On critics and criticism First of all, I want to pay a tribute to the journalists who do their best to give a fair account of what they see, without saturating their statements with any kind of personal pollution. I want to laud the critics who's comments are hard and fair and not tinted by any possible physical or mental discomfort. (toothache, diarrhoea, menstruation or just a temporary "scatterbrain" state...) Writing this article makes me feel slightly unwell, because I will try to write about incompetent critics. Unfortunately most creative people are accompanied by such "critics" for much of their lives. They are as common as miniature natural disasters. Surely I am not revealing any secrets when I say that criticism can be encouraging and constructive, or detrimental and potentially harmful. In this strange power game, it is the young people, who are the most "endangered species". They are the ones who drown easily in the pool of poisonous ink of writers lacking any kind of fantasy or vision. When I was very young, I was furious at superficial statements of any kind - positive or negative! I have detested the people who wrote them without having bothered to research anything. Later I laughed at them, now I don’t read them... But the young people do, as they seek some kind of support, advice or encouragement. It is the ignorance, I want to write about, the lack of respect and knowledge of the people, who are given the opportunity to write a critical report for the general public. I want to talk about the arrogance, and the little regard these people have for the "actors" on stage, the people who create, or the theatre directors and their audiences. Yes, we all have differences of opinion and we should cherish that. But no matter how severe our judgement might be, it is only legitimate whenever its aim is constructive. But there is something in the world of critical journalism, which puzzles and worries me. With all my respect for freedom of speech, I find it totally unacceptable that there are critics who are allowed to insult people without being held responsible, and that some of them are permitted to assume a role of a some kind of a “prophet” who makes the selection of what people are allowed to see and what not... I am talking about the London critics in particular. London is beyond any doubt the capital of the world for such "extra- ordinary literary achievements." Yes - this letter is certainly tinted by the fact, that some of the “greatest critical minds” of London have tried to submerge me in their own sea of s...! Without much effect. With equally negligible result, they tried to do the same with some of the finest artists of our era - artists, who I greatly respect - people who I have promoted or who have been a great inspiration for me. Choreographers who managed to help dance become adult and independent - an equal partner to the other art forms. I am talking about William Forsythe, Mats Ek, Pina Bausch and others... And it is fantastically surreal for me to read an answer of an established London critic to a question posed by Kevin Ng: "Why do you detest so much the works of Mats Ek, William Forsythe, and Jiri Kylian?" "Because I think that they are very bad choreographers. As simple as that! And I think that they are destroying classical ballet. They don't understand classical ballet, and I dislike what they do. I don't deny the fact that they can do it where they wish. I don't want to look at it, and I find them repetitive and vulgar. And there is no creative variety - all those terrible boring ballets look the same... (Same writer) in an interview in the "Ballet Magazine" in April 2004, commemorating his golden jubilee as a distinguished dance critic). Or: ...all that homogenised Eurotrash rubbish from Mats Ek, Forsythe, Kylian, and all those tiresome people.Their work is for their countries, their companies and their European audiences. We (British) have a most distinguished balletic history... (By the same writer) I guess Robinson Crusoe would be happy with this..! Or on the work of Pina Bausch: "...the Theater is hobbledehoy, the Tanz rudimentary, and the whole business is altogether too neurotic and scattershot to merit so much cheering... Breathe freely. Avoid Tanztheater! (The same writer) Surely Shakespeare would turn green with envy reading such a dazzling dramatic conclusion. As much as I shake my head in disbelief reading such display of boneheaded infantility, I actually feel very honoured to be in the company of such remarkable artists! I feel even happier, when I read that one of my great heroes, Samuel Beckett, suffered the same fate: His “Waiting for Godot”, (which was originally written in French), was a critical disaster when premiered in London..! Et voilà. But I must admit, that I cannot help feeling some sympathy with these critics, who are unable to say anything of their own. They are condemned to write about whatever other people create, and this fact is probably the key factor partly responsible for the aggression and frustration which is so characteristic for some of their writing.
The greatest fear of these writers is, that they might actually enjoy a performance, or even (God forbid) like it..! This is their greatest problem, which presents them with the most horrific dilemma: Now they have to write a positive review, which could sound like this: “...Oh yes, hmmm, I actually thought that the show was less embarrassing then expected. Well, it pleased me... obviously... to a certain extent... and in fact I thought that it was occasionally rather bearable...” But after writing such an ecstatic review, their lives turn into a nightmare. They have now “shown their cards” and they have to “stand up and be counted”. Oh, oh, Dear Lord..! Now they stand out there with their pants or skirts down, at the mercy of their equally ruthless colleagues..!? The principle of criticism is very simple: If you don't want to get into trouble, write a negative review, then you stand above everybody, but if you are brave enough to write the occasional word of approval, you put yourself on the level of the artist, and that might cost you dearly..! So it is much more easy and comfortable to say: “...seeing this performance was worse then having gone through a root-canal job...” (Same writer) Well, this actually only states, that the writer is in the care of a very unable dentist. Yes, to be dismissive is much safer for the writer then any kind of approval. Plus, let's be fair - insults are much more fun to read, then some boring praise. It is very clear to me that all the negative statements these people write, actually tell us much more about their own character, than about the work they are trying to write about. Although many of these writers are way past their teens, they often display signs of adolescent confusion and infantile behaviour. The writings often testify of the hopelessly self centred views of the writers, who have just seen the work, (or actually, perhaps not seen it at all)... My education taught me that critics should be respected. My teachers were my very first and very harsh critics. I fought them to death. But I loved them too, because deep inside I felt, that they criticised me in order to make me better and not to destroy me... The “ruthless and superficial critics” were always there and they always will be, because their writings are endlessly so easy to read - even for children. This "dilly-dally" game, they like to play, has its winners and its losers - like all games do! So here are the winners: 1 - the people, whose envy is satisfied - 2 - the newspapers who gamble on the superficiality of their readers - 3 - the slander writers whose pockets are full - And here - the losers: 1 - the public, who will not be able to see what they wish, as the artists are not in the mood to put up with the simple minded and insulting reviews, and consequently they will simply stay away... 2 - the theatre or festival directors, who will not be able to present what they believe in. 3 - the artists themselves who are tired of being abused by the critics competing in negative and counterproductive writing and who often enough only write about their own frustrations, disability and shortcomings.... But despair not, you are not alone: the first "encouraging" review I ever received in Stuttgart on the 30th of December 1970 for my very first choreographic effort - "Kommen und Gehen" read: “...the choreographer should be locked up in jail, so that he will never be able to create anything in his life any more...” Compared to this, many write-ups I have received since, read like nursery rhymes. So here is my advise to all creative people: Create with full belief and conviction - Be your own harshest critic - Never make any compromises with your own conscience - Stay true to your beliefs and your uniqueness - I leave these lines with any editors, critics or general public (should any newspaper or magazine be willing to print it), who feel addressed by my first and last writing on this subject... Jiří Kylián P.S. I am not so naive as to think that this letter will help getting rid of some poorly founded journalists, but it might help the readers understand that it is better to go to the theatre and see things with their own eyes, rather then reading some deranged (re)view of a frustrated writer... The Hague, July 28th, 2012