Two Takes on a Critic

rooseveltI did a show this past Thursday and got a positive review… which was pretty exciting. Here is the part of George Jackson’s review that talks about the duet that I and Kate Jordan did:

“Best on the program was a truly impromptu number that came into being because a dancer, Sylvana Christopher Sandoz, needed for the evening’s final item, had sent word that she was running late. Rather than announce a long intermission, one of The Dinner Party’s hosts – Amanda Abrams – accepted an offer by Kate Jordan, choreographer of the final item, and Robert Bettmann, a former participant, to improvise a duet. Available was a bouncy piece of country western music. Jordan and Bettmann courted to it with a jaunt as fresh as new mown clover. She, streamlined, had force, speed and unabashed glee. He, lanky, pretended to be laid back but was all angles – sensually so. I’ve seen him dance before but not so seamlessly and cleanly. Together, this pair nonchalantly fused hip hop and bits of ballet to a square dance stride and conjured up the likes of Lil’ Abner and Daisy Mae’s grandkids. It is a generation that has been to the Big City, at least via the television tube.”

Reviews are part of the life-blood of an artist. You need them to get new audience. But at the same time, as an artist, you have to ignore how your work might be perceived, or you can’t do the work.

I’m working at Tryst this morning and met a good guy, who is a member of the armed service. He shared with me this quote from Roosevelt, and I told him about the following from E. B. White.

Theodore Roosevelt

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

E. B. White

The critic leaves at curtain fall
To find, in starting to review it,
He scarcely saw the play at all
For watching his reaction to it.

And to my new friend, and all of the other servicemen and women out there: stay safe.

Later same day: I’m not a critic hater, and I think this post makes me seem like one. I mean, “everyone hates a critic”, but not really. To wit:

1) There are lots of very good critics, and they serve a vital role.

2) Being a critic is being an artist/risk-taker (like all writing.)

3) With some frequency critics’ writing shows more craft and consideration than the performances they are forced to visit with, and,

4) I think criticism regularly creates more thought than the performances that stimulated the reviews.

Author: Robert Bettmann

Founder of Day Eight, and the DC Arts Writing Fellowship.