Critical Review Writing Year 10 Dance

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1 Introduction Critical Review Writing Year 10 Dance Provided by Amanda Kimber, Mitcham Girls High School Review writing does not have to be a painful experience. Dance is something you enjoy, you are interested in and you know a fair bit about already. So approach your review writing with confidence and a positive frame of mind, and you will be half way there. Be confident of your own opinions and judgement, even if it is different from those around you. You easily chat to your friends and class mates about what you see when you view each others composition tasks in class, a dance performance or a video, so just get your thoughts down on paper. The only difference with review writing is that you need to justify, or give reasons for your opinions and then write them down in formal language, not using colloquialisms or the every day language that you may use to chat to your friends. So my first point is the use of formal language. Did anyone see Cool Heat, Urban Beat in the 2000 Adelaide Festival? Any one seeing that performance may be forgiven for saying 1. Those two guys with the green and yellow daks on were really cool, they had really hot bodies and were wicked at jumps! A very valid comment, but a more formal way of writing that may be Or Two of the dancers wore green and yellow striped costumes. Bare from the waist, their muscular power and strength created an arresting presence on the stage, the choreography making full use of their superior elevation skills. 2. Not necessarily related to anything I have seen recently: The costumes really suck, they made the dancers look like dorks and didn t go with dance at all. Again, a valid comment, but not formally expressed. The same thing could be written The costumes detracted from the choreography, failing to enhance the dancers or the mood and meaning of the dance. Have confidence in your observations and opinions and express then in formal written language. Page 1 of 8

2 How to Begin Make sure you have a few basic pieces of information in either the title or the opening paragraph of your review: Name of the work. Name of the company. Place of the performance. Date of the performance. I generally put this information as a title so the reader can instantly see what is being reviewed. When writing for a magazine or paper, review lengths are often very limited, with editors cutting out sections if the review is too long. This often occurs without the consultation of the author and can result in a whole different view of the work coming across to the reader. You do not need to worry too much about this. Your reviews should be around 500 words in length, about 2 pages of average handwriting. Introductions (or the first paragraph) May include the information above, unless it is already in your title. Do not repeat this information. You should include a little background information about the choreographer, the company or the work being performed. This shows a deeper understanding of your subject matter. Keep this brief, and to only one paragraph, as the main purpose of your review is very specifically to comment on the particular performance. Do not end up copying slabs of information out of the program (teachers read programs too!). The guts of the matter. What do you include? Three areas must be covered in a review: 1. Description 2. Analysis 3. Evaluation/Interpretation These areas must interlink and overlap in your writing NOT occur as separate sections of the review more about how to do that later. Description The easiest place to begin it is what you see. Description is a process of: 1. Listing the contents of the work. 2. Describing the main features of the work, pinpointing aspects that you feel require attention. Page 2 of 8

3 3. Giving the reader who may not have seen the work an idea of what the performance contains. Include The plot, theme, story or symbolism in the place The dancers or characters Scenery Props Costumes Lighting Music The action that occurred Makeup/hair design Visual effects Analysis Is where your specific dance knowledge gained through other aspects of your dance course can be used eg choreographic tasks and observations, technique and terminology knowledge? What style of dance was used? Ballet, modern, jazz, folk, hip hop, a combination of styles, a hint of a certain style, dance theatre. Look at the form and structure of the work. Were sections of movement or mood repeated? Did the work tell a story? Was the work totally abstract or did it evolve around a theme? Examine the use of space: levels, lines, directions, floor patterns etc. Look for movement motifs that may recur throughout the work, be they shapes, movements, gestures or movement phrases. How was the work arranged? Were there clearly defined sections, unison work in small or large ensembles, partner work, distinct groups of dancers, solos etc? Was there use of contrasting dynamics and effort qualities (weight, time, space and flow)? Did the tempo vary? Were compositional tools used? eg retrograde, inversion transposition etc. Did the work flow, or were there seams in the choreography? How did the performance elements such as lighting, costumes, scenery, combine with the movement? Was the work original? Was the work typical of other works by that choreographer/company and why or why not? The more times you see a piece, the deeper you can analyse it, in a live performance you usually only get to see the work once, so obviously the detail with which you can analyse it will be more limited. This is why it can be very useful to take brief notes as you watch, to remind you of significant details. Interpretation and Evaluation The more subjective side of your review, but you must interpret and evaluate with as much specific dance knowledge as possible. Page 3 of 8

4 What aspects of the work were effective and which were not? Why? Consider the following: Meaning What were the main ideas and feelings expressed in the work? Discuss these. Was the performance thought provoking? Politically? Socially? Culturally? Was the work emotionally stirring? How did it make you feel? Choreography Did it work? Was the intention clear? Were there any parts that stood out as being particularly good or particularly bad? Why? Was the choreography enhanced by the costumes, music, lighting, etc and how, or why not? Performance Skills Were the dancers technically good? Did the dancers project the meaning of the work successfully? Did they work together successfully? Eg unison, spatial relationships, partner work, ensemble work, interacting with each other when appropriate etc. Did they appear committed and focused? Stagecraft Did all stagecraft elements match and enhance the mood or meaning of the dance? How? Were the stagecraft elements well designed/constructed/presented? How did they work together to create the performance effect as a whole? Always give clear reasons and examples to support your opinions and views on a work. Do not bag or can what you saw if you didn t like it, but criticise constructively. Examples: 1. The dancers were really hopeless, they couldn t even keep together. Page 4 of 8

