Forgive me while I don’t compile a list of the year’s successes and failures. Once again the time is upon us for the critics to look back on what has happened over the last twelve months, and give claps on the back to those who triumphed and look witheringly upon those who floundered. With most of what happens on stage being somewhere in between these two extremes and eliciting nothing more than indifference, these yearly reports might be the stand out memories of one but are far from representative of the year’s activity. Surely a 500 word (if you’re lucky) snippet detailing the good and the bad is of very little constructive use. I could tell you that I adored English National Ballet’s Suite en Blanc (which I did), but that’s just like sharing the fact that I love blue cheese – it’s immaterial.
Many people look on critics with scorn, thinking “why should we be subjected to the opinion of one person?” Critics realise that they are just one person, and one opinion. What is expected of them is that they know their subject well enough to be able to assess whether it is worthy of people’s time and effort. Ismene Brown recently said that critics are essentially sales people; their job is to get people into the theatre, deftly adjusting their expectations along the way.
In this way, it is nice for a critic to be able to refresh people’s memories of what their highlights and dark spots were in a year of performances. Such an article is limited in its usefulness, what with the events being in the past. In its stead, perhaps a more detailed report would be appropriate; one showing trends – what worked, what didn’t. The critics aren’t by any means influential in decision making when it comes to casting, programming or funding; but they are a voice with numerous listeners.
Whether critics are agreed with is entirely out of their hands. Anyone who does read their thoughts, whether they concur with what is on the page/screen in front of them, must care what their sentiments are – on some level. Perceived as being a public voice of specific knowledge, the critic should give information that can be used to advance; there’s no good in being told how wonderful, or awful, you or your production was, unless you’re also given an insight into why – only then can we move forward and keep dance relevant.