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 
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 
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 

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