Editor’s Corner – The Reviewer Gets Reviewed

by Leigh Witchel

Like any conscientious web site proprietor, I check my stats. My last review, Mind Your Mannerisms, was getting more hits than any other piece on the site by a high factor, so I investigated.

I expected the review to be popular. It was about New York City Ballet, reviews about popular companies tend to popular. It was also negative, though I tried to blunt that. But negative reviews create chatter, which is why editors ask for them. It’s not the kind of review I enjoy as much now because it was more performance assessment than analysis. But that’s what it was going to be – as good as the ballets are, after 35 years and writing on them many times, there isn’t that much more analysis I have in me on Allegro, Four Ts or Symphony in C.

Still, I was surprised by the difference in numbers. You couldn’t search on Facebook once, now you can – Facebook doesn’t allow you to read private posts, but it did tell me that the article had been shared more than 40 times. One discussion was public, and I read it.

The opinions were mixed but polar, as much about the review as about my work in general. People either liked it or really didn’t. It’s funny to think, but no, it didn’t occur to me that people wouldn’t like my work. If I thought it was good enough to put out there it still wouldn’t dawn on me – even now – that someone else might not.

Reading the discussion felt like eavesdropping on a conversation about me, something much easier to handle in your fifties than in your teens. The negative opinions didn’t upset me. I’ve been reviewed – never (thank God) as a dancer, but as a choreographer, though that’s now going on 15 years ago. I got most of my trauma out then. And since I’ve said it a thousand times in print, it’s advice I have to take myself: once you put work out there, people are entitled to think or feel whatever they want. You can’t control people’s reactions.

But also the kind of negative reactions expressed were easy to do that with – they were short and only dealt with opinion – on the order of “I don’t like his writing” or “I’m not a fan.” Nobody said why.

It’s easy enough to shrug off someone not liking, even hating your work. Some people will never be in your corner, and that’s life. But in my reviews when I’m trying to be fair and responsible by explaining the reasons I don’t like something, I probably come off to the person being reviewed like a teacher giving a failing grade. Not even your teacher. Some teacher who happened to walk by, watched one class from the doorway and then decided to grade you.

Yet that kind of analysis is important, and I still think it’s the right way to review – but it’s healthy to put the shoe on the other foot and remember how it feels.

copyright © 2017 by Leigh Witchel

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