5 Would be better put Or The dancers appeared to be under rehearsed, with unison passages being particularly untidy. The dancers appeared to have trouble with the technical demands of the choreography. 2. It was so dark you couldn t see a thing Would be better written A more brightly lit stage would have enhanced the dance for great effect. At the same time careful not to go over the top with adjectives or works with little meaning. Examples: 1. Leigh Warren s Quick Brown Fox The dancing was incredibly brilliant, the lifts were fabulous and the music fantastic This sentence doesn t really tell the reader much about the work, except that the critic appeared to like it, a lot! A more useful version of this would be: The dancers superb technical skills were particularly highlighted in a series of daring lifts and partner sequences. The music successfully enhanced the moods and emotions within the work. 2. ADT, Birdbrain The choreography was very good, I liked it very much, particularly the yoga bits. A better way of expressing this would be The choreography was both successful and effective in its use of yoga poses and movement in several sections of the work. Combining the Three Areas This can be done with the creative use of adjectives and adverbs. You can give the reader a positive or negative impression without saying I liked it because or It didn t work because Page 5 of 8

6 Examples: 1. Rosa s - Drumming Repetition was used effectively throughout the second half of the work. The repetition throughout the second half of the work became monotonous and predictable. Which critic is making a positive statement and which a negative statement? The above examples are not only evaluative but they are analytical as well, stating that repetition, as a compositional tool, has been used. 2. The abstract images and shapes created by the dancers bodies were dramatically highlighted by Toby Harding s simplistic lighting design. The basic lighting design failed to show off the shapes and images created by the dancers bodies, to their greatest advantage. Which critic is making a positive statement and which a negative statement? These examples combine description, analysis and evaluation. How? Analysis: Abstract images are used, lighting and how it combined with the movement. Description: Lighting was simple or basic, lighting designer was Toby Harding. Interpretation/Evaluation: Dramatically highlighted, failed to show off. Conclusions (or the last paragraph) It should be a general comment about the whole production. You can summarise the main points you have made in your review or comment on the impact of the production as a whole. Be very careful not to repeat what you have already written. The actual sitting down to write Plan your Review 1. The easiest way to do this is to write one sentence indicating the main topic for each paragraph you intend to write, in a logical order. In a work with a number of short sections or pieces, structure your paragraphs as the performance is structured, devoting one or two paragraphs to each section or piece. If the performance was a full length piece, structure your review to deal with the different aspects of the work. For example a paragraph about the meaning of the work, a paragraph about the movement and choreography, a paragraph about Page 6 of 8

7 the lighting, a paragraph about the costumes, a paragraph about the dancers skills, and so on. Do not jump from one subject to another and then back to the first. This becomes very confusing to read and indicates that your review has not been planned. 2. Once you have planned your review, a good place to start is with description. Describe what you saw, according to each of your paragraph topics. Add suitable adjectives and adverbs to evaluate and interpret as you think of them, but initially concentrate specifically on the description. 3. Once your description is written, go back and add in your analytical points. You should be able to slot them in at appropriate parts of your description. You should find that they will add depth and interest to your review. Again you will probably think of adjectives and adverbs to add as you do this. Write them in as you think of them, but concentrate on analysis. 4. Then go back and check on your adjectives and adverbs. These should make your sentences evaluative and/or interpretive. Make sure you do not use the same adjectives too many times I try never to use an adjective or adverb twice in any one review. A thesaurus is a very good tool to use here, but be very careful that you fully understand the word before you use it in your review don t take pot luck, check in the dictionary! 5. If you haven t already done so, now add your introduction and conclusion. 6. Make sure your sentences and paragraphs link and flow together, just like an essay. Take Note Be careful of repetition. Do not jump too suddenly from one subject area to another. Your information must have a logical progression. Be careful that you do not end up listing statements about what you ve seen. Your review should be in discussion form, not a list. Reading your work out aloud (even if you feel silly) is a great way of finding out whether or not it actually makes sense and whether or not your writing flows. Use a spell checker or a dictionary. Page 7 of 8

8 Check for grammatical errors, particularly your tenses (it is valid to write your review in present or past tense, but you must not swap them around. A Few Words of Advice Don t leave it too long after you have seen the performance to write your review. The fresher the work is in your mind, the more informed, accurate and detailed your review will be. Take only brief notes while watching you do not want to miss anything while your head is down. Jot down the odd word or descriptive phrase, just enough to remind you later. You can often use interval or as soon as the performance finishes to, expand your notes. Always justify and support your comments with reasons and/or examples, be they positive or negative. Use your program notes for names of music, choreographers, dancers, composers, designers, etc. Do not be afraid to refer to these artists by name, in your review (full or surnames, not first names). Read the program notes before the performance. They often give you an insight into the performance and what to specifically look for while you are watching. Avoid using I thought that or I believe In Conclusion Don t panic. Be confident. Write your opinions and thoughts down, and then convert them to formal language. Use the information presented to you in the program and the media. Use the knowledge and most importantly the language you learn through other areas of your dance course. Use your Thesaurus and Dictionary together! Enjoy your dancing Not only doing it, but watching it and writing about it too! Page 8 of 8

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