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Subject: "Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance dict..." Archived thread - Read only
 
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Brendan McCarthymoderator

18-05-01, 01:27 PM (GMT)
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"Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance dictionary"
 
   There is an absolutely scorching review of The Oxford Dictionary of Dance by Debra Craine and Judith Mackrell in this week's Times Literary Supplement. What lends it piquancy is that the writer is a third dance critic, Alastair Macaulay of the Financial Times.

Unfortunately the review is not available online, but here is a flavour. Having damned the dictionary with faint praise ("splendidly inclusive...admirably up to date....tries to accomodate dance multi-culturalism"), he then systematically tears it asunder.

"Despite (its) virtues, this Oxford Dictionary of Dance is unacceptable... often (it) is inaccurate. Too often, that is, to command a knowledgeable reader's trust; too often, certainly, to be entrusted to an ignorant reader......As for ballet terms, none is described with sufficient precision, and several misleadingly".

Macaulay excoriates the authors' sense of proportion and questions why Bill T Jones should deserve more space than Auguste Bournonville or Auguste Vestris or "the far more influential" Trisha Brown or even Fred Astaire. But there's more.

"When a dictionary is written by leading critics, you expect it to show some acumen and authority. Not so here. The writing is frequently strained and graceless".

He closes with a final flourish -

"The Oxford Dictionary of Dance can be trusted neither for its facts nor for its opinions".


While it is great fun to see critics fall out so publicly, I also feel a little uneasy. Macaulay, Mackrell and Craine are stylish writers with conspicuously good taste. Macaulay is over-harsh about the quality of the prose. Most people use dictionaries in the same way that they do telephone directories. Conciseness is important; it doesn't matter terribly if the prose is not couched in iambic pentameters.

Macaulay is fair in criticising Craine's and Mackrell's imprecise description of ballet terms. Several dance dictionaries avoid specialist terminology altogether, preferring to leave this to more specialist works. Craine and Mackrell should do likewise when they publish a second edition.

There is a more temperate review by George Dorris in the latest 'Dance Now'. In his view Craine and Mackrell's dictionary is an honourable successor to Horst Kogler's Concise Oxford Dictionary of Ballet published in 1972. Like Macaulay, Dorris has some questions about Craine's and Mackrell's priorities and says their dictionary has enough errors to make him uncomfortable. But he is altogether warmer;

"Any listing of errors and omissions may give a more negative impression than I feel. Craine and Mackrell have prepared a very useful work....attractively presented and certainly easier to read than the very concise Koegler. The entries are generally
well chosen, with some pleasant surprises along the way".


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  Subject     Author     Message Date     ID  
  RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance ... lara 18-05-01 1
  RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance ... Jim 18-05-01 2
     RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance ... Patricia 18-05-01 3
         RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance ... Brendan McCarthymoderator 19-05-01 4
             RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance ... Brendan McCarthymoderator 19-05-01 5
                 RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance ... Bruce Madmin 19-05-01 6
                 RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance ... Jim 19-05-01 7
                     RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance ... pantoose 20-05-01 8
                         RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance ... Stuart Sweeney 20-05-01 9
                             RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance ... Viviane 20-05-01 10
                             RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance ... Carly Gillies 21-05-01 15
                         RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance ... Anneliese 20-05-01 12
     RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance ... Anneliese 20-05-01 11
         RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance ... Brendan McCarthymoderator 20-05-01 13
             RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance ... Anneliese 21-05-01 14
             RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance ... Sue 22-05-01 16
                 RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance ... grace 22-05-01 17
                 RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance ... Stuart Sweeney 22-05-01 18
                     RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance ... Anneliese 22-05-01 19
                         RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance ... Stuart Sweeney 22-05-01 20
                     RE: Donald and Allen's book Cath James 24-05-01 21
                         RE: TLS Review Brendan McCarthymoderator 04-06-01 22

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lara

18-05-01, 06:27 PM (GMT)
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1. "RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance dictionary"
In response to message #0
 
   The best part of the dictionary - at first glance - it has Swan Adam Cooper on the cover!

Ok, I'll stop.


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Jim

18-05-01, 06:46 PM (GMT)
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2. "RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance dictionary"
In response to message #0
 
   >As for ballet terms, none is described with
>sufficient precision, and several misleadingly".

If this is a direct quote, I have already lost confidence. Of course, it should be "none are described..."

Any critic who has such scant regard for one art form (i.e. the English language) can hardly be trusted with another...


