An outside eye is very beneficial to all works of art, including dance

An ‘outside eye’ is crucial to creative work. This article explores what this concept of an ‘outside eye’ is and why it is important. No good work is created without real or imaginary feedback from a relatively impartial outsider. This person must be one with considerable knowledge about or experience in the field. He or she must have a critical eye and be someone who is not personally involved in the creative process. Finally, this person must be someone who matters to the creator, whose opinions and feedback the creator trusts and values.

This happens in several creative fields. For example, in the world of academia, before a Ph.D. is submitted for evaluation, it is repeatedly scrutinised by a supervisor. A critical dialogue happens between the doctoral student and the supervisor, who provides the ‘outside eye’. Through this dialogue, decisions regarding the work are arrived at collectively before the final product reaches the public in the form of a thesis or book. The thesis or book is still credited to the author, but the book benefits greatly from the scrutiny of the ‘outside eye’. This isn’t a choice, but a condition for the creators to get their work into the public sphere. Journal articles and books are routinely peer reviewed before publication.

In the art world, however, this appears not to be a pre-requisite to the display of art work. The absence of critical scrutiny before an art exhibition, a music concert, a play, or a dance performance does not, on the surface, hinder the end result. A dance performance, for example, is not withheld from public simply because the choreographer did not have his or her work critically viewed by an informed well-wisher before a performance. Therefore, very often, this aspect of the creative process is left out during the creation of work in dance. It is often believed that the choreographer knows best how to view, edit and go about choreographing his or her work.

While this is largely true, it does not mean that an outside eye is not important for the creation of dance. Choreographers certainly know better than anyone what their idea and concept is, and should be more than capable of selecting and training their dancers. For the dance piece itself to be as complete as possible, however, there is more skill required. Is the idea communicating through movement? Is this communication so abstract that it doesn’t translate clearly enough, or too literal that it leaves nothing to the imagination? To be sure about answers to these questions, bringing in an ‘outside eye’ is tremendously beneficial.

This is not to say that choreographers are incapable of judging whether their ideas are communicating appropriately. But it is possible to get carried away by an idea when working on your own. An outside eye has several advantages. First of all, the outside eye, has not been personally and emotionally attached to the concept or the choreography. Therefore, it provides an objective view of the piece in a way that a choreographer perhaps cannot. Moreover, an outside eye can provide a fresh perspective on the work and make the choreographer view his work from a different viewpoint. Finally, it can point out things in the piece that are or aren’t working, that the choreographer, for several reasons, may have overlooked.

Often choreographers realise things in retrospect. Receiving harsh critical feedback after a performance or watching a performance video, they realise they could have done some things differently. But in many ways, it’s too late. The work has already been subjected to public scrutiny. Judgments have been made, grants or further performance opportunities have been lost, auditions have been unsuccessful – whatever the context.

Perhaps the use of an ‘outside eye’ could have changed negative outcomes into positive ones in some of these situations. Because this external standpoint gives choreographers something that they can easily lose sight of – objectivity and critique. Moreover, it provides fresh perspectives and inputs, points out flaws which choreographers may have overlooked. All this feedback comes from a critical eye the choreographer values and an outside opinion that the choreographer trusts. And crucially, the outside eye provides all this before the work goes public. Before it’s too late to turn back.