Before you can critique a dance, you must observe it. The process of observation is not necessarily orderly; as you watch the colors, shapes, and movement of a dance, you are mixing the processes of perceiving, thinking, and feeling and are unlikely to have a coherent, all-encompassing statement to make at the moment the dance ends. Art educator Edmund Feldman recognized this problem:
[T]here is a systematic way of acting like a critic, just as there is a systematic way of behaving like a lawyer. For lawyers there is a form for presenting evidence, refutingadversaries, citing precedents, appealing to jurors, and so on. Although art criticism does not have the form of legal debate, it does have form. To do criticism well, consistently, we need a form or system that makes the best use of our knowledge and intelligence and powers of observation. (1987, 471)
Feldman proposed to his visual arts students that criticism include description, analysis, interpretation, and evaluation, which are equally applicable to observing and writing about dance. He suggested that each step is necessary to the ones that follow, and for that reason, they should be undertaken in order. This means that thorough and accurate description is the basis for all other aspects of criticism; judgment and opinion need to be withheld until the end of the process.
Description is a straightforward recounting of what you see and hear. It is focused on the individual elements of a dance rather than on the whole. Analysis, on the other hand, explains how the parts fit together to make the whole. Interpretation involves a personal reading of either the entire work or aspects of it; this is where the critic’s imagination is fully involved in finding meaning in the work. Evaluation is your considered judgment of the work, which may be either implicitly or explicitly stated. Using Feldman’s model of criticism as modified for dance in figure 4.1, you can examine any dance work in detail and begin to make sense of it.