The other day, I got a bad review.
I was having a lovely lunch and catch-up with my friend/colleague, when she suddenly looked very serious and leaned in. Instantly my heart pounded harder, though I had no idea what she was about to say.
Apparently, a dancer whom I had “worked with” before (let’s call him Pepper), said that he “didn’t get anything out of that experience.” Ouch.
A few years ago, a dancer (let’s call him Salt), asked me to give him some feedback for a solo he was doing for an audition. Though always flattered to be asked, I find these types of requests tricky, primarily because of the timing. Usually, I work with dance artists throughout their entire creative process, as an advisor to the choreographer and or dancer(s). I try to provide an informed and objective perspective, which ideally encourages more clarity and propels the work forward. There’s much more to it, but that’s the gist.
So, when dancers ask me to come in to see a work that is already created and about to be presented, I need to be clear on what they really want from me. Because I’m not going to address the same things in a one-off rehearsal as I would in a series of rehearsals, over a longer period. So, we chat, and I try to be frank about what I think I can realistically offer, which in this particular 90-minute rehearsal, might be in the way of performing, staging and costume considerations. Salt was game.
At some point before our rehearsal, Salt mentioned that Pepper was also going to the same audition, and would I mind looking at his solo too? Since we already had limited time, I was surprised that Salt was willing to share it (thought that speaks volumes about him), especially considering Salt approached me, booked the rehearsal studio and, as far as I know, was paying for it and for me. But, I agreed.
Long story short, I’m not surprised by Pepper’s assessment, and what a shame that Salt didn’t get all my time and attention. Salt was extremely open, considerate and responsive to my questions and suggestions. This is the reason why I agreed to work with him in the first place. Pepper, on the other hand was, how should I put this, the OPPOSITE. I always encourage dancers to have a voice, to question, even to challenge, not merely for the sake of doing so, but to always be in constructive dialogue with regards to the work. I remember giving Pepper a specific note that I thought was right on the money. He even tried the solo with that suggestion in mind, and I thought it was stronger. Evidently, he didn’t. He wanted my feedback, but came into rehearsal with such a resistant attitude, that I wondered why he even bothered. There are reasons why dancers are resistant, but this was not the appropriate place or time to dissect it. So, Pepper “didn’t get anything out of that experience.” I, on the other hand, learned something about him, and about me, as it turns out.
Back at lunch, I gave my friend this background story and said, “What am I going to do? I’m sure there are other people out there saying things like this about me all the time.”
“No way!” she insisted, “they’re not!” I love her for her belief in me and for her loyalty, but it made me start to think about experiences, perspectives, reputation, rumors, etc. It also made me think about self-assessment, which let’s face it, is tough to do. It’s not easy to hear that someone is saying unpleasant things about me or had a bad impression, or to consider how my actions contributed to their assessment. I’m getting a bit better at not taking it personally or dwelling on it (cut to me now writing about it!). It’s a delicate dance, working with dance artists – negotiating egos, temperaments, inexperience, much experience, sensitive personalities, anxiety, when to push, when to back off, etc. Plus, newsflash: I’M ALSO A DANCE ARTIST!
I always say to choreographers and dancers I work with, “You have to choose your battles.” How much is anything worth in terms of time, attention, money and energy? I’m referring to the creative process, but I also employ this in my life, or at least try to, so I should expect some fallout from it.
I’ve been hemming and hawing about whether to write about this because in the dance world, we’re all sort of friends with our colleagues, we sometimes compete for the same few gigs, we want to have good reputations so that we can get more work, and we’re all sensitive as fuck. But it’s important to remind ourselves that the things we do and say have impact, we’re usually not the only person in the room and sometimes, despite our sincere efforts, we may get bad reviews.