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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Guess Who's All Pissed Off at Our Story About "Swan Lake"?

Posted by on Wed, Apr 17, 2013 at 12:36 PM

Why, it's wounded members of the dance community! They're strange birds, those certain—not all, just some—members of the dance community. When we don't write about dance, they complain. When we write glowing criticism, they are silent. When we write questioning or negative criticism, they come out of the woodwork to insist that we're idiots and criminals and incompetent monsters.

You can't win. (I just mentioned this phenomenon to books editor Paul Constant, and he said: "Sounds like poetry! If I write something positive about poetry, nobody gives a shit. When I write something negative, suddenly I'm the Hitler of poetry.")

But we're used to that. It's been that way for years.

And it's that way again this week with Melody Datz's lovely, funny, and intelligent piece on Swan Lake at Pacific Northwest Ballet, which she's seen many times over the years, and adores for its athleticism (she's a former bunhead and still impressed by fouettés and such), but recognizes that, to many people, it's dull as dirt and a potential turn-off from all dance forever.

Though she talks about what she likes about this Swan Lake, and interviews a young man about how it was a gateway for him to other kinds of dance, commenters are (predictably) throwing fits.

I'd like to single one out for special mention, however, only because I've seen this sneaky trick a thousand times:

Melody—Headline aside, your attempt at offering us an inflammatory piece does little to establish your credibility as a dance writer new on the scene. I expected better from you. You've relied on crass prose and slang to make tired, cliched points. Leave the sensationalist vocabulary behind, step out of your comfort zone, and start writing something worth reading.

Doug Fullington
Education Programs Manager
Pacific Northwest Ballet

This is a classic—an employee of an arts institution suggesting that the critic isn't "credible" because she dared to write something negative about some hallowed work of art (and dared to use conversational, grown-up language while doing it).

But this is totally disingenuous.

When any journalist evaluates the credibility of a source, the first question to ask is: "What does this person have to gain? Does he or she have any incentive—especially a financial incentive—to spin this information?" Any employee of any arts palace has a financial incentive to be mad at a critic. As "education programs manager," Doug Fullington, by definition, has a professional stake in the public perception of Swan Lake. But he's the one questioning her credibility.

So Doug: If there's anyone who is less credible in the conversation than the critic, it's the person who has a financial stake in what the critic says.

And that's you.

By all means, employees of arts institutions are encouraged to join any critical conversation we have at The Stranger. But we are all aware of where your packchecks come from and how that might influence what you say. So be careful about dubbing yourselves the arbiters of credibility.


Comments (16) RSS

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sperifera 1
Ballet? I thought that died just like the swan. I guess at least the dancers at PNB aren't throwing acid in the face of their cohorts as they are elsewhere. Yet.
Posted by sperifera on April 17, 2013 at 12:43 PM · Report this
Mullin 2
My only critique of this SLOG is that "Pol Pot of Poetry" would've been funnier.

I'm just sayin'.
Posted by Mullin on April 17, 2013 at 12:45 PM · Report this
TomJohnsonJr 3
Well, it must be serious if the word "disingenuous" has been trotted out.
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on April 17, 2013 at 1:02 PM · Report this
Paul Constant 4
@2: "Hitler of Poetry" comes out of a discussion after I wrote a negative piece about a poetry program years ago, in which someone called me the "Hitler of Capitol Hill Poetry." I agree that Pol Pot of Poetry is funnier, and I will aspire to that title in the future.
Posted by Paul Constant http:// on April 17, 2013 at 1:13 PM · Report this
I take issue with critic who publishes a negative review of every production s/he sees. There is a Washington Post Critic who has published the most condescending reviews. If the production is great then it will receive a 50/50 review from her. If the production isn't great, merely good or fine, you would have thought people crapped on stage.
Posted by clearlyhere on April 17, 2013 at 1:16 PM · Report this
Mullin 6
@4 Paul, once I retire from the theatre, I'll have more availability for whatever joke polishing jobs you might require.

My rates are reasonable.
Posted by Mullin on April 17, 2013 at 1:30 PM · Report this
There's also the Catch-22 of reviewing the arts, which is especially true with book reviews. If you're "just a journalist" and you didn't like the book, either you're a frustrated novelist or you're not qualified because you've never written a novel. If you happen to be a novelist, then you are just jealous of the writer's success.
Posted by WenWino on April 17, 2013 at 2:00 PM · Report this
thatsnotright 8
Ballet has some modernity and relevance problems because a lot of people just don't want to see new work. Swan lake and Nutcracker bring in the masses but at a cost to innovation. Lots of donors like to see their fave pretty ballets over and over again because they're really only there for the parties and social cachet of having their names in the program. Parents who send their children to ballet school want to see them in the corps of pretty ballets. Every great ballet was controversial in its time but the art form as presented now has become so costly that a dance that fails to please is a catastrophe for a company.
Posted by thatsnotright on April 17, 2013 at 3:30 PM · Report this
Dougsf 10
This man is doing nothing to correct the negative way in which the media has historically portrayed those of us named Doug.
Posted by Dougsf on April 17, 2013 at 3:44 PM · Report this
Paul Constant 11
@10: <3!
Posted by Paul Constant http:// on April 17, 2013 at 4:55 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 12
Nobody else catch the "packchecks" typo?
Posted by Matt from Denver on April 17, 2013 at 5:36 PM · Report this
Nice smackdown, Brendan. Artists who get negative reviews and then whine and cry like babies on comment threads need to grow the fuck up.
Posted by I have always been... east coaster on April 17, 2013 at 5:53 PM · Report this
scary tyler moore 14
ha ha fucking HA, fullington, you dumb, thin-skinned little ballet twit. someone doesn't like pnb's boring staging of the oldest chestnut in ballet and you get your knickers in a twist. "I expected better from you" actually means "how dare you not shove your tongue up our asses". why don't you trot along to the men's locker room and pull yer pud?

swan lake anecdote: when pnb did this old wheeze in 1996, they hired charles askegaard from american ballet theater to dance the male lead, as none of the male principals were tall enough for pattie barker, the first cast odette. act one comes and goes. before the curtain goes up on act two, the stage manager announces over the PA that the role of siegfried (swan-lover) will be danced by paul gibson. what??? turns out chuck broke his ankle during a jete or something. he'd danced a total of two performances, and the company was out several thousand dollars in performance fees. chuck went on to marry candace bushnell of sex and the city fame, who dumped him last year because he couldn't keep it in his tights.
Posted by scary tyler moore on April 17, 2013 at 6:43 PM · Report this
Now someone from the ballet needs to write back to criticize Brendan for criticizing their employee for criticizing the review.
Posted by Bob Koerner on April 17, 2013 at 11:46 PM · Report this
If some one wrote a juvenile negative review of a classic movie would you snarkily write that people who were offended were part of the "film community"? I think not. Somehow though the attitude of this paper is that people who like dance (one of the most popular and ubiquitous forms of art there is) are part of a marginal community that you can dismiss for a laugh? Well, mission accomplished. If your mission was to provoke the "dance community" with a thoughtless article and then alienate them from ever taking your paper serious again. I mean, if you want thoughtful responses, try publishing something WORTH commenting on. (Hint: don't publish that article that's burning up your hard-drive on "How A Tale of Two Cities was just SOOOOOO hard to read sophomore year"- you might hear back from the literature community.)
Posted by Aroseallyn on April 20, 2013 at 2:17 PM · Report this
Cordwainer 17
Unregistered commenter @9 for the win!
Posted by Cordwainer on April 23, 2013 at 9:55 PM · Report this

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