Watching and understanding dance is a part of the fine arts programs. There are different kinds of dances- both classical and non-classical versions; contemporary and ancient; as well as regional and global varieties.
Since the field of dance is so wide-ranging, how can you write a review of a dance performance that can be fair and yet, substantial and scholarly enough to demonstrate your range of understanding?
An open mind is the first pre-requisite to be a good reviewer
The first and foremost quality as an art and culture critic is to possess an open mind. When you are going to write reviews of performances, you need to go with an open and fresh mind so that you can take down the impressions as they appear.
Open mind refers to the attitude, the willingness to view a subject impartially, without any previous judgements to bias your review. This is very important when watching and viewing any artistic performance such as dance and musical performances. Each performance should be reviewed and appreciated on its own strength; and not on the others. Having said that, there are a few suggestions which would help you to craft a quality review.
Prepare before hand
Find out all the details about the performance you are going to attend before going for the performance. This would help you be better prepared and receptive to the effect of the performance. It would also lessen disorientation and confusion and save time, asking others around.
The nitty-gritties include such things as the kind of performance: whether it is a classical or contemporary; the details about the performers- is it a solo performance or a group; if so, the history of their performances; is it their first performance in your place? Make a note of the kind of dance performance you would be observing.
Revise your knowledge of current developments in this particular field of dance, so that it would help you to write an informed dance review. A good preparation would help your reviewing be that much more powerful and impactful. You can also read up a bit on the place where the performance is going to be held: it could be a theatre or a dance hall; what are the features which would be advantageous to the performance which can enhance or diminish the quality of the performance.
A historical touch can spice up your review and make it interesting. Another question you can consider including in your review is to the occasion for the performance- such as, whether it is a part of a festival or a celebration. Hence, an added point would be how well the performance fits the theme, for which it has been included. The review should detail the name of the dance, the dancers’ names, organisers, time and place of the performance, name of musicians/orchestra, and title of the composition.
Watching the performance
Your dance review, as mentioned, starts even before the time of the actual performance. You have to take notes from the time you enter the auditorium- need to keep an eye on the kind of the arrangements which have been made.
Everything including background, context, music, stage, scenery and lighting would all contribute to the overall effect. You also need to know the theme of the performance and the reason why it has been chosen. The dance could be based on a story or play or poem. As a viewer, you need to be actively engaged with the dance performance- all your senses have to be involved so that you can write about the performance to its maximum effect.
Understanding the performance
A good review needs appreciation and evaluation of the performance from all possible angles. Information on the style of dance needs to be included- whether it is classical based, conventional, regionally and culturally unique such as flamenco, or Indian dance, or is it non-conventional one such as fusion, contemporary.
The purpose of the dance is also very central to a review- whether it is about aesthetics and display of ability and technique or is the dancer or the ensemble conveying some kind of social message. Dance is a very evocative way of conveying messages of a social and political kind.
It would add to the review, if you describe how the dance arrangements, the costumes, the background, lighting and music, all added up to the performance and how well they contributed to the effects. You need to describe how you found the performance- was it a very straightforward performance, with known gestures and movements, conveying a clear message or was it very complex and abstract? Reviews are very subjective and hence the opinion on this can differ from reviewer to reviewer.
Your notes should cover the whole of the performance starting from beginning to conclusions- what you saw, what you felt and you should mention as to what enthralled you and what you considered to be a distraction. A review is a person’s opinion on the strengths and weaknesses as well as possible improvements, which could be carried out in the performance.
It is also important to mention about the conduct of the performance: whether it was smooth or disjointed and whether there were smooth transitions between different parts of the performance, assuming that it was a dance performance in several parts. You can also pinpoint the merits of the dancers: who showed the best traits and whose performance really made a difference to the overall performance (this is in the case of a group dance).
If possible, it would be good to get into a conversation with the choreographers/dance performers as it would give a better understanding of the performance and the reasons for performing it. This would raise the quality of your review by several measures.
However, what is to be kept in mind is that the review is a description of your impressions of a dance performance, written in a scholarly way.
Writing about the performance
Once you have obtained the content and organised it, you can proceed for the writing part. A dance review is also an academic piece of work and hence should exhibit proper form and organisation. There should be an introduction, which mentions the chief topic of discussion- the name of the dance performance.
It should give a brief picture of the performance in a way which engages the attention of the reader. The next part of the essay, would be, where you get into details about the different parts of the performance. You can organise this part of the essay, with the help of a list tool, so that you can ensure that all the relevant parts are presented in a connected way.
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