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Patricia

18-05-01, 10:39 PM (GMT)
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3. "RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance dictionary"
In response to message #2
 
   Jim....I`m sorry to be picky but is `none` not short for `not one`? In which case `none is described` would be correct.... but I`m Irish so I might be wrong!
Patricia


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Brendan McCarthymoderator

19-05-01, 06:44 AM (GMT)
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4. "RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance dictionary"
In response to message #3
 
   Patricia is right, as is Alastair Macaulay.


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Brendan McCarthymoderator

19-05-01, 01:49 PM (GMT)
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5. "RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance dictionary"
In response to message #4
 
   Sorry for a non-balletic diversion, but I may have done Jim a (very slight) injustice. According to Fowler's Modern English Usage, it is a mistake to assume that the pronoun is singular only and must at all costs be followed by singular verbs or pronouns. Patricia is correct; 'none' is a shortening of 'not one'. While it is better in most circumstances to use a singular verb, the plural verb is an option, which in some cases may be preferable. My instinct is that Macaulay's usage is the right one. But it is arguable and I should not have dismissed Jim quite so abruptly.


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Bruce Madmin

19-05-01, 02:34 PM (GMT)
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6. "RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance dictionary"
In response to message #5
 
   Into this minefield Lynette will no doubt tiptoe - she is reviewing it soon!


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Jim

19-05-01, 08:08 PM (GMT)
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7. "RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance dictionary"
In response to message #5
 
   A very diplomatic answer, Brendan
It is clearly the "ballet terms" in the plural to which it seems to me that the pronoun is referring, and hence the ambiguity. It seems to me that in this case the 'none' is meaning any of rather than not one . Anyhow, I won't persist with this or Bruce will start to have kittens.


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pantoose

20-05-01, 03:17 PM (GMT)
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8. "RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance dictionary"
In response to message #7
 
   While I donít believe the purpose of the original post was to discuss this sort of minutia, I feel I have to say that the subject of the verb TO BE is the plural word TERMS, i.e., terms ARE. Mr. Macaulay is correct in his usage. The comments about none meaning not one or any are immaterial to the debate. While itís sometimes the case that number cannot be easily determined from a writerís description of the subject, this doesnít appear to be one.


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Stuart Sweeney

20-05-01, 03:44 PM (GMT)
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9. "RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance dictionary"
In response to message #8
 
   I do feel that to advance this debate we really should be engaging at a higher level with Noam Chomsky's 'Syntactic Structures'. As is well known Chomsky uses the term 'grammar' to mean both the theory formulated by the linguist and an internal component of the speaker-hearers mind. This is clearly legitimate so long as the the grammar provides a model of the speaker-hearer's competence: a finite means for generating the potential infinity of linguistic forms a speaker-hearer can produce or recognize.

I leave you to draw your own conclusions.


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Viviane

20-05-01, 03:58 PM (GMT)
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10. "RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance dictionary"
In response to message #9
 
   Bruce,
I suggest you to open a 'special section' for all these language-purists


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Carly Gillies

21-05-01, 03:24 PM (GMT)
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15. "RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance dictionary"
In response to message #9
 
   >I do feel that to advance
>this debate we really should
>be engaging at a higher
>level with Noam Chomsky's 'Syntactic
>Structures'.
>
>I leave you to draw your
>own conclusions.


Nah, Chomsky would systematically call into question all of Craine, Mackrell, and Macauleys ulterior motives and hidden agendas, and go on to prove convincingly that the omission of 'Battement tendu' was part of a wider conspiracy with a trail right back to the World Bank.

Mind you I never could get my head round his linguistic stuff !


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Anneliese

20-05-01, 04:59 PM (GMT)
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12. "RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance dictionary"
In response to message #8
 
   I have to disagree here - the subject of the verb is surely not "terms" but the subset of those terms, "none of these terms". And now I will stop too. (I like to start sentences with conjunctions now and then; I also like to boldly split infinitives, but am less keen on splitting participles). One last thought - I don't really feel that Chomsky is the person to look to for guidance here, Stuart!

Back to the chase - has anyone read this book, and can anyone tell us what terms have been incorrectly defined? WRT the comments made by the first reviewer, why on earth SHOULDN'T a dictionary of ballet include definitions of technical terms? I wouldn't buy such a book if it didn't!

Baffled of Alton (speaking of which, I stumbled across the Dance Books premises a couple of weeks ago - very nice!)


