Doug Fox: So, um, what about my question? Apollinaire tries harder this time

Doug Fox of Great Dance, whose questions started off my last post, “How NOT to write, so dance will matter,” has more questions for me!!
Or, rather, he’d like me to answer what he asked in the first place: how might the Internet and other recent technologies help to attract a larger dance audience?
Doug, thank you for your persistence and your concern for dance’s future.
Here are Doug’s questions, version 2.0 (for the unedited version, click here):
In a 2004 research paper, Alan Brown created five modes of arts participation, ranging from very active to very passive, with “Attending Live Dance Performances” highly passive affairs.
My question: How can the dance community sustain such a sharp disconnect between the inventive and participatory nature of the Internet and the observational nature and passivity required of most dance performances?
My answer: Some dancers and dance companies will greatly benefit by exploring new ways to enable their audiences to be more active participants in the process of creation in order to address this growing divide.
I’d like your thoughts on the following:
1) What do you think of the idea of an “active audience,” and how do you think it relates to dance performances? Do you think the dance world would benefit by embracing the emergence of a participatory culture?

Doug, the way you ask the question answers it. In your view, it’s not possible to be both actively involved and sitting in one’s seat. Receptivity, by your lights, is akin to passivity.
When you read a book, do you feel like a paper towel sopping up Kool-Aid?
I hope not. A person can both absorb something and be actively engaged. In fact, I doubt you could take something in if you weren’t engaged.
Art–any kind, as long as it’s good–offers an especially charged form of engagement. The artist has created a singular experience for you–to pull you out of yourself so that when you return there will be more to you. If you “participate” as you mean it– shaping the very thing you might have simply experienced–you shift the balance between you and it. Less of it, more of you.
The good intentions behind advocating this kind of participation–to save us from feeling isolated–misunderstands loneliness, conflating it with solitude. Loneliness isn’t about being alone, it’s about never being able to escape yourself. Art is one of loneliness’s best cures. An active cure. But you need to allow the art to set its own course for it to work its magic.
2) What is the optimal way for choreographers and dancers to use blogs and related tools to communicate with their audiences?
I’m not much of a blog reader, so there are likely a million uses for a blog that I haven’t thought of. But I can see the appeal of a site like The Winger , a behind-the-scenes visual diary of the professional dancing life from members of American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, etc. (It was NYCB corps member Kristin Sloan’s idea–a bright one, indeed.)
I’ll keep scratching my head over this one and if I think of other nifty possibilities, add them here.
3) For your own personal enjoyment of dance, can you envision a scenario where the pleasure and insight you derive from a dance performance was enhanced by online content and interactive opportunities prior to the performance?
Some reviewers think you should show up to a performance like a virgin–that preparation leads to prejudice–but I’m not one of them. In fact, I think the less you know about a particular troupe, the more likely you are to fall back on generalizations about the kind of dance you’re watching and only give blurry attention to the actual dances before you.
Once I know I’ll be reviewing a show, I jog my memory about the troupe–or acquaint myself with them if they’re new to me–any way I can. If they have a good web site, it makes the job easier: I’ll check out face shots, read features, interviews, reviews, the history of the company. If there’s a video–there rarely is–I’ll watch it.
If the choreographer is musically attuned, I’ll track down the music–from the library or iTunes. It would be very cool if companies had the dances’ music on their web sites–I mean, if they can do so without extra cost. Companies are already so cash-strapped that I wouldn’t want to suggest anything that would put them further in the red.
4) Following up on your thoughts about how dance reviews should be written, how would you incorporate pictures, videos and audio interviews into your reviews? Since there are no space limits on the Internet, do you see a more multimedia type of dance criticism emerging? If a picture is worth a 1,000 words, what’s video worth when it comes to dance?
An intriguing question. I’m always glad when a photo accompanies a review, as I have too few words to do justice to costumes and set. And the possibilities for video are exciting.
But here’s the problem: Most reviews in newspapers and magazines appear in both print and web editions. The writer can’t assume readers have seen a video or even a photo: the print edition doesn’t allow video-viewing, and some web sites don’t reproduce the papers’ photos. So the writing is stuck doing what it always does: going it alone. But maybe some day…
5) As more media outlets turn to user-generated content (stories submitted by readers), what will the impact be on performing arts coverage? For example, Wired reported on Friday that USA Today and 90 other US newspapers published by Gannett will turn to “crowdsourcing” as part of its news gathering process.
We dance critics turn out to be way ahead of the game for once, as we’ve already been largely retired. The only difference is, there are no crowds of opinionators eager to take our place. Something to look forward to!

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