for the readers' benefit in time to enjoy a show.

As for enhancing audience appreciation, there was consensus that introduction of classes on the rich tradition of performing art in the country at college and university level would make a huge difference.

The discussion was a prelude to the upcoming season of dance projects and performances titled Impulse organised by the British Council in India. In Kolkata, well -known dance companies from the UK like, Akram Khan Dance Company (14 September), Scottish Dance Centre (1 November) and Aakash Odedra (6 November) will be performing as part of the Impulse programme now extensively touring the country.