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Anneliese

20-05-01, 04:53 PM (GMT)
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11. "RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance dictionary"
In response to message #2
 
   Oh dear, Jim - I'm afraid that people who live in glass houses and throw stones end up very uncomfortable! "None" is a contraction of "Not one" and thus takes the singular. "None of these is" is therefore correct. Tut, I'm surprised at you!


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Brendan McCarthymoderator

20-05-01, 05:17 PM (GMT)
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13. "RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance dictionary"
In response to message #11
 
   LAST EDITED ON 20-05-01 AT 07:01 PM (GMT)

Back to the subject.

The strength of Craine's & Mackrell's dictionary is its attempt to make some sense of the changing boundaries of dance. But the authors have not employed an army of subject specialists to assist them. This has left them vulnerable to errors and omissions and to the strictures of reviewers such as Macaulay and Kathrine Sorley Walker (interesting that the harshest comments have come from fellow London critics).

On Anneliese's point as to why a dictionary of ballet should not include definitions of technical terms, let me give a further flavour of the original TLS review and then attempt an answer. Macaulay writes (and excuse my omission of the appropriate accents, if you will):

"'Battement tendu' is a very basic step indeed, for both children and ballerinas - but you will find no adequate hint of it under the entries for either "battement' or "tendu". Some ballet terms ("gargouillade", "passe", "retire", "temps de fleche","temps lie") are omitted, while others are tackled twice, rather differently. "Pas de bourree" is described as a linking step; "bourree, pas de"" as a travelling step. Its individual movements are described as quick, or very fast, and small. You would not know here that there are twenty-three varieties of pas de bourree, that it does not always travel or link, and that it is essentially a transfer of weight which can be performed slowly and on a large scale".

I think Macaulay is right. It seems to me that only such publications as the RAD's 'Dictionary of Classical Ballet Terminology' or Thalia Mara's 'Language of Ballet' can properly cover the ground. I've found myself thrown by some of Craine's and Mackrell's explanations, with clarity dawning only when I sought an answer in a specialist dictionary,. Mackrell and Craine had a very wide remit. If they had attempted a satisfactory comprehensiveness in their coverage of technical vocabulary, it would have led to hopeless clutter. A number of dance encyclopaedias have resolved this tension by avoiding specialist terminology altogether.

Dictionaries evolve. Of their nature they can never be reliable in every way. And they inevitably reflect the biases of their authors. This one will, I feel, improve vastly in later editions. I look forward to Lynette's review.


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Anneliese

21-05-01, 12:59 PM (GMT)
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14. "RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance dictionary"
In response to message #13
 
   Thanks for the clarification - maybe it's just not possible to explain balletic technical terms on paper!


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Sue

22-05-01, 03:01 AM (GMT)
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16. "RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance dictionary"
In response to message #13
 
   >left them vulnerable to errors
>and omissions and to the
>strictures of reviewers such as
>Macaulay and Kathrine Sorley Walker

I remember Katherine Sorley Walker's damning review in the Dancing Times several months ago. Probably this dance dictionary should have been written by the more senior critics.


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grace

22-05-01, 08:00 AM (GMT)
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17. "RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance dictionary"
In response to message #16
 
   re Annaliese's message 14.: "maybe it's just not possible to explain balletic technical terms on paper!"

i have not seen this book yet (regrettably) - but, based on what appears in various posts above, it *IS* possible to do this, (better than it APPEARS to have been done, in the examples provided).

of course, it is always easier to whinge, after the fact, than to do the job oneself....when you are dealing with such a huge volume of contentious detail, you get so close to the work, that you really cannot see it clearly....so perhaps brendan mccarthy is right, that future editions will be improved upon.

no doubt it was through being able to anticipate the huge amount of work involved, and the inevitability of objections, that no-one felt 'up to' the task of updating koegler, before now.

from what i have read, here and elsewhere, it seems that it might have been better to stick with a BALLET book (broad definition of ballet), rather than broadening it to DANCE...that really is 'a big ask'.

wish i had a copy!

btw, re the title of this thread: critics are ALWAYS "at the receiving end" - it's just that usually they don't overhear.....


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Stuart Sweeney

22-05-01, 09:00 AM (GMT)
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18. "RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance dictionary"
In response to message #16
 
   LAST EDITED ON 22-05-01 AT 09:13 AM (GMT)

To guage the success of any publication or piece of work it is necessary to ask the question 'What is the purpose?' The back cover states that, 'It provides all the information necessary for dance fans to navigate the diverse dance scene of the 21st Century.' This could explain why there are more column inches on Tharp than Auguste Vestris. It's not intended for dance historians like Macauley.

