While feedback is always welcome, one must be cautious to see the thought behind it. Good or bad, it is good to take it with a pinch of salt
As people who exist in the public domain of performance, feedback becomes a natural craving or desire. After a performance or showcasing of new work, the artiste dancer wants to know what the spectators made of it. Did they like the work or not? What did they like or not like about it? These questions become essential in order to improve on the work. Feedback becomes a gauge to measure how much of what the dancer wished to communicate to the spectators actually got through to them.
After endless conversations with fellow dancers, it became apparent that receiving and internalising feedback, important as it may be, is a complicated matter. I had written before about constructive criticism by dance critics. But feedback doesn’t come from critics alone. A whole lot of feedback comes from encouraging colleagues or competing peers, collaborating musicians, biased and unbiased well-wishers and strangers. In short, it comes from a wide range of spectators.
I say receiving feedback is complicated because feedback is not always objective, critically constructive or dare I say, even truthful. One argument is that it doesn’t have to be objective or constructive. It is the judgment of one person who is entitled to their opinion, subjective as it may be – and has a right to be expressed, even if it is destructive. To my mind, if both the artist and spectator are striving towards better art, then constructive, objective and honest feedback is the path leading to it but nevertheless, feedback can often be fallacious.
This in turn raises suspicion. One dancer I spoke to said that too much praise always makes her suspicious because she wonders what the spectators are not telling her. Another mentioned that when the feedback is entirely negative, she suspects the ulterior motive of the spectator. Yet another said his internalisation of feedback varied depending on who was giving it – a lay spectator, a well-wisher, a critic, or a peer. Strangely, the Natyashastra, when commenting on spectators, mentions that spectators in the form of “professional enemies” create “obstacles due to jealousy etc” One way or another, feedback is often received with caution.
But here’s the thing – I believe feedback should be viewed with a certain amount of caution! Some of the feedback one receives is almost always going to be loaded, subjective and unhelpful, while other feedback will be objective, constructive, critical and useful. And it will always come from a wide spectrum of people with varying motives and reasons for giving that feedback!
As dancers we must understand that feedback could be fallacious – either in its praise or its criticism. There are too many underlying factors that go into the final feedback that dancers receive. Without becoming paranoid about the feedback to the point that dancers only internalise favourable feedback and disregard all critical feedback, a certain degree of caution about feedback may be a good thing. In the end, it is always up to the dancers to decide which elements of feedback to incorporate into their dance and which to discard. So, while having enough faith in their work to be able to shield themselves from, and defend their work against blatantly unfair, loaded and destructive feedback; a certain amount of caution when receiving praise and some degree of reflective introspection when receiving critical feedback seems to form a good balance of caution and confidence when dealing with the fallacies of feedback.