In addition it is a dance dictionary rather than a ballet dictionary with a few extra bits and pieces thrown in. For ballet terms I have a separate short specialist dictionary. The Oxford Dictionary of Dance is consistent - it doesn't provide a comprehensive survey of Bharata Natyam, Flamenco or Graham technique terminology.

I have found the book useful, but was surprised by one topic, which I have been reading about recently. The entries for some of the leading pre-World War II German choreographers do not take account of the research from the past 10 years that has identified the way they worked with the Nazis in sharp contrast with the persecution that artists working in the Fine Arts, Cinema and Music faced in Germany in the 1930s. The authors mention the new impetus in dance history that is re-writing some earlier myths, but in this instance have not taken account of recent research.

One unfortunate by-product of the Oxford is that the planned new edition of Hutera and Robertson's 'Dance Handbook' has been cancelled. This is one of my favourite reference work esp. for contemporary dance. I get the impression that ballet specialists prefer the previous Oxford Dictionary by Koegler.

Thus perhaps we are seeing the problems of going for a wide brief. However, in my view it's a useful, readable work and they do urge people to let them know of deficiancies which they are keen to put right.


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Anneliese

22-05-01, 12:58 PM (GMT)
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19. "RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance dictionary"
In response to message #18
 
   May I ask what your specialist dictionary is? I still think that it's damned difficult to explain balletic movements on paper - a fact that is surely borne out by the inadequacy of balletic notation!


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Stuart Sweeney

22-05-01, 01:13 PM (GMT)
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20. "RE: Critics at the receiving end. FT writer damns new dance dictionary"
In response to message #19
 
   LAST EDITED ON 22-05-01 AT 01:17 PM (GMT)

Hi Anneliese. 'Specialist' in the sense of just ballet terminology. I have 'A Dictionary of Ballet Terms' by Leo Kersley and Janet Sinclair, which has 250 terms and Victoria Morgan's Ballet CD-Rom which has over 700. The latter has a lot of short video extracts to show the works, but I have to confess that I do find it difficult to retain them if like me you're not performing them.

Here's the Google search on 'ballet terms':

http://www.google.com/search?q=%22Ballet+terms%22&btnG=Google+Search


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Cath James

24-05-01, 11:24 PM (GMT)
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21. "RE: Donald and Allen's book"
In response to message #18
 
   Hi Stuart, nice to meet up with you at Dutch National the other night. I am really at a loss as to why Allen and Donald's Dance Handbook would be cancelled. I have found the first edition really useful on many occasions and I like the way they write about the many and varied companies and choreographers.(They certainly have a turn of phrase!) It is certainly in need of updating now and even with the new Dictionary of Dance, which I have quickly glanced through and found many, what I thought of as glaring omissions, (considering this was a dictionary of Dance not Ballet)a new Dance Handbook is worth pursuing. I assume it's the publishers response not theirs.Perhaps Longman publishers need a quick spam from fans to illuminate them somewhat! ( but far be it for me to condone spamming, maybe we could call it hamming?)
Cath


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Brendan McCarthymoderator

04-06-01, 12:49 PM (GMT)
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22. "RE: TLS Review"
In response to message #21
 
   A footnote to this thread. Craine and Mackrell responded to Macaulay's review in the TLS edition of June 1st. The following quotes give a flavour.

"We assume Macaulay is being disingenuous in his suggestion that a dictionary has to be error-free in order to be acceptable. He has experienced enough to know that the first edition of any large reference book will contain a number of minor errors, many typographic"

"Many of his complains,however, are either misguided or plainly wrong. For example, Macaulay argues that we do not describe technical dance terms, including the twenty-threee varieties of the pas de bourree,in sufficient detail. The ODD is not a teaching manual, but a single-volume reference book aimed at the general reader. We would point out that lack of space also explains those stylistic compressions in our writing which Macaulay goes to eccentric lengths to attack"

Craine and Mackrell go on to dismember the review, alleging that Macaulay has made a number of errors of his own. Having listed several, they end their letter as follows:

"We suggest that a reviewer who believes accuracy to be the "sine qua non" of any large reference book should be capable of reaching that standard within the confines of his own single-page review. We may also question the judgement of a writer who asserts that Irving Berlin's songs are "probably the best-known dance music of the twentieth century".


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